A Special Day

Today is a very special day. [A young but mature-sounding number of] years ago, Alison was born, and she was fabulous.

Actually, she—like me—was pretty dorky and strange. Proud to let her freak flag fly until middle school—then, unsure how to contextualize her beautiful weirdness in a sea of scary pre-teens.

Until—college! Freedom! Thick-framed hipster glasses! And of course, many years of ME IN HER LIFE.

But this is about Alison. To celebrate, I have here compiled a few of her (and my) FAVORITE things, thematically united by girl-friendship and powered by strong, feminine wonder.

We encourage you to listen, watch, subscribe and enjoy—and to send one-half of your favorite blogging dynamic duo some love on her birthday.


lennon and jessI have already written ecstatically about the Lennon Parham/Jessica St. Clair best friendship—which inspired the delightful comedy Playing House on USA (returning for its second season this summer). 

Parham and St. Clair recently launched WOMP IT UP!, a hilarious podcast featuring recurring characters from Scott Aukerman’s Comedy Bang Bang! television show and podcast.

Join high school senior Marissa Wompler (St. Clair) and her BFF/sketchy middle-aged mentor and teacher, Ms. Listler (Parham) for hours of unending fun.

RIP Joan Rivers.



This was the very first show that Alison and I binge-watched together. Veronica Mars, a spunky and disconcertingly brilliant high school-aged private investigator, tackles all things dark, difficult and mysterious while navigating her own twisty adolescent feelings. Her buddy Mac—girl-computer genius—stands by her side throughout.

Often funny, super-entertaining, and available in TV, movie and –finally!—book form! Brought to you by the ridiculously awesome Rob Thomas.


Created by sassy chicks not unlike Alison and me, Two Bossy Dames is a weekly newsletter in which, by their own description: “Margaret [librarian and pop culture critic Margaret H. Willison] and Sophie [Sophie Brookover, librarian and writer extraordinaire] boss the Internet with impeccable discernment and insouciant charm. Cultural recommendations and commentary every Friday evening. GIFs aplenty.”

Try it! If you don’t fall in love with Dames Margaret and Sophie immediately, consider us, as they might say, “highly puzzled by you.”


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A classic and immensely great pop culture podcast, conceived by the minds behind Television Without Pity and Previously.TV. Tara Ariano and Sarah D. Bunting co-founded both sites, along with Tara’s deliriously insane hubby, David T. Cole.

Each week, an in-depth gab-fest featuring uniquely sophisticated television and film commentary. These folks know literally everything about what’s on the tube. Also, a game-time segment at the end of each episode that is often bizarre and very fun to play along with in the comfort of your mind.


abby and ilana

If you have not already caught this show on Comedy Central, do yourself a favor—Youtube some clips, or catch season one for free on Amazon Prime.

These girls are adorably gross and in love with each other—a must-see for twentysomethings living in cities that haven’t a clue. Alison and I cannot decide who is which—probably both of us are Abbis, if we’re being totally honest.




Scared Stiff

I do not like scary movies. I was tricked into seeing The Ring at the tender age of fourteen. “Oh, it’s not very scary,” they said. “You’ll mostly laugh at it,” they said. Cut to me spending three quarters of the movie behind my jacket, and then creeping into my parents’ bedroom at 2 a.m. because I was too scared to even blink. And to this day, that’s how it goes when I watch movies that are even mildly suspenseful. As farfetched as a plot may seem, when I’m back home and the lights go out, I have trouble distinguishing fact from fiction. That family in Paranormal Activity didn’t think anything bad could happen to them, so why should I believe any different? Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken was just a normal girl. I’M A NORMAL GIRL. Thus, I’m next in line to be human trafficked.

I’ve learned to stay away from horror. Occasionally, however, a mainstream movie blindsides me with elements of the terrifying. I found myself in such a position while watching Mad Max: Fury Road. I’d walked in mostly blind; my only previous knowledge was its 98% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. And yes, the film is incredibly well done. The world is fully formed, despite minimal exposition. If you condensed the script down to dialogue, it couldn’t have filled more than thirty pages. Even as a newcomer to the Mad Max universe, I knew what was going on. The visuals were amazing, too. I was dazzled by the desolate beauty of the setting. The director George Miller used minimal CGI to create impressively complicated car chases—so, props, man! The film is masterful. But I did not enjoy my viewing experience; it was two hours of pure stress.

