Why “Steven Universe” Is Such a Hit

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Every now and then, there’s a TV show that completely changes what we expect from a genre. And that’s exactly the case with “Steven Universe,” the highly acclaimed animated TV series from Cartoon Network. Created by Rebecca Sugar, “Steven Universe” has now gone on to four successful seasons, and has already been renewed for a fifth. So what exactly has been behind its phenomenal success?

#1: A coming-of-age story with a twist

For any TV series to be successful over a long period of time, it has to have strong characters that viewers can identify with and want to follow. In the case of “Steven Universe,” the main character is Steven Universe, who lives in Beach City with the “Crystal Gems,” magical humanoid-looking aliens sent to protect planet Earth.

It’s a coming-of-age story because Steven Universe needs to come to grips with his unique powers, like the power of “fusion,” in which the Crystal Gems can merge their bodies and abilities. He must also deal with the story of his mother, Rose Quartz, who was actually a Crystal Gem but gave up her powers in order to have a child on Earth.

And, finally, he must  grapple with the fact that he is a “half-Gem” – someone who is part human and part Gem. You can easily read this as a metaphor for someone who is biracial or multi-ethnic: it can be difficult understanding who or what you are, and what your “real” nature is. According to the show’s creator, Rebecca Sugar, many of the ideas for what happens to Steven Universe is based on her reflections and memories of growing up in beach towns in Delaware like Rehoboth Beach. So it really is a way to tell the story of what it’s like to grow up.

#2: Fantastic girl power

What’s truly unique about “Steven Universe” is that, even though the series is ostensibly about a young boy, it’s a very girl-focused series. That’s partly the result of the show having been created by Rebecca Sugar. She is, in fact, the first-ever sole female creator of an animated cartoon series on Cartoon Network, and her feminine touch is evident throughout the show.

Take, for example, the character of Steven Universe himself. He is very much in touch with his feminine side, and he has absolutely no problems expressing his rawest emotions or hanging out with females.

And, of course, you can’t talk about “Steven Universe” without also talking about the Crystal Gems, who exude magical girl power. In talking about the series, Sugar once remarked that her goal in creating the series was to explore “the semiotics of gender in cartoons for children.” And that’s exactly what she has done – she has created unique, powerful and interesting female characters that challenge our notions of gender.

#3: A remarkable science fiction fantasy narrative

This show is, at its core, a sci-fi series. And the entire milieu has been constructed in fantastic detail. Each episode is only about 10 minutes long, so the show’s creators had to be very precise in laying out the entire background of the series within each new episode.

The result is really an epic science fiction tale, filed with female alien superheroes who defend the Earth, a great interstellar civilization, a narrative about saving the planet, and a full explanation of all the magic powers and how they were created and can be used. In many ways, say reviewers, this is not just a cartoon for kids – it’s also a cartoon for adults that includes as much detail as you’d expect from a TV series created for an older demographic.

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#4:The Comic-Con effect

The show’s original success has spawned an entire franchise around “Steven Universe.” There are books, comics, video games and toys. And the TV series has become popular at Comic-Con, where it has gone on to pick up many more fans. In fact, the show made a splashy debut at the 2013 San Diego Comic-Con event, and has been a fan favorite ever since.

And, of course, there’s also the music from the show. For some people, the music is one of the highlights of the TV series. What makes it special is that the rap artist Estelle is actually one of the voices of the Crystal Gems, and some of her music appears in the TV series (like the song “We Are the Crystal Gems”) The show’s creators, who use the lyrics of the songs to help tell the story, think up how these songs can move along the dialogue and narrative.

#5: The cartoon binge experience

We all know that people love to binge-watch popular dramatic shows that appear on TV or on Netflix. And “Steven Universe” has been able to piggyback on that phenomenon. Unlike other cartoon series, which release one new episode per week, “Steven Universe” often releases episodes of five within the same week. There might be several weeks without any new shows, and then all of a sudden, there are five waiting to be watched!

For that reason, the show’s fans refer to these as “Stevenbombs.” The fans look forward to bingeing on this episodes, and when they don’t appear, they get worked up into a frenzy. That brings even more attention to the TV show. In fact, Cartoon Network has noticed that there are very regular ratings spikes for “Steven Universe” that occur every time there is a new “Stevenbomb.”

#6: Pioneer of a new genre

It’s easy just to refer to “Steven Universe” as “an animated TV series” or as a “fantasy science fiction cartoon.” But that hardly does justice to what Rebecca Sugar has created. She has referred to the unique “reverse escapism” aspect to the series, in which fantasy characters become infatuated with the real world around them. They are escaping from fantasy into reality!

And, given the strong female presence throughout the show, it’s unlike any other cartoon in how it challenges gender roles in society. In that regard, it’s similar to some versions of Japanese animation, in which girls have magic super powers.

For all these reasons, then, it’s easy to see why “Steven Universe” has become such a breakout hit for Cartoon Network. It’s simply unlike anything else you’d watch on TV. And the characters and milieu are so artfully created that it almost seems to be made for adults as much as kids. It’s no wonder that fans binge-watch the series and keep waiting for the next big “Stevenbomb” to drop. Subscribe to a satellite TV package today to catch “Steven Universe” on Cartoon Network!

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What To Expect From Season 2 of “Sense8”

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The Netflix Original Series “Sense8” is coming back for Season 2 on May 5 of this year, and fans couldn’t be happier. When “Sense8” premiered back in June 2015, there was a lot of buzz about the first-ever TV series directed by The Wachowskis, known for their legendary “Matrix” films. Here’s what we know so far about Season 2 of this exciting new science fiction drama.

