TV Show: Elementary

TV is my crack.

Rachel McAdams (actress)

You all know I am a huge TV and movies fan. I actually spend a lot of time everyday sitting in front of the TV, watching whichever TV show or movie I am really focused on that day or week. Or you could say, I’m obsessed and my evenings spent watching up to six 40-minutes long episodes of crime TV shows are insane. However you want to see it, TV and movies make me happy. So, I have decided to start reviewing the crime TV shows that I love the most and that will, generally, include a woman investigator. If they do not include one, I will probably come here to rant about it anyways. So, I declare my Crime fiction > TV/Movies section inaugurated!

Elementary (2012 – present) is “[a] modern take on the cases of Sherlock Holmes, with the detective now living in New York City” according to its IMDB page. The series star Jonny Lee Miller as Sherlock Holmes and Lucy Liu as Dr. Joan Watson. Yes, you read it right: for the first time on a Sherlock Holmes adaptation, Watson is actually a woman, and not only that, but one with Asian ancestry. Holmes, on the other hand, remains the English detective he has always been, only this time, he has moved to New York City. The following review explores characters and diversity of representation and contains a major spoiler from season 2

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I had known about Elementary for a long time, but I had stayed away from watching it from season 1 because I thought a modern, American and light take on my favourite detective would not suit me. How wrong I was! A few weeks ago I ran out of shows to watch and I decided to give it a go. So, I got seasons 1 and 2 and started to spend my nights with these new Holmes and Watson. I do not know why, but I had expected this female Watson to be a sidekick, someone who nursed, took care and helped Holmes be the main character and genius he is. I have to admit, I was partly right: Dr. Joan Watson is an abstinence assistant, which means that she comes into Holmes’ life to help him fully recover from his heroin addiction. However, as the show progresses, she becomes a complete character and I was really happy to learn about her past. No wonder it takes her and Liu some episodes to fully develop the character! Watson has never been much explored as a character and even less as a woman and a highly-regarded (ex) surgeon. So, in order for Joan to become a likable, complex and strongcharacter, the audience needs to sit with her some episodes. Don’t worry, it will eventually pay off.

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And she will tell Holmes what he needs to hear every once in a while:

Holmes, on the other hand is quite a departure from other TV shows even though modern productions insist on making Holmes act very much as if he were Sheldon Cooper (and suffered from Asperger’s syndrome). Miller’s Holmes openly addresses his heroin addiction and the show makes a great job at portraying how difficult it is for an addict to recover and how that recovery depends 99% on him. But, he remains the genius, the over-stimulated child who pestered his parents and has grown to be an awkward middle-aged man with an asocial behavior that he tries to moderate. This Holmes is more vulnerable and open about his awkwardness than others that I have seen and, unlike Sherlock’s Sherlock, sometimes he is not proud of being a misfit.

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And She needs her own paragraph. She, being THE woman and my personal favourite, Irene Adler. I really liked what they did with her in Sherlock Holmes (the movie) where she was played by Rachel McAdams, although I found her a little bit bland. Sherlock‘s Adler (Laura Pulver) a dominatrix that is blackmailing the Royal Family was much more of my taste. In Elementary, Adler (Natalie Dormer) is dead and much related to Holmes’ fall, but she still plays a role, one that will satisfy Holmes’ fans, nonetheless. I personally have Elementary‘s Adler as my favourite in the modern adaptations of the Canon. “At last “- I thought – “here is an Adler that makes me feel like the one I met reading ‘A Scandhal in Bohemia’.” Her appearance not only as someone who totally fooled Holmes, but as the incarnation of a female James (Jamie) Moriarty has become my favourite twist on a crime TV show. I always thought that Adler was much more than one character in one of Holmes’ cases and Elementary has taken her, and her power to where they really need to be. Also, high-five to whoever thought of making Adler and Moriarty the same character and – finally! – creating a female Moriarty. Just flawless.

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As for the cases, there were quite a few that rang a bell, but the adaptations are not as direct as in the BBC’s Sherlock. Elementary has less time per episode and more time to fill in a year that Sherlock, and that makes up for some good and some mediocre episodes. Meanwhile, the series is slowly incorporating Sherlock Holmes’ traditional characters. One who deserves a mention is Ms. Hudson (Candis Cayne), here portrayed as a transsexual who lives her life as the lover of powerful and rich men. Lestrade is substituted by Captain Thomas Gregson (Aidan Quinn), who appeared in ‘A Study in Scarlett’ and who is more benevolent with Holmes’ grey areas than Lestrade was in the Canon. Lestrade appears in a few episodes, but as a secondy and minor character. As for new additions, Jon Michael Hill plays Detective Marcus Bell, a young African-American who, like Liu’s Watson needs a few episodes to fully reveal himself as a likable character.

