television

Fleabag: Funny Feminist Television

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If you’re into TV shows about confused, messed-up, funny, thoughtful, complicated and endearing white women in their early 30s then the show Fleabag might be for you.

The site Jezebel.com had a review of the BBC series Fleabag up a few weeks ago, so I downloaded the 1st season. There’s only 6 episodes and I burned through them right away. Then I watched them all a second time over because of how comforting and entertaining I find the series to be.

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Writer and star of FLEABAG Sophie Waller-Bridge

The series protagonist is Fleabag played by the outstandingly talented Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Waller-Bridge is 31 years old in real life and she is responsible for writing all 6 episodes of the first season. Fleabag, the televisions series, is the end result of a fringe play that Waller-Bridge originally performed in Edinburgh.

Anyways, while I now feel like my life is coming together (I’m 32) in terms of having a satisfying relationship with my boyfriend and a new job that I feel passionate about, most of my 20s (after I broke up with my first serious boyfriend in 2006) were spent binge-drinking alcohol and smoking tons of weed, and hooking up with random men who either weren’t interested in me, or if they were, then I immediately became repulsed by them. Once I quit drinking I continued to pursue womanizers who’d bounce from female to female and insult my physical appearance…and just generally contribute to why I felt like a piece of shit.

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Due to my own history, which was mostly spent as a single female looking for and rejecting any chance of finding love, I gravitate to stories about women who are going through similar experiences to what I went through for so long (editor’s note: That is not to say my relationship is perfect, and it started off in a highly dysfunctional manner, but I am much happier at this point then I was 2 years ago when I turned 30…I hate when people are in a relationship and present their lives as free of problems).

Anyways, Fleabag has an on-off boyfriend named Harry. During the 1st episode Harry and Fleabag are in bed. Harry wakes up to Fleabag masturbating to a video of President Obama she’s watching on her laptop, and he is offended and disgusted. The sensitive and giving Harry stuffs a few of his things into a bag and breaks up with Fleabag. Fleabag assures the viewer (she regularly speaks directly to the camera/viewer to give us the inside scoop…and while this approach is at first slightly disarming, it eventually made me feel like Fleabag and I were tight) that Harry will be back. Since Harry is fully into Fleabag, she tramples all over him and uses their short-term break-ups to fuck some real douchebags.

This show made me (and my friend and my boyfriend when I showed them some episodes) laugh a lot! I don’t want to spoil all the hilarious moments, but some of them centre around sending out mass vagina-shot texts to try to find a date, Fleabag discussing how heavy her period flow is when she randomly runs into a hook-up while shopping for tampons, and uncomfortable anal sex. I’m not expecting you to laugh here, since any of these situations could end up being written and portrayed in a way that is stupid and offensive, but in my opinion, these situations made me crack-up without brushing off the underlying emotional desperation Fleabag is experiencing to say and do the things she does.Image result for sophie waller bridgeFleabag operates her own tiny cafe, and she is heavily in debt. Once upon a time she ran it with her best friend Boo, but I can’t share anything more without giving away too many good plot details to ruin your viewing of the show (if you so choose to watch it). I think that Fleabag is a feminist show because Fleabag aims to be an independent, confident business woman who has a loving partner and a positive self-image, but the sad events that have occurred during the last few years of Fleabag’s life (some of which might be partially due to her own making) are causing her to harm herself, and lash out at everyone around her.

The show makes some very accurate feminist observations about how women are sexualized and treated as sexual objects, without ever pretending that women don’t often do the same thing to men. Fleabag favours the good looking guy over the man who will support her, and this is just one example of how Fleabag is a highly imperfect protagonist. Since all people are imperfect, I think this also makes her relatable. Feminism can take many forms, and while I don’t have much fun reading feminist theory, I do enjoy seeing a female try to figure out how to balance wanting to be desirable with respecting herself and chasing her ambitions.