#1: This series will take us around the world to 8 different cities

8 sensates, 8 cities. That was the fundamental premise of the first season, and it looks like that’s the focus of Season 2 as well. In Season 1, we met Nomi from San Francisco, Lito from Mexico City, Will from Chicago, Riley from London, Wolfgang from Berlin, Capheus from Nairobi, Kala from Mumbai and Sun from Seoul.

According to Netflix, “Sense8” has been shooting all over the world, including London, Reykjavik, Nairobi and Mumbai. That means this is going to be another great TV series spanning the globe. The one city to keep an eye on is Reykjavik. The other three cities mentioned by Netflix all match up to the homes of one of the sensates. But none of them are from Iceland. So this could be a major clue to understanding the show and what happens next.

#2: 7 of the original 8 cast members are coming back

The first season featured an ensemble cast from all over the world, who are linked mentally and emotionally by the mysterious death of a woman. Doona Bae (Sun), Jamie Clayton (Nomi), Tina Desai (Kala), Tuppence Middleton (Riley), Max Riemelt (Wolfgang), Miguel Angel Silvestre (Lito) and Brian J. Smith (Will) are all coming back for a Season 2. But there was one cast member from the original eight – Aml Ameen – will not be coming back after a dispute with one of the Wachowskis. Instead, Toby Onwumere will replace him in the role of Capheus, the sensate from Kenya.

Other recurring members of the cast from Season 1 – Daryl Hannah (Angelica), Naveen Andrews, Freema Agyeman (Amanita), Terrence Mann (Whispers) and Anupham Kher – are also expected to come back.

#3: The show will continue to tackle issues of sexuality, religion and gender

Before Season 1 launched, Lana and Lilly Wachowski said that they wanted to make a science fiction TV series to tackle some of the big issues – like politics, sexuality, identity, religion and gender – that are not typically covered in science fiction shows. So expect a good part of the next 10 episodes comprising Season 2 to include plenty of thematic elements that explore concepts like gender and identity in a global, multinational era.

#4: We’ll learn about the linkages between each of the sensates

In Season 1, the eight people from across the globe were able to connect with one another’s thoughts and actions despite never having met in person. In Season 2, we’ll likely learn more about the links between all eight of these sensates, and why they are so unique. From what we know so far, the sensates are able to tap into shared skills, shared knowledge and even shared language skills. Netflix has hinted that we’ll see more of this “expanding mind” in Season 2.

However, in terms of the actual action that we’ll see in Season 2, it’s still rather opaque. Netflix’s plot summary is vague at best, saying that the 8 sensates will “come together both physically and mentally, plunged into the middle of each other’s tragedies and triumphs.”

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#5: We’ll find out more about the shadowy organization tracking them down

In Season 1, there’s one sensate known as “Whispers” (played by Terrence Mann) who is part of a mysterious, shadowy organization who’s trying to track down these sensates. But we don’t really know who he is, or why he is doing this. All we know is that the sensates represent some kind of threat to the global order. Presumably, we’ll find out more in Season 2.

This idea of a shadowy, governmental organization trying to clamp down on certain technologies or certain powers being made available to certain members of the public is a staple of science fiction movies and shows (e.g. “X-Men”), so it will be interesting to see how “Sense8” develops this further.

#6: This series will reflect the vision of Lana Wachowski

The first season of “Sense8” included Lilly Wachowski, the co-creator of the show as well as its co-director. This season, though, she will not return, handing off the executive producer and director duties fully to Lana Wachowski. So, unlike the previous season, which was billed as a production of “The Wachowskis,” this season will be much more of a solo adventure. That means we’ll see a series that’s largely shaped by the creative vision of Lana, not Lilly. The good news here, though, is that Lilly has said she would return for a Season 3, if Netflix decides to green light it.

#7: We’ll learn more about the true story of the sensates

The one strand that tied together Season 1 was the mysterious death of the woman known as “Angelica.” All of the eight sensates saw visions of this same woman, and all of them were haunted by her violent death. But who was she, really? And why was this such a catalyst for the sensates to come together? We’ll surely get more answers to these questions in Season 2.

Every great science fiction has some kind of “origin story” that helps everything to make sense, and it’s likely that the origin story for “Sense8” will explain better the role of Angelica. We might also get a better idea of why there were only 8 people around the world who are linked, as well as the special significance of each of the chosen 8 cities. After Season 1, some fans complained that the series just didn’t make sense, so it will be the job of Season 2 to tie up all the loose ends and have everything make sense.

If Season 2 ties up all the loose ends from Season 1, this could really be an exciting science fiction show when it comes back to Netflix on May 5. It has so many great factors in its favor – the Wachowski brand name, the young multinational cast, a great story, and globe-spanning adventure and drama. Most likely, fans of the show will eagerly binge-watch all 10 episodes of Season 2 as soon as they’re made available. This is one Netflix Original Series you won’t want to miss, and you don’t have to when you sign up for an excellent internet connection in your home.

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Why “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” Is Surprisingly Hilarious

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Ever since it premiered in October 2015 on The CW, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has seemed like it was right on the cusp of breaking out and becoming a huge TV hit. While the ratings may not have yet caught up to the critical acclaim and fan support (a 96% rating on Rotten Tomatoes!), there are just so many reasons why “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is surprisingly hilarious.

#1: It simply defies any conventional genre

First of all, it’s hard to describe to your friends what “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” actually is – is it a romantic comedy, a satire, a comedy-drama or a musical? Each episode seems to combine a little of each, and that’s what makes it so hard to classify. Do you watch it with your girl friends or your guy friends? Or both?

The core story, of course, is that a New York City lawyer (Rebecca Bunch, played by Rachel Bloom) has packed up and left her crazy, frenetic Manhattan lifestyle behind in order to follow her first teenage love (Josh Chan, played by Vincent Rodriguez III) to a California suburb. That explains the whole title – Rebecca is a little bit still strung out and some might refer to her as the “crazy ex-girlfriend.” But there’s a lot of layers here to peel back – the title is also a reference to how society tries to attach easy labels to women.