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Elementary is, then, a modern and much more diverse take on the famous English detective and his pals. I was really glad to see some racial, gender and sexual diversity in the new characters and I do hope season 3 keeps innovating and including more aspects of a not-anymore white and English setting and state of affairs.

 

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

I first heard of Meg Wolitzer when her novel The Uncoupling came out a few years ago. I added the book to my wishlist and quite forgot about it for some time. However, with the release of her latest novel, The Interestings, I saw some of my favourite bloggers review it and decided to give it a go. So, I asked the publisher for a review copy and they kindly sent me a beautiful paperback.

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From Goodreads:

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Reading The Interestings was a very interesting process indeed. For a start, the main characters were born the same year my parents did, so it really felt like peaking through a hole into their lives before they became Mom and Dad. Also, the book has some very good opening chapters and Wolitzer shows off her mastery as a writer, because whatever I say about the book, there is no doubt Wolitzer is a very talented writer.

But, The Interestings was not my kind of book. Or, I would rather say, its characters were not my kind of characters. After giving it much thought, I have decided to issue a disclaimer that could very well justify my review: the characters (from the baby boom generation born between 1946-1964) are way too different and difficult to relate to by my generation, which I have found out is call “Millennial” (born between 1980-2000) and, apparently, not much-liked. Reading about the characters in the book and thinking what I would have done I felt an immense gap and no possibility of building a bridge between us. Having said this, I am not implying that there is no way between these two very different generations to connect, I have a very healthy and understanding relationship with both my parents. But, the characters in the book did not feel like them at all.

Jules is the main character in The Interestings. An awkward, redhead teenager with a perm gone wrong who, when attending summer camp, finds herself invited to spend the night with the elite. And this is what the book is really about: Jules’ awkwardness at being considered an equal by the Manhattan jet set. Thanks to this, Wolitzer is able to explore how social class pretty much determines how people behave and what is expected of themselves. While Jules struggles with the idea of becoming an actor, her friend Ash, whose parents have money enough for her to freely explore what she is, is able to live a more relaxed and vocational life. Also, no matter what the group of friends does, Jules always feels an outsider and her envy proves to be an obstacle in her own personal and emotional development.

Just recently Mr.B&R asked me whether I wrote bad reviews about books. I stopped for some seconds before replying, because I have been very lucky with the review copies and the books that I buy or borrow. The answer is that yes, I write bad reviews if I am able to finish the book, if not, I do not think it is fair. With The Interestings, I was able to finish the book, but as the story progressed I felt more and more distance between me and the characters, especially Jules. I am a firm believer in the present and the future, because you cannot undo the past and we should focus on making the most out if of it, mistakes included, as long as we are able to leave it behind. A desire to return to the teenage golden days of the summer camp is a recurrent theme in the book and it made me angry and frustrated, since memories are so constructed and reimagined, that it is almost impossible to remember how things really were. Instead of focusing on her present life, Jules constructs a better past and loses her time wishing she could return.

What I did enjoy was Wolitzer’s take on creative people and everyday life. Almost all the characters have very strong and creative drives and they choose to deal with their talents in very different ways. One of them admits that “If creative people stop, they die” and the quote has stayed with me ever since. She also acknowledges the gap between fiction and reality, being fiction what we think our lives will be and reality how they actually turn out. We have problems, we will have even more in the future, but family and everyday life is what keeps us alive. Sex, gender, sexuality and social class will be some of the most important factors that will decide the problems we will face and how we will react to them. But, like Wolitzer put it: “Sometimes you just have to trick yourself a little.” And that is how things work out: by tricking ourselves with routines, jobs, family, art and entertainment. Don’t we?

So, this Millennial does not know what to make of The Interestings. Or maybe it has nothing to do with my generation. I really do not know. What I do know is that I will read more of Wolitzer’s works, because the prose was masterfully written.

Feminist Sunday: Ruby Sparks (2012) by Zoe Kazan and The Myth of Romantic Love

feministsundays2Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

You know I am a TV junkie: if it is a TV show and has crimes on it, I’m in. I can easily watch five forty-minutes long episodes a day and do not feel really bad about it or myself. But, every once in a while, I do watch a movie, and occasionally, it is also a good movie. Ruby Sparks (2012) by Zoe Kazan had been on my radar for a long time. Mr.B&R who is a movie-junkie really enjoyed it, and even though we have very different tastes – I am more a binge-TV-consumer while he is more delicatessen – but he is a feminist as well, so that dissipated my original doubts on the movie. Also, I recently came across this comment by Zoe Kazan who wrote the script and starred as Ruby in the movie:

“I think that the [negativity associated with the] label discourages some women from calling themselves that. I think saying that “you’re a feminist” is a little bit like saying that you’re a humanist, because what it’s really about is equal opportunities and equal thinking about genders being only a part of your identity rather than something that would define you and define your character.. I had a hard time when I was younger sort of reconciling my feminism and my femininity.”