FullSizeRender Here are the basics—in a post-apocalyptic, waterless wasteland, Max (luscious-lipped Tom Hardy) and Furiosa (badass-beyond-belief Charlize Theron) find themselves hauling some precious cargo, while hunted by the tyrant Immortan Joe and a huge war party. Everyone has a bangin’ vehicle.

We open on the Citadel—essentially, this world’s version of the The Capitol in Hunger Games. Except no one is beautiful. Even the most powerful are grotesque, plagued with birth defects and sores and cartoonish gout. I was queasy from the start.


Most of the film is adrenaline-fueled chase sequences, (scored by a heavy metal band who rides with the war party: most prominent is an electric-guitar-shredding humanoid, whose comical enthusiasm never failed to take me totally out of the movie). Miller jumps rapid-fire between shots, and he edited frames out of the final cut, so the business on screen is jittery and spastic. Your eyes zip around the frame, trying to track the action. I couldn’t keep up with what I was watching, and felt the stirrings of a panic attack.

Teetering on the edge after all this negative visual and auditory priming, the villains’ pure evil sent me right over. There is no nuanced exploration of humanity or shades of grey. These are Bad Guys, motivated solely by power. Their underlings, called War Boys, fight to achieve the beautiful afterlife they have been promised in exchange for dying in service to Immortan Joe—an obvious comparison to today’s violent religious fanatics. They pursue their quarries in a crazed frenzy, huffing silver paint before going in for a kill. It’s like watching a mob of fast zombies. They show no remorse or hesitation—the kind of antagonist with whom there is no reasoning. Several times while watching, I realized my arms were wrapped around myself, digging into my back.


Still, I think the movie was incredible. The world is detailed and complete. Theron is perfection, and just as powerful as Hardy. There are some bitchin’ grannies. The body count is realistic-ish (SPOILER ALERT, some good guys are dispatched without sentimentality). It takes you on a real ride (ugh, no pun intended…get it?…RIDE??…Elise didn’t get it).

It’s been a long time since a film stayed with me, viscerally. Mad Max‘s parallels to modern religious extremism and violence against women were all too relevant. As with The Ring, it was hard for me to separate fact from fiction. But this time, it was the terror of our real world that gave me a pit in my stomach, not a malicious supernatural spirit. Long after I left the theater I was affected, but this time, it was about something real.


Five Dollar Bill


Balance is a good thing. Your mom thinks so, and so does your yoga instructor and your therapist. Equal parts nights in with a good book, weekend brunches with friends and awkward happy hours with strangers that you met on Hinge. Leafy greens, protein and candy bars. Right? No, I’m really asking.

I am a notoriously picky eater, and my evenings are homebody-heavy. But the balance principle does apply to my pop culture diet—if to nothing else. For every trashy beach read, there is an enormous, painfully detailed biography of an early American president that I adore. For every bloody Damages or soapy The Good Wife, there is a confectionary delight I’m watching that’s just—funny.

I did not include New Girl in my recent post about endings. The show wrapped up its fourth season a few weeks ago—and despite all the distracting emotions swirling about Mad Men and noisy love-child theories trending about Game of Thrones, I’m still thinking about the final scene of New Girl. It didn’t press the same buttons as the heady, ambiguous endings I wrote up last week—New Girl satisfies different, but equally important, intellectual and emotional needs of mine.

Like every pseudo-hipster smarty-pants girl, I’m not a huge fan of Zooey Deschanel. But New Girl isn’t about Jessica. At least, not the way that Mad Men is “about” Don Draper. New Girl is an ensemble show. It’s about a friend-group dynamic. One that is ultimately supportive, loving and heart-warming. And always. ALWAYS. Hilarious.