#2: It’s charming and eccentric, in a “Seinfeld” kind of way

Some critics have called “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” a mash-up of “Broad City” and “Seinfeld,” but that probably doesn’t do the series real justice. There’s something about the star, Rachel Bloom, that’s so wonderfully eccentric. Just to give you an idea – before she signed up for “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” perhaps her biggest claim to fame was an award-winning video from 2010 called “F*** me, Ray Bradbury,” in which she fantasizes about having sex with the famous science fiction novelist. (WTF?)

This show is about more than young wayward girls trying to make it in a big city, as “Broad City” is. In fact, quite the opposite – it’s the story of an Ivy League-educated lawyer NOT trying to make it in the big city and pursuing romance instead.

And it’s about more than just little trivial events taking place in New York City, filled with amusing characters, as “Seinfeld” essentially was. The common joke about “Seinfeld” was that it was “a show about nothing.” Somehow, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” feels like more than that – it’s almost a social satire, or a biting social commentary about human relationships.

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#3: The upbeat musical numbers are mini-comic routines in themselves

Part of what makes “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” so funny to watch are all the great musical numbers. It’s too easy to say that it’s just like “Glee,” because the songs in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” are really more about pushing the plot forward and explaining the subtext of different scenes. Unlike “Glee,” the show is not about using pop culture or popular songs from the past to win over the audience.

In fact, many of the musical numbers (they’re not just songs!) seem like comedic sketches you might see on a show like “SNL.” There’s a bit of comedic bite to the musical routines that you just don’t see coming, and that’s what makes the show so hilarious. It’s also the reason why Rachel Bloom is now a Golden Globe winner for her work in the show.

For example, consider the “The Sexy Getting Ready Song” – it’s one of the best-known songs from the show and a music video of the song posted on YouTube by The CW has already picked up nearly 700,000 views. The song is at times sweet and charming, and at other times, raunchy and NSFW.

It basically takes the premise of a woman getting ready to go out on a date and turns it into a biting satire. The woman (Rachel Bloom) is plucking her eyebrows, shaving her legs, applying all kinds of creams and ointments, all while shimmying around in spandex and a silk robe. And then come all the comic moments –when there’s blood splattering everywhere when too much hair is taken off, or when the screen shifts to show “how the guys are getting ready” (a guy asleep on the couch in a t-shirt). There’s also a completely unexpected appearance by a rapper, who suddenly gives up in the middle of the rap, and basically says, “This is nasty. I’m out of here.”

And that’s what you get with most of the songs, some of them with NSFW titles, like “Let’s Have Intercourse.” And yet, they are just hilarious. It’s like taking a break from the sitcom (oops, comedy-drama!) just to watch a funny YouTube clip that someone sent you. In “Let’s Have Intercourse,” a handsome guy tells Rachel Bloom, “Fortunately, I want to have sex with you. I don’t know what’s happened… Maybe you’ve lost some weight?” It’s devastatingly funny and you can’t help laughing and cringing throughout the whole song – it’s like a brutally honest love song that’s gone off the rails.

#4: The humor is its own brand of crazy

When you watch a show like “Seinfeld,” you know what type of humor to expect – it’s stuff that Jerry Seinfeld would use in a stand-up comedy routine. When you watch “Broad City,” you also know what kind of humor to expect. But you just never know what to expect from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Part of that is by design – Rachel Bloom has pioneered a new form of musical comedy that’s unlike anything you’ve seen or heard before. And it’s crazy.

At times, the humor is whimsical, and at other times, it’s just plain grim. At times, the humor is slow and steady, and at other times, it’s fast-paced. At times, it’s almost conventional, and at other times, it’s edgy and risqué and just about any other adjective that basically amounts of DGAF.

And that DGAF attitude is why some people say that “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” is really meant for something bigger than network TV. You can’t try to wedge it into a conventional TV time slot. The show is going to demand a different kind of audience than you’re going to get in primetime – more of a YouTube or Netflix audience.

The good news is that “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” has been renewed for a third season. You know what they say – the third time is a charm. We’ve started to fall in love with the comic genius of the show, and 2017 could be the year that “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” finally becomes the huge comic breakout hit that it deserves to be. Check out Crazy Ex Girlfriend on Netflix — all you need is a speedy web connection from XFINITY!

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What To Expect From “24: Legacy”

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The all-new “24: Legacy,” which premiered right after the Super Bowl on February 5, looks like it’s going to be more than just another reboot of the long-running “24” franchise. We’ve only had three episodes appear on FOX, and it looks like “24: Legacy” is staying faithful to the original premise of “24” (all action taking place within 24 hours), while also offering a few new wrinkles and twists that make it a worthy successor to the “24” franchise.

#1: Corey Hawkins as the new Kiefer Sutherland

The first major change that everyone’s talking about is Corey Hawkins (who played Dr. Dre in “Straight Outta Compton”) as Eric Carter, replacing Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer. Hawkins has been described as a more athletic hero than Sutherland and that’s just perfect for the non-stop, frenetic action pace of “24: Legacy.” In this series, Eric Carter is a former Army Ranger who’s trying to adjust to private life in the Washington, DC area after leading a major commando raid on Sheik Ibrahim Bin-Khalid.

In Episode 1, it’s Eric Carter who’s in danger, as the Islamic terrorists are now after him, determined to snuff out the 6 Army Rangers who took a prized possession of the Sheik – a lock box containing a USB with the names of all the terrorist sleeper cell members in the United States. The heat is getting so hot that Eric Carter has to turn to friends in the Counter Terrorism Unit (CTU) in Washington for help.