Fleabag’s relationship with her older sister Claire (played by Sian Clifford) reminded me of my own relationship with my sister. It’s hard for us to open up about personal topics with one another, and sometimes it’s even awkward for us to hug, but Fleabag also captures the undeniable and unbreakable bond that exists between sisters since nobody knows you better than your own sister. Claire is married to a lecherous man named Martin (played perfectly by Brett Gelman), and Claire’s dedication to a man who treats her poorly, but who makes her laugh, is an issue between the sisters.Image result for sophie waller bridge fleabagFleabag and her sister Claire (played beautifully by Sian Clifford)

Fleabag and Claire’s father is in a relationship with a woman they despise, and the
“stepmom” character (though their father is not actually married to her) who is only referred to as “Godmother” (played by Olivia Colman) is the only character in the series who is presented as one-dimensional: she is threatened by Claire and Fleabag’s relationship with their father, and “Godmother” constantly makes passive aggressive jabs at Fleabag and Claire. The one-dimensional nature of “Godmother” allows the actress playing her to go wild and take her artsy-fartsy character all the way to the top.Image result for sophie waller bridge

Olivia Colman as “Godmother”

By the final episode of the series it all becomes apparent why Fleabag is so screwed-up and why she is struggling to like herself, let alone love herself. The show is dark, sick, twisted, and so very special. If you’re looking for something to watch this weekend that isn’t mindless entertainment, give Fleabag a try!

“Love” Sucks (Yet I Managed to Watch 270 Minutes Of It In Less Than 24 Hrs)

This article is primarily addressed to women, so I’m going to start off with a question for all you ladies out there: Are you drop-dead gorgeous?

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(Mickey is played by Gillian Jacobs (left) and Gus is played by Paul Rust (right))

OK. Well, if you answered no to that question, then I want to let you know I’m with you. I think I’m beautiful, and I love myself, but I am no beauty queen and I don’t get attention from men in any noticeable way during my daily life. I am also not friends with guys, and subsequently, I have no platonic friends who are also male admirers (that I know of). Therefore, I was sadly very disappointed by the representation of women in Netflix’s new series produced and created by the highly-successful Judd Apatow (director of 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, This Is 40, and producer of HBO’s Girls), and real-life married couple Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust (who’s Gus on “Love”).

Due to the female characters on Girls, which I think are relatable (maybe because I’m a 32 year-old, privileged, educated white female who lives a trendy, comfortable lifestyle in Vancouver, BC), I thought this TV series might be another example of a television show that would make me feel better about myself, and that would make me laugh at all of the crazy things people do. Well, sadly I was wrong.

“Love” perpetuates the idea that a woman can be a cruel, insensitive, and ignorant person who doesn’t hesitate to use her friends as tools, and she’ll still end up with the sweet, loyal, kind geeky guy, or find love, in the end all because she’s such a rebel (aka HOT) and complicated (aka HOT) and trying to change (aka HOT).

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Since most of us are not perfect physical specimens this narrative is quite troubling. Mickey is one of the two protagonists on the series “Love”. Mickey is played by the insanely sexy-looking (my opinion of course) actress Gillian Jacobs. I loved how Gillian Jacobs played the character of Mimi Rose on “Girls”. After Hannah (played by Lena Dunham) and Adam (played by Adam Driver) break-up, Adam rebounds with the beautiful, talented, and successful artist Mimi Rose.

Hannah is understandably threatened and jealous of Mimi Rose, and I related to that since I have felt jealous of my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriend because I think she is really attractive, skinny, and from what I’ve observed of her online image, she is free of flaws. Of course, I know that’s not the truth, since everyone has flaws, but the storyline with Mimi Rose was one I connected with. Image is not reality, but it’s sometimes so hard to realize you don’t know the truth about people from an online profile. In the end, Adam finds out that Mimi Rose had an abortion and didn’t tell him, and he’s hurt and feels like he can’t trust Mimi Rose.

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Jacobs ability to portray Mimi Rose in a way that made me feel like Mimi Rose is a real person led me to incorrectly assume that I would relate to Jacobs on “Love”. Gillian Jacobs portrayal of Mickey got under my skin pretty quickly, maybe in part because I’m the opposite from a girl who always says dude, just chill man, and lies whenever it suits her fancy. My honesty has gotten me into trouble many times before, so I know I have extra resentment when I see people and characters who lie and pretend like it’s no big deal.

Spoiler alert: I’m going to start getting into more specific plot details from here on in, so if you want to watch the series with fresh eyes, I suggest you stop reading. For example, Mickey is a self-identified alcoholic and drug addict (marijuana and ecstasy were the drugs she uses over the course of the series), and after bingeing on vodka one weekend she goes to an AA meeting and lies about how long she’s been sober for. I am an alcoholic and I haven’t drank alcohol for over 7 years now, and I’ve been to AA before. It’s such a personal thing to attend an AA meeting, and I felt vulnerable sharing my experiences at the meetings I went to, so it’s kind of disgusting someone would lie in that kind of a situation.