I laugh out loud when I watch New Girl. Like, all the time. Like, the way I laugh when I re-watch Friends—my ultimate pop culture comfort food. Nick is my Chandler (I secretly love him—because I have a not-so-secret fixer-upper complex). And Schmidt is my Ross—hands-down the funniest character, mostly because he’s unbearable. Schwimmer and Greenfield will probably never live down their fictional assholery.



But you can’t help but root for them because they’re good people, and sometimes you just really want good things happen to nice folks.

THIS HAPPENS SO RARELY IN REAL LIFE, YOU GUYS. Why are some of my favorite girlfriends cursed with toxic relationships, constantly? Why do people get sick? Why did THAT GUY get THAT JOB, and why does THAT GIRL making so much more money than I do?!

When my mind buzzes with questions like these, an episode or two of True Detective or Breaking Bad are not. Uplifting.

Then, Chandler proposes to Monica. Or Phoebe has her triplets. Or New Girl delivers a moment like the five dollar bill. For those of you who saw the season four finale, you know what I’m talking about. Sometimes a scene and a line are so perfectly crafted, genuinely delivered, and shamelessly designed to trigger all the happy feelings that it’s basically unfair. It made me cry. Alison cried too!

But so NECESSARY. Love does happen! People do grow up, even in the admittedly limited scope of a 22-minute sitcom. I am totally okay with being manipulated in this manner.

Because I need it! And it’s too easy to forget that acts of kindness and heroism are just as real as random disasters. These moments remind us that the world, while generally unfair, does redeem itself. Even Don Draper and Peggy Olson got (some of) what they (probably) wanted in Sunday’s Mad Men finale. Voilà—balance.

These shows are important to me—not because I believe that television equals life, and that my experience will fit neatly into a three-act structure with a tidy, satisfying ending. It’s important because I believe in balance. I believe in surrounding myself with art and culture and people that both challenge and comfort me. And that buried deep in my ooey gooey heart—though I HATE to admit it—I love a happy ending.


Belly Laughs & Lofty Goals

Television sketch comedy is having a moment.  Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele, and the recently departed Kroll Show are just a few of the shows growing a genre dominated for 40 years by SNL. Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel’s most memorable late night bits could easily belong on a Second City stage. Netflix is bringing back Mr. Show alums Bob Odenkirk and David Cross for a new sketch project. Even Louie, which follows a more narrative structure, is often dominated by stand-alone vignettes.

Sketch isn’t just for comedy nerds anymore. Twitter is lousy with videos the day after these shows air, delivering bite-sized content for quick workday consumption. “haha sooooo funny,” the dumbest person from your high school class posts. “omg lol PREACH!!!” writes a former Potbelly co-worker with whom you’re still inexplicably friends. Everybody is sharing, liking, and commenting all over social media, so that SNL’s sketch skewering sexism in The Avengers is trending next to breaking news on Boko Haram.

These videos aren’t going viral just because of the chuckles, funny though they may be.  These comedians are using razor-edged satire to Say Something. For every Key & Peele College Bowl sketch (genius, but fluff), there are social or political commentary pieces like Amy Schumer’s “A Very Realistic Military Game.” Nick Kroll has sharply parodied the empty-headed bimbos (and mimbos) all over reality TV, reminding me just how embarrassed I should be for eating up Real Housewives of New York with a spoon (I continue to watch, but with more chagrin: “I need something to unwind to,” I say, pouring an extra-large glass of pinot grigio). SNL’s shining moments—noticeably fewer in the age of more polished comedy programming—are mostly satire as well.

Season three of Inside Amy Schumer, in particular, is killing. Schumer digs deep into feminist, age, and body image issues, often using herself as the punching bag. In “Last Fuckable Day,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Tina Fey, and Patricia Arquette celebrate Louis-Dreyfus’ final moments as a desirable woman in the eyes of the media.  Schumer puts her own appearance on trial for a full twenty-two minutes in “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” an impeccably crafted parody of 12 Angry Men. Seriously, forget about whatever you’re doing right now, and watch it. It’s perfect.