There are signs that the Eric Carter character is going to be a vehicle to take on issues that are relevant today – such as the issue of soldiers with PTSD and the difficulty of soldiers adjusting back to regular civilian life in the United States. And we may also get more information about him and his family life than we did about Jack Bauer. One big narrative thread will be Eric Carter’s attempts to keep his wife safe, even if it means giving her over for safekeeping to his gangster brother. In Episode 1, it’s clear that Eric and his brother have a troubled history.

#2: Plot twists galore

Not everything is at it seems in “24: Legacy.” It turns out that one of Eric Carter’s Ranger squadron mates, Ben Grimes (played by Charlie Hofheimer), has realized what a valuable commodity he has – the lock box with the USB with the sleeper cell members – and is determined to sell it to the highest bidder. The only problem is that Grimes seems to be battling some inner demons and has gone off the grid.

And that’s not all –there’s apparently a mole within the highest ranks of government, possibly even within the CTU. As a result, there are only a few people that Carter can trust, and one of them is Rebecca Ingram (played by Miranda Otto), who is the former head of the CTU in Washington and now the wife of Senator John Donovan (played by Jimmy Smits) who has presidential aspirations. The only problem is that nobody really knows where the mole is – it could be within the CTU, or it could be within the CIA or FBI or NSA.

#3: The same frenetic 24-hour countdown style of narrative

When “24” first burst onto the scene nearly a decade ago, the idea of a real-time narrative taking place over a 24-hour period was fresh and buzzworthy. We’ve now grown used to the timing and pacing of the show – but just as we keep watching the next James Bond flick or the next Jason Bourne flick – we also can’t keep our eyes away from the screen in “24: Legacy.”

The chase is an effective storytelling technique, and it’s clear that “24: Legacy” is going to leave us on the edges of our seats, just as the other seasons of “24” have. There is a certain excitement in seeing events unfold in real-time. It may limit some of the ability of the show’s creators to tell us what’s happening, but it means there’s a real premium placed on amazing, non-stop action. And the split-screen action scenes are great!

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#4: A more nuanced take on radical Islamic terrorism

Given the recent presidential election, it’s impossible to hear the words “radical Islamic terrorism” and not have a strong reaction. In a sense, that’s a very real issue that the creators of “24: Legacy” are going to have to address through the series. There are still Arabic-speaking terrorists, but we’re likely to see a more nuanced view of them: in today’s America, it’s no longer possible to talk about Islamic terror without facing charges of Islamophobia and getting into a discussion of the “Muslim ban.” Just what are these terrorists trying to do?

#5: Cat-and-mouse storylines

Part of what makes the narrative so powerful in “24: Legacy” is that you have a game of cat-and-mouse taking place on multiple levels. You have Eric Carter engaged in a cat-and-mouse with the Islamic terrorists who are intent on taking him out. You also have a cat-and-mouse game taking place at the highest reaches of the U.S. government. Our assumption is that Rebecca Ingram is someone we can trust, but that’s not true of other people within the U.S. government. There’s even been some fan chatter than Senator John Donovan (Ingram’s husband) may be willing to burn Eric Carter if there’s a chance of advancing his career.

#6: The final terrorist showdown

This non-stop action is going to play out over 12 episodes, and it’s almost guaranteed that the final hours of the show are going to be based around the evil terrorist plot to launch a major attack against the United States. Right now, we don’t have the details, but it’s a safe bet that this plot is going to be so dastardly and epic that the terrorists are going to stop at nothing to use the terrorist sleeper cells to their advantage.

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It looks like FOX has another winner on its hands. While the ratings of Episode 1 on Super Bowl night were a bit lower than expected, there’s still plenty of action, adventure and intrigue left in this winning franchise. Some fans may mourn the departure of Jack Bauer, it looks like the show’s creators have found a more than suitable replacement in Eric Carter. “24: Legacy” is going to be nail-biting, down-to-the-wire action that is almost certainly going to be another TV hit for FOX. If you missed an episode, stream the series online with a Comcast XFINITY internet plan.

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It’s Been Two Years and We Still Miss “Parks and Recreation”

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“Parks and Recreation” will always have a special place in the pantheon of great TV comedies. After 7 seasons and 125 episodes, it’s still hard to believe that it’s all over.

Yes, you can still catch the show on the Esquire Channel (if your cable provider carries it) or on a streaming service like Netflix, but let’s face it, what made the show so popular and such a cult favorite was that it was part of NBC’s Thursday night comedy lineup. For 7 years, you could literally pencil in 30 minutes every Thursday and know that you were going to laugh. You could quibble with NBC’s tagline – “Comedy Night Done Right” – but you couldn’t quibble with the comedy lineup they put together, year after year.

And, now more than ever in America, we need a show that will help us laugh (or cry) through the next four years. “SNL” perfectly captured the mood of the country during the election, but seeing Aziz Ansari hosting the January 21 “SNL” made us realize how much we missed Aziz (who played Tom Haverford) and all the “locals” who populated the fictional world of Pawnee on “Parks and Recreation.”

Remember all of Tom’s crazy business ideas that never seemed to work out as planned? And his friend Jean-Ralphio? For now, we’ll have to content ourselves with watching endlessly looping YouTube videos of them, or checking out the “Best Of” lists on BuzzFeed, where they’ve been immortalized as memes and GIFs.

There’s not a funnier comedy show on TV right now, and that’s a shame. “Parks and Recreation” – just like “The Office” – was filmed in that mock documentary fashion that made it seem so real. This wasn’t some comic sit-com based in a city like New York, San Francisco, Boston or Chicago. This was Pawnee, Indiana — the middle of nowhere and the center of everywhere. It was a normal, everyday town in the middle of the country. (Now, it’s the state of Mike Pence, but don’t get us started there…)

And do you know why else we miss “Parks and Recreation”? It was the whole ensemble cast of comedic talent that seemed perfect for the whole ethos of the Internet era. You could not get through a single week without seeing a meme created from the show. It’s been called the “endlessly GIF-able show,” and maybe that’s what it was – a vast reservoir of America’s emotions, thoughts and reactions, brought to you in larger than life style and delivered direct to the Internet for your enjoyment.