Kazan told Wakeman an anecdote about a time she wore a Hello Kitty Band-Aid at a press event for “Ruby Sparks” and received some criticism. “I felt like, ‘Who are you to tell me what my feminism means to me?'” Kazan told Wakeman. “Just because I wear a skirt doesn’t mean that I am inviting rape and just because I wear a Band-Aid that has a cartoon character on it doesn’t mean that I’m infantilizing myself.”

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So, I decided it was right time to watch Ruby Sparks. Here is the trailer:

Can you guess my initial doubts about the story? A young male writer that creates a female character, a muse, that he brings into life. But Kazan is way cleverer than that. Much more. The writing is just a metaphor of how we create identities in real life, because not only do we construct ourselves – and I think my generation has turned self-crafting into an art thanks to the supposedly public images offered in Facebook and Instagram – but also how we construct others. And especially in a relationship. And especially how men constructed women and these had to adapt to that image. This is what is called “the myth of romantic love.”

The myth of romantic love is still very present in contemporary fictional productions and it can basically be defined as the “and they lived happily ever after”. Love stories in movies, books, ads, are highly constructed and even though they can work on-screen or on paper, they are not similar at all with real life, so they should never be taken as examples. Problem is, they are. In this myth of romantic love, “love will make you suffer” is still a rule, but one that applies mainly to the women in the relationship. As a consequence, violence, both physical and psychological, is justified and a whole set of patriarchal rules come into action. This myth has consequences in everyday life, with examples such as “My boyfriend doesn’t like me to do X, because he is very protective” or “I have to send him a picture before I go out so that he sees how cute I am dressed.” This myth also perpetuates high standards for women, who are seen as perfect and flawless creatures who are totally invested in the relationship. However, as time goes by, and women are seen for what they are – human beings with flaws and virtues like anybody else –  violence emerges in many and varied forms. So, to sum it up, the myth of romantic love is very much related to violence against women and traditional gender constructions.

And what does this have to do with the movie? In Ruby Sparks, young writer Calvin Weir-Fields  (Paul Dano) makes a character he dreams of and considers a muse come to life. Her name is Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) and she is completely Calvin’s creation: everything he wrote about her has materialized in front of his eyes. But, he is so in love with her that he decides not to type her up anymore, to leave Ruby for what she already is: perfect. However, as the honey-moon phase ends (those first dates, those first adrenaline-filled encounters), Ruby wants to do things outside the relationship: she wants to join a class, she goes out with her classmates, and this means, she escapes Calvin’s reign. She has her own individuality and she no longer is the perfect woman he thought. How will Calvin react to this? And, how will Ruby? This is where Kazan’s imagination is at its best, because presenting the story as fictional or magical she is able to address deep gender issues such as controlling partners, jealousy, subjection and autonomy.

Now, Ruby Sparks is a Hollywood movie, written by a young woman and with a real-life couple starring as the two main characters. But it only made $140.822 on its opening weekend in the USA according to IMDB. It makes me sad that movies that could change the way young people view love and relationships are not widely accepted while the famous and upcoming G – and no, I won’t even mention the books here – with its perpetuation of traditional gender roles where women are subjected will surely make at least 10 times better.

Meanwhile, I think you should all watch Ruby Sparks because is the perfect movie. Kazan did a great job with the story, creating a feminist comedy that addresses contemporary heterosexual relationships and she proved that there can be feminist and empowering love stories.

UPDATE:

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The Fever by Megan Abbott

I was kindly sent a review copy of Megan Abbott’s The Fever by Emma Bravo from PanMacMillan along with another book I requested. They say never judge a book by its cover, but the hardback edition of The Fever I was sent was high quality and I rushed to read the description on the back. Here is what I found:

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From Goodreads:

The panic unleashed by a mysterious contagion threatens the bonds of family and community in a seemingly idyllic suburban community.

The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hockey star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie’s best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.

As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town’s fragile idea of security.