I know I need to be more compassionate for people who are different from me though, and while it’s hard to understand compulsive lying, I can also see that if you’re ashamed of what you’re doing, then there’s a chance you’ll lie to conceal what you’re embarrassed about. Another night Mickey blows off plans with Gus to “be alone”. Then she ends up going out with a bunch of people partying, doing ecstasy with a guy played by Andy Dick and staying up all night, and by the time morning rolls around Mickey calls Gus and he’s right there ready and waiting to make plans with her for later in the day.

Paul Rust, Lesley Arfin, Judd Apatow

Paul Rust and Creators/Writers/Executive Producers Lesley Arfin and Judd Apatow seen at the Los Angeles premiere of the Netflix original series ‘Love’ at The Vista Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Eric Charbonneau/Invision for Netflix/AP Images)

Part of my anger towards a character like Mickey comes from my own experiences where I’ve chosen to have a sexual relationship with men who make it clear they’re not really all that into me, and that they’re not monogamous. Then I’ve subjected myself to listening to them go on about how hot the girl they wish they could be with is, or I’ve been ditched as soon as one of these femme fatales (how I judgmentally chose to see them) want some male attention. I’ve never been in the position of the girl who has all these guys chasing after her. There have been a few times when I’ve had casual sexual relationships with men who I didn’t find very attractive, but I would quickly cut things off entirely in these situations, because I don’t like stringing people along. Yep, you’re sensing that I have a superiority complex, and that’s probably annoying, but I’m letting you know how I think whether it’s right or not.

I told a guy who I wasn’t into that I didn’t think we could be friends, because if we were to go out to a bar together and I found someone attractive, I would feel bad for ditching him. He said he wouldn’t care, but I thought he would and I didn’t want to cause him unnecessary pain. I think that sometimes it’s wise to ignore what people say and go with your gut. If a guy wants to have sex with you, spend time with you, and you tell him you’re not into him, then it’s also realistic to assume he might feel frustrated or crappy if you attempt to have a platonic relationship with him. Awkward situations can be minimized or avoided if you’re willing to sacrifice the attention that comes having lots of guy or girl friends (who also might secretly or not-so-secretly be into you).

Gus meets Mickey when she’s in a convenience store, and she doesn’t have any money to pay for the coffee she just poured. Mickey starts verbally harassing the Asian clerk (and this is the first of three time total where Mickey feels the need to treat Asian people with accents like crap by yelling at them) and Gus steps in to save the day. He offers to pay for her coffee, and instead of appreciating that, she asks for him to buy her a pack of cigarettes too. Gus is an average–or maybe below average (I think he’s hot, but he’s definitely not traditionally good-looking)–guy, and since he’s immediately intrigued by Mickey (I guess beauty is hard to ignore) he gladly pays for both.

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Outside of the store Mickey tells Gus she can pay him back, and then proceeds to insult him when he says she doesn’t need to pay him back. From what I saw, Mickey’s sense of entitlement makes her really annoying and rude. Nevertheless, Gus is still into her after this short interaction and their “friendship” starts to unfold. At least the television show stays true to real-life by showing that Gus is always openly aware that he’s attracted to Mickey because of how hot she is, and doesn’t lie and tell himself he only wants to be her friend.

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(Mickey’s roommate Bertie (Claudia O’Doherty)…I want to see more of this funny actress!)

Mickey gets an Australian roommate named Bertie (played by Claudia O’Doherty) to move into her place. Bertie is my favourite character from the series. Bertie is also a sexy young white female, but not quite as model-like as Mickey, and therefore much more relatable. Early on in the series Mickey sets-up Gus and Bertie on a date. Since Gus and Bertie aren’t meant for each other, the date starts to go badly. Bertie goes to the bathroom and accidentally texts Gus a message intended for Mickey about their terrible date. Gus texts Mickey the text he receives from Bertie (originally meant for Mickey) and then Mickey texts Bertie the text Gus sent (are you following me?).

A cat-and-mouse game ensues where Mickey plays both of her friends in order to entertain herself. It’s the first night that Mickey is trying to be genuinely sober and spend time at home alone without any male attention, so she devolves into screwing over Gus and Bertie, even though Mickey’s the one who set them up on this date in the first place. Gus drops Bertie off after their horrendous date, and when he leaves Mickey and Bertie’s place, Mickey runs out and kisses Gus. He’s suddenly attractive after letting Mickey know her antics are not okay.