Is there anyone who can’t help but laugh about Ron Swanson’s life lessons? Ron Swanson (as played by Nick Offerman) was the perfect embodiment of what it means to be an Internet meme. Even if you’ve never watched the show (don’t tell us that, please), you’ve probably seen a Ron Swanson meme inserted into your social media feeds.

But, alas, that was 2015. It’s now been almost exactly two full years since we’ve seen a new episode of “Parks and Recreation.” Still so hard to believe.

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But we’re glad to see so many of the cast members of “Parks and Recreation” go onto bigger and better. Take Chris Pratt, for example. On “Parks and Recreation,” he played the goofy man-child Andy Dwyer. Who knew that he’d go on to play an interstellar hottie in “Passengers” next to a very lovely Scarlett Johansson? Every time we see a trailer for “Passengers,” we think back to that magic period in life when Chris Pratt was just goofy Andy Dwyer.

Of course, there are the haters, the people who look back on “Parks and Recreation” and claim that the show never really won any big awards. Ok, so no Emmys. But it was named “#1 TV Series of the Year” by TIME magazine back in 2012. And Amy Poehler did pick up 5 consecutive nominations for an Emmy “Best Actress” award. That counts, right? It would count in Pawnee, Indiana, and you know that for certain.

And speaking of Pawnee, it reminds us of a time when politics just seemed to be silly and maybe a little backwards, but never really scary or dangerous. It was a time when Anthony Weiner jokes sounded harmless, not the cause for an FBI investigation into the personal lives of people trying to become president of the country.

How much harm, really, could a bunch of wacky people in some backwater government department really do? That was back in the first term of the Obama administration, back in 2009. Flash forward to 2017, and mid-level government bureaucrats are trying to do a lot more than just build a community park in an empty pit – they’re trying to build a wall across the entire nation, for goodness sake. Who knows what else they’re up to these days, but certainly not the kind of amiable high jinks that they were up to on “Parks and Recreation.”

So, while “Parks and Recreation” was always intended as a political satire and a mockumentary about life with mid-level government bureaucrats, it was never mean or petty or angry. It was always well-meaning and irony-free. It was, in short, the type of comedy that we need more of today. Wouldn’t it be great to have Thursday night fun again, filled with such great comic actors and actresses?

It’s times like these when it’s time to think back to all the good time and all the little life lessons that we learned from such a stellar cast and such a great show. We’ll always have a special place in our heart for Rashida Jones, Paul Schneider, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott and, yes, Nick Offerman, for making a comedy we could be proud of. And the biggest place of all is reserved for Amy Poehler. We’re sure she’s destined for great things in life, but we’ll always treasure her for her role as Leslie Knope, a bureaucrat in the Indiana Parks and Recreation Department.

So as we head into 2017, there’s only thing left to do. Yes, we’ve been waiting a long time to tell you this, but in the immortal words of Donna and Tom: TREAT. YO. SELF. That’s the only way you’ll get over not having “Parks and Recreation” back in your life this year. Be sure to catch reruns of Parks and Recreation when you have a reliable cable television subscription.

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Why “Collateral Beauty” is a Perfect Holiday Watch

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Every holiday season, it seems, there’s at least one movie that perfectly captures the meaning and spirit of the season, turning it into a must-see holiday film for the whole family. This year’s pick is likely going to be “Collateral Beauty,” which stars Will Smith and a host of other big-name Hollywood stars in a sentimental holiday drama. There are six big reasons why “Collateral Beauty” will be a perfect holiday watch.

Reason #1: The A-list cast

It’s hard to say no to a movie that includes two Oscar winners (Kate Winslet, Helen Mirren) and three Oscar nominees (Will Smith, Keira Knightley, Edward Norton). This is the biggest A-list cast of the holiday season. And we all know that Will Smith is one of the biggest stars in Hollywood right now, so if you’re a fan of great acting, this film is for you.

In many ways, this choice of casting is reminiscent of another winter holiday favorite – “Love Actually,” which also features a number of big-time actors and actresses including, you guessed it, the same absolutely wonderful Keira Knightley who also appears in “Collateral Beauty.” So there’s something very promising about having such a great big-name ensemble cast.

Reason #2: The New York holiday setting

In much the same way that the London setting of “Love Actually” was one of the “unofficial” stars of the movie, it looks like the New York setting of “Collateral Beauty” is also going to have a huge starring role in the movie. There are the classic New York street scenes from the holidays – beautiful brownstone buildings with snow piled up outside, twinkly Christmas lights everywhere, and the energy and emotion of the holidays of “the city that never sleeps.”

As an added bonus, it looks like Will Smith rides his bicycle over the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge on a regular basis – so get ready for some sweeping panoramic views of the city!

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Reason #3: A feel-good story with a holiday message

“Collateral Beauty” is the story of redemption, about a man (Howard Inlet, played by Will Smith) who had everything – a family, a career as a successful New York advertising agency owner – and then lost it when his young daughter died. So Howard Inlet searches for meaning in his life – what he refers to as “What is your why?”

As Inlet sees it, there are only three eternal forces at work in the world – Love, Time and Death – and it’s his job to understand how these forces interact to drive meaning in our lives. He soon starts writing messages to Love, Death and Time, trying to figure out how his life fell apart with the death of his child.

But it’s not a weepy movie – it’s a feel-good story with an upbeat holiday message. Howard Inlet begins to understand how all the forces of the universe – especially Love, Death and Time – interact, and how every loss can reveal moments of meaning and beauty. In short, instead of “collateral damage,” there is “collateral beauty.”