A chilling story about guilt, family secrets and the lethal power of desire, The Fever affirms Megan Abbot’s reputation as “one of the most exciting and original voices of her generation”

First of all, I have to admit that even though the name “Megan Abbot” rang a bell, I had no idea what kind of books she wrote, or even if she was British or American. I found her on Twitter, where she has a verified account, and did some research on the Wikipedia. So, she is an American best-selling writer of crime fiction praised by the very Gillian Flynn, author of Gone Girl. I knew, then, that I had to read The Fever.

While I was thinking about this book, which I finished some weeks ago, two voices inside me battled for what to say. On the one hand, I read the book in three sittings because I couldn’t put it down. It really felt like a fever you cannot get rid of, something you need to go through. On the other hand, the high school setting and the characters made the read feel very much like YA. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against YA, it is only that it’s not the kind of genre that I enjoy or that I am used to reading. So, I thought that putting that battle into words would help potential readers: The Fever is an addictive book, one you will want to spend more time with, but it is also a quick and easy read.

Another feature that really caught my attention was the style. I am pretty much used to reading contemporary British crime fiction and I noticed the change from British English to American English. This is not meant as a criticism, but I thought it was worth mentioning. I love American TV shows and I am used to the accent – one many are surprised to find in a non-native speaker like me – but in writing, it felt very different. I had read other American novels like Gone Girl and did not feel the need to highlight the differences, but with Abbott’s The Fever, I had to.

The Fever, because it takes place in a high school, posts some very interesting questions about gender identities and gendered sexualities. Most of the characters are aged 16 or 17 and they are battling against their hormones, exams and their parents. Somehow, I found myself feeling nostalgic for my high school years, even though this had barely happened since I started college. The very scheduled lives, the way you have a weekly pattern, everyone has time to eat and you get home every day at the very same time. It felt like bliss. But, all the other things reminded me the awkward experiences your teenager years are.

Abbott also explores the panic surrounding the HPV vaccines. In Europe, the vaccines were obligatory and paid for by the national health care as long as the girls were under 14. Some months into the vaccination campaign, some girls started to have seizures and, if I don’t remember wrong, a few died. Panic, fear and worry began to plague European parents who had consented to their daughters getting the shots before doing research. A research that would have shown them that the vaccines were not as safe as everyone wanted the population to believe. Also, the fact that boys did not get the vaccine when they are most likely to spread the virus called for some revision of gendered sexualities and gendered medicine. Of course, it is the girls who would suffer from cervix cancer if they got a given type of the virus, but still, what about the boys who could carry and spread the virus? I thought it was very clever of Abbott to explore this issue and show that girls were treated like numbers and most parents blindly trusted the national health care.

Sexuality and teenagers’ bodies were also key issues, and Abbott even explores how certain sexual practices are considered desirable for young boys, but not for your girls. It shows that sexual behavior and patterns are constructed while our sexuality is still being constructed itself where there is a double standard and women’s bodies are overlooked. At one point, a girl who had a successful and totally healthy sexual relation with a boy thinks she did something wrong because it was he who performed oral sex on her, and not the way round. She even feels stigmatized and her friends do not really know what to think of this reversal of roles. Related to this stigmatization, some parents even suggest the title’s fever is in the girls’ head, perpetuating one more time the idea that females are much more likely to be mentally ill, in a discriminatory way. Eventually, the main characters’ father concludes that having a boy and a girl are totally different experiences and that a girl is much more likely to suffer structural violence. You nailed it, Abbott.

So, I would recommend The Fever to anyone who is looking for a good, fast-paced mystery where gender roles in high school are deconstructed. I would also recommend it to people who like watching movies about diseases spreading, like the recent Contagion. The Fever is its equivalent in the form a book. Meanwhile, here is my favorite quote from The Fever:

Bad things happen and then they’re over, but where do they go? . . . Are they ours forever, leeching under our skin?

Feminist Sunday: Everyday Sexism (Part II)

feministsundays2Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

It’s been a long time since I posted anything for Feminist Sundays, mainly because I am reading a lot and working on some very interesting reviews and interviews with women writers. But, yesterday I found this video and I had to share it with you all. I once had a female professor we will name Al, who was openly criticized by a fellow – male – classmate because she was teaching way too much feminism or women’s representation. Al wisely stared at my classmate for a few awkward seconds and then she said: “Well, it may sound not-interesting-enough for you. But let’s see how important it is: let’s make the women in this situation men”. And, obviously, the thought was so ridiculous we all burst out in laughter. Ever since, Al’s recommendation has stayed with me and it has been now turned into a short film called “The Oppressed Majority” by Eleonore Pourriat, who has many other feminist productions you can check here. The original is in French, but luckily for the rest of us, it is subtitled in English. I’ll leave you to laugh to a bare-chested woman high as a kite tells a baby how hot his father is.

 

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