Schumer comments so often on her appearance, in fact, that after watching an episode start to finish, her sketches are diminished by a tedious sameness. I’m often left thinking, “Ok, ok, we get it. People tell you you’re fat and ugly, and you’re taking control of that image.” But not everyone gets it—the danger of devaluing women in both the media and the world at large is a message that bears repeating. And for me, Schumer’s sketches are better consumed independently from each other to maintain their edge.

It’s not enough for comedy to provide an escape anymore. We’ve ignored what’s going on outside our doors for long enough, and while we were hidden away inside, the ice caps melted and the NSA learned we sexted our exes. Horrifying police brutality further divided cities and races. Nail salons littered throughout major metropolitan areas systematically exploited immigrants. The world is (almost literally) exploding, and the best comedy on TV right now is making us face that. There’s still a place for jokes solely as entertainment, but we don’t need that as badly right now. We need change.

Bob Odenkirk’s well-publicized comments speak to sketch’s fleeting popularity. There’s a bubble, and it’s going to burst. I don’t disagree. At some point, sketch will fall out of fashion, as all styles do.  (Bye, multi-cam sitcoms!) But in the meantime, it’s speaking clearly and loudly for the greater good.


The End of Things

I’m here! I know—you don’t believe me! It has been a while, dear readers and dear co-blogger. A few life changes and various many-houred flights later, these are the things I have learned about myself:

I need to stop acquiring stuff immediately. Stuff is cumbersome and irritating and inconvenient and karmically unnecessary. Purge, I say!

There is virtually no amount of money I will not pay for convenience. I want professional people to sell my car and pack my things and pick my 401(k) investments for the rest of time—I cannot do it alone.

Also, how much I miss Alison.

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I missed some more things while I was traveling. Real things, but also a lot of the television shows and articles and podcasts I follow religiously in my day-to-day. And I noticed that, upon my return—binge-watching, reading and listening during any free moment I’ve got—there are a lot of endings happening right now.

Sunday’s Mad Men, “Lost Horizon”—only three more episodes left!—was one of the grimmest, most uncompromisingly real hours we have spent with these folks. The great, good Joan is taken down by the patriarchy at “fifty cents on the dollar,” while Don Draper grins madly and barrels down a road of manic self-delusion. Not pretty.

Meanwhile, two of my absolute favorite television shows ever—Justified and The Americans—came to a close. Justified is gone for good, and The Americans wrapped up its third, fantastic season.

Justified showrunner Graham Yost can’t deal in the kind of ambiguity that Mad Men’s Matty Weiner adores. The finale was satisfying and genre-appropriate–but surprising. The last scene of this guns-drawn western featured  Harlan boys Boyd and Raylan doing what they do best—acidic banter, but disarmingly poignant. They have been enemies, but they have also been brothers in the mines.


Raylan’s final, most heroic act was not shooting down the bad guy, but a lie he told to protect Boyd and Ava for the rest of their lives.

I won’t linger on The Americans season three finale here—for a gorgeously heartfelt recap and analysis of the season, check out Andy Greenwald’s piece on Grantland.

Greenwald structures his thoughts around destructive power of honesty. How truth-telling, though “noble,” can cause more pain than a teensy little lie. Or a really big lie, in the case of undercover Soviet spies, Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings.

Lies that do good, and lies that do bad. To my mind, this tension characterizes all three shows and their endings. Raylan’s lie is a boon, a saving grace. The Jennings’ big confession to their daughter, Paige, will probably destroy them. The truth won’t set Don free—acknowledging his complete and constant dissatisfaction will probably kill him. At least we know Peggy’ll be all right—she knows what she’s about.


Everybody lies. To ourselves, to our loved ones. For good reasons, or for no reason in particular. Justified, The Americans and Mad Men have never shied away from the complicated, messy humanity of their characters. Their greatest challenge is one that we face every day: do we tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth—or not?

I get these people, and I understand their choices. I will miss them. I’ve said a lot of goodbyes these past few weeks and— as in the real world—good people (with great stories) are hard to come by.