Reason #4: A movie you can take the whole family to

During the holiday season, it’s sometimes hard to find a movie that the whole family will enjoy. Some will prefer dramas, and others will prefer romantic comedies. This film appears to have it all.

The youngest members of the family will see “Collateral Beauty” as a type of Charles Dickens-inspired “A Christmas Carol,” in which people find out the true meaning of Christmas. Others will focus on the acting skills of this uniquely talented ensemble cast, and still others will hone in on the New York storyline. In short, this film has something for everyone.

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Reason #5: The timeless and eternal themes

The fact is, we’ve all experienced a loss of some kind, and we’ve all struggled to make sense of the conflicting feelings of pain, loss and suffering. So, in many ways, this film could be wonderfully cathartic – a way to get over this loss by seeing the big picture of how the world works, and what “meaning” in life really is all about.

The fact that Will Smith’s character focuses so much on Love, Time and Death is the biggest clue that this film is going to help us ponder the meaning of life and what our role is in this life. This may be a sentimental holiday drama, but it’s also one that gets to the heart of timeless and eternal themes. If you were developing a script for a holiday film, it’s hard to think of three themes that are more apt than the ones in “Collateral Beauty.”

Reason #6: The humorous plot twists

Every great movie that considers the big issues in life also needs some moments of comedic relief. This is a plot device that dates back all the way to Shakespeare, who knew how to intersperse jesters and figures of comic relief within tales of deep tragedy and woe. This is not to say that “Collateral Beauty” is going to remind you of Shakespeare, but it does have a potentially very funny plot device – an attempt by the members of Howard Inlet’s advertising agency to convince Howard that he is actually interacting with real-life personifications of Love, Time and Death.

This, of course, is where the remarkably talented Helen Mirren really shines. She plays “Death,” trying to convince Howard Inlet that he is actually talking to the personification of Death. And, as Howard Inlet is heard saying in the film trailer, “I met death, and she’s an elderly white woman.” The director of the film, David Frankel, also directed “The Devil Wears Prada,” so you can get an idea of the type of humor to expect from “Collateral Beauty.”

It looks like New Line Cinema has a real holiday hit on its hands. While some of the initial reviews have not been as ecstatic as originally anticipated, it looks like the combination of all these factors – the A-list ensemble acting list, the New York holiday setting, the feel-good holiday story, the eternal themes like love, and the light comic moments – will turn this into the must-see holiday film of 2016. If you subscribe to a Comcast cable TV package, you can check out Collateral Beauty when it airs on TV.

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Why “Love” is the Greatest Underrated Netflix Show

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The way audiences have come to know and love Judd Apatow is via his Hollywood comedies like “Knocked Up,” “This is 40,” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” But what happens when you take a classic Apatow comic trope – nice, lonely guy meets beautiful wild child woman – and extend it over a period of more than 10 hours? You get something like “Love,” a 10-episode romantic comedy web TV series directed by Apatow.

If the series has flown somewhat under the radar after being launched in February 2016, it’s because it’s not exactly where you’d expect to find an Apatow comedy – headed straight to Netflix. And while many of the characters and plot devices seem borrowed from his films, there’s just something very unique going on here that has already been noticed by highbrow critics writing in The New Yorker and The Atlantic – Apatow and his co-creators, Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust (who also starts in “Love” as the single guy Gus), seem to be blowing apart the very stereotypes and ideas that he created in his earlier films.

First of all, whatever happened to the “nice guy”? One of the hallmarks of any Apatow comedy is the mild-mannered nice guy who’s lovably adorable and gets the total babe at the end. In other words, the Apatow “nice guy” is the 40-year-old virgin (i.e. Steve Carell) who finally gets to hook up despite holding down a crappy job without any real prospects.

In “Love,” that role at first appears to be played by Gus. He’s recently broken up with girlfriend when he meets up with Mickey (played by Gillian Jacobs) totally by chance at a convenience store. Yes, romance at the local 7-11 still happens these days, and this is what it looks like – a “nice guy” covering the cost of a pack of smokes for a beautiful, if damaged, woman.

But as more and more of “Love” plays out over a period of 10 episodes, we learn that Gus is not really as “nice” as he appears to be. In fact, some critics have likened his behavior to that of a seven-year-old. When he’s not happy, he whines, curses, and makes the life of everyone around him miserable. And he doesn’t particularly act nice to Mickey, even when she shows him her vulnerable side.

As Apatow pointed out, “Love” is what happens if “Knocked Up” was actually a TV series, and not a Hollywood comedy. And that’s where the show gets really interesting, because all of a sudden, you’re questioning everything you thought you knew about Apatow’s characters.

Wait, maybe they’re not so nice after all?

And, as for Mickey, she’s not exactly who we think she is, either. But you have to watch more of this original Netflix series to understand why. The way most people start off viewing her is as a “manic pixie dream girl” – a beautiful girl who acts out of control, but who mainly acts in a way that will liven up the life of a boring loser or proverbial nice guy.

But as the show progresses, we find out that this girl has real issues. She’s in therapy for both alcohol addiction and sex addiction, and she has a real desire to curse like a sailor at times. She’s a wild child, yes, but one with a real story behind her. She somehow wants to understand what love is, but can’t quite bring herself to get into a real relationship.

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In short, “Love” may seem like a romantic comedy, but it’s more about exploding apart that clichéd genre in search of a new one. For one, even on his best days, Gus can hardly qualify as a “leading man” or even someone that women would find remotely attractive, even after a few drinks. He has a bad job, dresses badly, acts badly, and seems to be more mean and vindictive than nice and sweet. Oh, and he walks funny, too. Unlike other “lovable losers” who somehow find love in the Hollywood movies, this guy seems like someone who’s not made for anyone.