Also, this is supposed to be a comedy! Do you think this stuff sounds funny? I didn’t think it’s funny at all. Want something funny to watch? I watched all 3 seasons of the Showtime series “Episodes” starring Matt LeBlanc this past week. “Episodes” actually made me laugh. The entertainment I got from watching “Love” came from how easy it was to criticize the characters of Mickey and Gus.

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When I started watching “Love” last night I had 2 female friends over, and they both started asking why Mickey’s dressed like a 70s porn star and wearing next-to-nothing. So true! During the first episode Mickey is super scantily clad in a red one-piece (bathing suit?) and her nipples are very erect and apparent through her spandex top throughout most of the scenes. It’s distracting! Yes, women and men shouldn’t have to suppress or hide their sexuality since it is a part of human nature, but I think that this crosses the line to the point where Mickey is her nips, and not much more.

Based on what I have seen in my own life, I think it’s undeniable that physically attractive people are given certain privileges that other people are not. I have watched hot people speak and behave in ways that I can’t imagine less attractive people trying to pull-off. I think the reason why some beautiful folks are extra self-centred behaviour is because they can get away with it. Lots of not as hot people let very hot people do whatever they want all because us normal peeps hope the freakishly hot people might want to have sex with us.

The part that I think “Love” overlooks is that while a beautiful girl like Mickey will never be alone, people that are huge users like Mickey probably don’t end up with genuine, sweet, and loyal people. If you’re a conniving, manipulative person who puts your own needs above others at all times and lies to get what you want, then I think the people who will want to be around you in a permanent way aren’t going to be all that great. People who love themselves and respect themselves eventually walk away from the Mickey’s of the world (or so I hope).

I did a little more research and I found out something interesting that surprised me: co-creators Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust are married, and they apparently used their own relationship as a loose model for the series. This detail made me like the series a little more, and feel a little bit less offended by the sexism on the show. Is that weird?

Amanda’s Got Lots To Say About Vancouver!

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I had the pleasure of teaching Amanda for 2 months at the end of 2015, and I loved getting to spend time with this passionate 18 year-old from Belgium! Amanda actively sought out all of the fun places to go and great places to eat in Vancouver. If she ever wants to have a job as a tour guide in Vancouver, I think there’s one waiting for her!

While Amanda is travelling back to Belgium this Saturday, she is still making sure each of her days are jam-packed with activities in Vancouver. Poutine is the last meal in Vancouver she’ll be having before heading to the airport Saturday. If you want to get some info about Amanda’s favourite places in Vancouver, then please watch her interview.

 

UnREAL: Realistic Representation of Reality TV

I started watching UnREAL on Thursday. It is now Saturday, and I have just finished watching all 10 episodes of the 1st season of this outstanding scripted dramedy. UnREAL is about the behind-the-scenes action on a fictional reality TV show called “Enchanted”.

I am a huge fan of reality TV. As a teacher, it is my job to be sociable, patient, friendly, and emotionally available to students during the day, so I look forward to getting home from school, downloading a reality show, and being able to zone-out and observe different personality types and drama without having to react to them…or smile…or respond in any way. Therefore, I find these shows highly entertaining, and, yes, relaxing.

While I am a fan, I would also be an idiot if I were to deny the fact that the aspects of humanity that reality TV shows use to create drama are primarily negative. I believe that my life has been positively impacted by some of the stories I have seen shared on reality TV, but there are also many values that are promoted on most of these shows that are disgusting: judging women and men based on their physical appearance alone, taking advantage of people’s insecurities and/or mental health issues, and reinforcing racist, sexist, homophobic, and various other stereotypes about people.

UnREAL is the first scripted show that I have watched that honestly deals with the types of people who would choose to produce and work on reality TV shows. For example, the show’s protagonist, Rachel, is a producer. She is willing to use any information and any angle she can think of (and she can think of many since she is a highly intelligent and perceptive person) to get something exciting for the cameras.

One of the characters on “Enchanted” is Mary, who is a single mother, and she recently got out of an abusive relationship. For “good TV” Rachel finds Mary’s abusive ex-partner and brings him on the show to confront Mary and the “Bachelor” character, Adam, without Mary or Adam’s awareness that the ex was going to suddenly appear. A fight ensues, and Mary’s situation becomes incredible tragic (likely due to this and because of another factor that a different drama-hungry producer on the show stoops to an all-time low to create) as the series progresses.