And that’s exactly the way the writers wanted it to be. The writing team of Lesley Arfin and Paul Rust are actually husband and wife in real life, and they’ve said that part of their inspiration was infusing the characters of Mickey and Gus with the traits, feelings, and thoughts that they’ve actually had about being in a relationship.

In other words, we’re led to believe, you won’t learn about love from a typical Hollywood romantic comedy with two beautiful people living beautiful lives with a happy ending at the end. Life is way too complex for that. Instead, life is messy. We sometimes hook up with people we shouldn’t. And we get into relationships with people for all the wrong reasons, and only a few of the right reasons.

That’s why “Love” is such a great, underrated Netflix show – it’s all about the flawed dynamics of real relationships. It’s all about redefining what makes someone attractive to another person, and how it may take more than 90 minutes, or even 10 episodes, to find out the real character of a person.

There’s a reason that the critical response to “Love” has been so enthusiastic online. On IMDb, the web TV series has a score of 7.8/10. And, on Rotten Tomatoes, “Love” has an 87% approval rating.

The show, really, is all about figuring out what “Love” is. But it first requires understanding what love is not. And it also requires re-thinking whether “nice guys finish first” or if “nice guys finish last.” The tricky thing here is that nice guys may finish last – but it’s because they want to. That’s what makes them so damaged and, potentially, so attractive to women.

As Mickey tells Gus during one of the episodes of the show: “You’re really a mean person who pretends to be nice.” That one line alone tells you all you need to know about “Love” and why people may be underrating it. This is not the standard story of a nice guy who somehow finds love (sort of) with a beautiful woman – it’s about two very flawed people who aren’t what they seem, trying to figure it all out together. And that’s what has made the show such a hit with Netflix viewers. If you don’t have a Netflix account, you can still check out shows similar to “Love” when you purchase a cable package from a local provider.

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Why is Candy Crush Becoming a Game Show?

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Honestly, we have come to terms with the fact that Candy Crush is here to stay, at least for a while. It grew to be a sensational hit, played by nearly a billion of us. Now, it is a game that only your grandma, who has recently started learning about smartphones, plays. Her, and those annoying people on Facebook who keep sending Candy Crush requests and call themselves hardcore gamers. Humor apart, Candy Crush is among the top ten highest grossing mobile games in the US. But its days of flying high are over, and the revenues are on the decline. And like any business that is facing the downhill, the game’s maker King Ltd. is also looking to diversify and survive. The Candy Crush TV Game Show is a step in this direction. The show will be produced by Lionsgate TV and King Ltd. It will be aired by CBS in the US, and distributed by Lionsgate internationally.

For one, this is not the first time we are seeing popular game crossovers. We have already seen cases of some blockbuster hit games being transformed into nonsensical drones that cost us our money and about two hours of our time that we’ll never get back. Case in point being The Angry Birds Movie. But this is possibly the first time that a game, which is actually not targeted at children, is making a leap to the television in the form of a game show. This is what you get when you complain too much about Hollywood’s lack of creativity or obsession with reboots. Now, like a great man once said on another CBS show, “Suffer in Silence.”

For what it’s worth, the producers are making a great effort to make the show creative, fun, and engaging. The show will feature 2-people teams who will use their wits and physical agility to compete in the game. The game itself will be played on enormous interactive game boards that will be designed using next-gen technology. Perhaps, the best news yet about this show is that it will be executive produced by Matt Kunitz. For all of you who don’t know who he is, he is the guy behind the hits like Fear Factor and Wipeout. Kunitz says that Candy Crush “lends itself to the kind of larger-than-life, physical game shows” that he loves to produce. He is planning to include a lot of action and visuals in the game. With Kunitz at the helm of things, we have to say things do appear bright for this game show.

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Despite the developments, there is no word yet on who will host the show. In fact, the production team has been quite guarded in releasing information. For instance, they have not disclosed anything specific like what the teams will get when they win. Whether there will be prizes, cash, vacations, etc.

What we do know for sure is that the show is targeting the older generation audience. Candy Crush is increasingly popular among the older generations. CBS channel gives the game show just that. The median age of CBS audience was 56 years in 2013, so the game will feel right at home at CBS. In its statement, CBS has said that they are excited to adapt one of the world’s most popular game franchises to television.

There has always been a sizeable audience for live game shows, and surely, Candy Crush will gather a decent audience for CBS. Going by the game’s popularity, CBS should be able to attract a lot of audience during the initial days of the show’s premiere. Then on, it will be upon the showmakers to ensure that the audience does not change channels. The audience craves creativity and novelty. Even in the case of mobile games, the sequels of Candy Crush – Candy Crush Saga and Candy Crush Soda Saga – have not been as popular as the original. Further, all of them are losing their steam. Despite the slowdown, 18 billion rounds of Candy Crush Saga are played in a month alone. That’s an incredible number right there. The showmakers have a ready audience waiting for them to deliver them a live action adaptation of their favorite game. All they need to do now is not eff it up. Stay tuned for the Candy Crush game show when it airs on CBS if you have a reliable cable television provider.

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Why Gotham Deserves Your Attention Right Now

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When the Fox TV series Gotham was launched, it was pitched as the Detective James Gordon’s pre-Batman era chronicles in the coldest, darkest, and most corrupt city in America. It began with the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents – Martha and Thomas, and Gordon was assigned to investigate them. Gordon was designed to be the central character of the show. That, he is. But, as it always happens with anything Gotham, the story arc of Bruce’s childhood was simply irresistible to the writers of the show. One thing led to another and now, we have a show that hopes to achieve something that none of the movies, animated shows, video games, and other media on Batman could ever do – provide an insight into how Bruce Wayne became the Dark Knight mentally and physically. And that alone is all the reason you need to watch this show.

Witness Bruce’s Transformation Into the Bat

Most movies and other media on Batman do not do justice to the character development of Batman. They almost always start with the death of Thomas and Martha Wayne right in front of Bruce in his childhood. Then the scene is cut to his teen years, when he begins to train himself in various forms of martial arts, scientific fields, and so on. The final phase is this coldblooded “Bat” character that is insomniac, beats criminals to pulp with his fists, and speaks gibberish with a Martian accent. Oh, and he is a control freak (at least according to Damian, his son. Sorry, if you didn’t know he had a son). While we can see how he beefed up his biceps during all this, we hardly get to see what went inside his head the entire time. This is the very gap that Gotham is trying to fill up, and it is doing a wonderful job at the moment.

While Gordon was investigating into the murder of Thomas and Martha, Bruce was also carrying out his own investigation. Bruce grew out of his comfort zone of crying over his parents’ death, and eventually gravitated towards the world’s greatest detective that he is destined to be. The showrunners are doing everything they can to help the non-comic readers understand the rationale and motivations behind every aspect of the Batman’s personality.

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The Great Alfred

With the death of his parents, Bruce could have easily ended up as a rich a**hole kid, or a clueless teenager. Except he did not. And, the credit goes to his guardian, Alfred. We all know that Alfred is more than just a butler. He is the closest thing Bruce had to a father, growing up. In Gotham, we can see that Alfred was more than a model father figure. He nurtured, protected, and helped Bruce in every way he can. Alfred helped him make sense of the tragedy of his parents’ death. As he grew older, and faced bullying in school, Alfred was there to not only console him, but also to teach him how to defend himself. This act of teaching him to stand his ground and confront his bully is what sowed the first seeds in Bruce to take the onus of cleaning the crime and slime plaguing Gotham by himself. In a way, it was Alfred that made Batman out of Bruce. This is the very heartwarming and profound narration that Batman’s story always needed.

The Birth of the Scum

Every good hero story needs an equally, if not better, strong villain story. If you want to make sense out of Batman’s existence, then you have to understand the scum and darkness that lurked in Gotham’s dark alleys. Gotham does a good job of touching upon the origin stories of some of the most popular villains in the Batman’s universe. As the show progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that a single young honest detective, is so ill-equipped in the city of the corrupt to stop the crime that runs rampant in the city. Everyone from the top-down – the mayor, commissioner, other police officers, and so on – are corrupt. One good policeman, no matter how honest and dedicated, is too small, too under-resourced to make a difference. Perhaps, his unyielding spirit inspired the young Bruce to never give up, even when the odds are against him. While Gotham’s villains are nowhere in the same league as Nolan’s, and are easily forgettable, they do a decent job of convincing the viewers that there is no hope for the city. If the city has to endure, then the dawn of Batman was its only hope, and completely inevitable. To check out Gotham, you must have a TV plan from XFINITY.

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Is “Big Brother: Over the Top” Working for Fans?

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Big Brother is a hugely popular CBS show that just wound up its eighteenth season on the network. Recently, on August 3, 2016, the network announced that it will be presenting an exclusively online version of the show called Big Brother: Over the Top. This was when the eighteenth season of Big Boss was still on air. Big Brother: Over the Top premiered on the network’s streaming service CBS All Access on September 28, 2016.

So far, there is not enough information out there to make a comment on whether this format of the show is actually working or not. But, if you have been following the series, you will know that season 18 was not exactly a success. From the very beginning of the eighteenth season, the producers were under fire for raking in some of the worst viewership numbers the show has seen yet. So, it was only obvious that the set format was not working. Clearly, a change was in order, and possibly, Big Brother Over The Top is that change.

The format of the online show is not the same as its ‘television’ version. There are some significant changes in the show. The biggest one is how the voting works. The viewers of the show will now vote for the contestants on the show (that are now called House Guests). This is something that America had not seen since Big Brother Season 1. Voting for the winner is actually better, because you will be more focused on which contestants you want to keep in the show. On the contestant’s side, this means that they have to differentiate themselves from the get go. They cannot sit around and let somebody screw up their chances. No matter what kind of game they play, the format of the show ensures that they play one in order to survive in the house.

Another factor that is working for the show is that there are no edits. The live feed of the house ensures that people see every House Guest for what they are. It does not really depend on the editing team to show someone in good or bad light. More often than not, contestants have no idea how much of them is being shown to the public. The edited footage from the house can lead to a lot of wrong perceptions. But, this is not going to work on Big Brother Over The Top, because everything will be playing live. So, there is really not much room for the contestants to play the viewers. People will have a better idea about how a contestant really is.

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In fact, audience members have more power over the game than ever. The viewer involvement in this game is unparalleled. Since it is not about choosing the least favorite person, but upvoting your favorite, the game is all ready to create a fan base for the house guests. These fans will then be able to ensure that their favorite contestants are safe and also lend them some really important advantages. This level of interaction has never been seen before. But, it is still in the familiar Big Brother format.

Another good thing about Big Brother Over The Top is that the show comes right after season 18 of Big Brother aired. So, the producers did not have to spend much on the sets. And anyway, the cost of production of reality shows is generally lower than that of typical TV dramas. Since the costs for the show are low, the producers will not mind if the show can work up average ratings.

Well, by the looks of it, Big Brother Over The Top has really touched a sweet spot, for now. The new house rules and the changes seem to be going down well with the viewers. The show offers them a lot of action and also promises to be more honest than the summer versions that are heavily edited. The daily activities, the thirteen guests and the slightly twisted voting process has made the show really interesting. It still remains to be seen that if a 24-hour live feed may take its toll on the entertainment value of the show. As of today, the show is working just fine and it will be interesting to see which House Guest the viewers will shower their love on, till the end. Stay tuned for the next season of Big Brother when it airs on CBS over the summer; you can tune in as long as you have a reliable cable TV connection!

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