This situation reminds me that drama is exciting, and it is a great distraction from my own life, but the lengths reality TV shows creators and producers will go to to provide me with “entertainment” can irreparably harm real people’s lives. Since I consume those shows, I am also contributing to the destruction of people’s lives.

Even though it would be easy to shrug it off and say these reality TV show characters/people/performers are asking for it by going on these shows instead of getting “normal” day jobs, UnREAL highlights how many of these shows are using desperate people, who may have pre-existing mental health problems, and exploiting them. I think that part of the stigma surrounding mental health is that people are blamed for their sickness, and the ridicule that is heaped on people who act “crazy” is somehow viewed as completely acceptable. I still see a variety of examples that lead me to believe that most of mainstream society still thinks that “insane” people are not sick people; instead, they’re bad people. When people who have “freak-outs” on these shows are discussed on social media, in real-life, and in the media the dialogue surrounding them must only make it that much harder for these people to move on from having a mental breakdown on national TV and build a life away from reality TV.

Most people want to claim that they are sensitive to people who are mentally ill, but based on what I have heard people say in real-life when talking about people who have been depressed, acted bizarrely, or erratically there usually seems to be a complete lack of compassion. On the one hand, people who exhibit a lack of self-control and bad behaviour should not be rewarded or given a pat on the back, but on the other hand, if a person is clearly not well or of a sound mind, does it really help to gossip about them and treat them like there’s something wrong with them?

During the summer, I biked to UBC to go to Wreck Beach. While I was locking up my bike at the tops of the stairs there was a man about 15 feet away who was screaming and shouting about “Pigs” (the police, I assume). I would characterize him as mentally-ill. He later walked around the beach area screaming at someone/something that was not there, and I am not a mental health professional, but he seemed delusional. There were a few young men across the street from the bike rack area who were taunting the man and making fun of him. When I see people, who would likely describe themselves as sane, do this sort of cruel thing it reminds me of how ignorant we all are about mental health and what it means to be mentally ill.

The biggest problem is not the man who was ranting and raving, instead it is the “sane” people who pick-on sick people, thereby increasing people’s paranoia and fear. Yet, my own choice to obsessively watch reality TV shows that do the same sort of thing, and much worse, to people who are already in a weak position in terms of their state-of-mind, makes me wonder if I am any different from those young guys who were yelling at the man who seemed mentally ill? I will keep on watching reality TV, but UnREAL provides a lot of food for thought about what I am actually taking part in when I watch these kinds of exploitative shows.

Up until now this article has been a downer, but UnREAL is not only dark and thought-provoking, it’s also hilarious. The characters are complex, lovable, imperfect, believable, and so brutally honest that a lot of the dialogue made me laugh. Shiri Appleby plays Rachel to superb perfection. Rachel does so many things wrong to other people, but we get to see that she is also seriously struggling with her mental health and her own personal life is just as negative as her work life. Rachel is always trying to figure out what she can use other people for, instead of focusing on what she can do to truly help them. I think that if people are being honest we all have the same thing in ourselves. Sometimes, I am more concerned with what I am getting out of an interaction than what I’m giving, but that is something I want to work on minimizing.

Rachel’s boss is Quinn. Quinn is played by Constance Zimmer, and she is everything you’d imagine a ruthless boss bitch would be. But, of course, Quinn also has a heart, and I felt compassion for her, even though I think her behaviour is appalling. Quinn has been having a long-term affair with the show’s executive producer/owner, Chet, played by Craig Bierko. Quinn is not as strong as she seems, and UnREAL illustrates through these characters’ personal lives that there is no on-and-off switch for using and manipulating people.

If you think it is okay to capitalize on people’s weaknesses for a reality show at any cost, then it is likely that you will do the same to people you are dating and friends with. And, they will do the same to you. Since I don’t want to give away any of the important plot points about the show, I will end my review here. If you love or hate reality TV, it doesn’t really matter, because I think this show appeals to both of those categories of people. UnREAL is a genius show in my opinion. Life is complicated, and UnREAL doesn’t shy away from looking at the darkest undercurrents of reality TV. I totally related to all of the main characters, though I’d like to believe I wouldn’t be willing to do what they do, though I’ve done some terrible things in my time. Just like Rachel, Quinn, and Chet, I’m not perfect. I am constantly trying to balance my own selfish desires with what I think will make the world a better place. UnREAL helped me feel better about myself while simultaneously encouraging me to think more deeply about the choices I make in life. Bravo to the show’s creators Marti Noxon and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro!