Bad News on Bingeing

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2016-11-28-1480351093-5664005-themarysue_gilmoregirls-656x353For some reason, I find summertime to be a great season for binge-watching my favorite shows. During the school year while my kids are busy with their full schedules, lounging around and watching TV seems too decadent. I try to be as productive on the home front as they are at school. But in the summer, while they oil themselves up and head to the pool, I’m happy to revisit my favorite series Gilmore Girls for the umpteenth time.

But today I read some distressing news. Studies are revealing the adverse health effects of bingeing on video content. Spending hours in front of screens can lead to vision and sleep problems, deep vein thrombosis, and obesity from all the sitting and eating. Nothing in the report was all that shocking, yet seeing it in black and white brought home to me how damaging my habit can actually be.

Ironically, summer is also when the weather is often fine and suitable for more active pursuits. I have increased the frequency and duration of my daily walks lately. And the summer sun brings cheer that makes me more energetic about household tasks.

Medical experts suggest that if you want to binge watch a show, you should get up often to take breaks, stretch, throw in a load of laundry, walk the dog. You should also prepare healthy snacks to eat while bingeing, such as cut up vegetables and air-popped popcorn. Luckily for me, I still have one child at home, so I’m regularly getting up to help her find missing items, trudge upstairs to wake her up, or do her mountains of sweaty soccer-related laundry.

My husband is fond of saying, “Sitting is the new smoking.” It’s a good reminder that as much as I’d like to hang out with Lorelai and Rory Gilmore all day, I need to be active and productive. That way, at the end of the day, I can feel tired and accomplished and feel justified in enjoying a couple of episodes of my favorite show. Those Gilmore girls aren’t going anywhere, after all.

 

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BBT Had the Best Nerds

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An ad for a web-branding company recommends, “Hire better nerds.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek sales pitch and a sign of the times. Since the advent of Silicon Valley dominance, never before has it been so hip to be square. You can find tech gurus in matching t-shirts at the Genius Bar in the Apple store. And Best Buy sends out its Geek Squad to troubleshoot on all things tech. Revenge of the Nerds indeed.

But my favorite nerds are the ones who have populated the beloved sitcom Big Bang Theory for the past 12 years. BBT recently aired its final episode, and I have to say it was one of the most satisfying final episodes of a series that I have ever seen. (Don’t worry. No spoilers in this post!)

For all these years, audiences have grown to love the socially awkward, atrociously dressed foursome of Cal Tech scientists, Leonard, Sheldon, Howard, and Raj – and Penny, the hot girl across the hall who helps them come out of their shells and teaches them a few street smarts. Later love interests Bernadette and Amy add female camaraderie to the tech bro culture of the guys.

The guys’ (and Amy’s) nerdiness is the major source of humor in the show. But being smart is also celebrated throughout the series, and the scientists’ real intellectual concerns are taken seriously. Recurring cameos by real life scientists such as Bill Nye, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and the great Stephen Hawking show that the series creators appreciate science and admire scientists, even the socially inept four who form the nucleus of the show. Mayim Bialik, who plays Sheldon’s wife Amy, is herself a well-regarded neuroscientist.

The character of Sheldon is arguably the most fascinating and beloved of the characters that populated The Big Bang Theory. His many personality quirks and slow development of more socially-accepted behaviors make his interactions with the other characters more interesting. We root for Sheldon because many of us also have idiosyncrasies and insecurities around social situations ourselves. Sheldon’s trajectory gives us hope that ultimately, we can be accepted and loved just the way we are.

Luckily for fans of Sheldon, his young self lives on in the aptly named series Young Sheldon. An interesting note is that Zoe Perry, who plays Sheldon’s mom on Young Sheldon, is the real life daughter of Laurie Metcalf, who plays his mom on BBT.

I will miss the lovable misfits of The Big Bang Theory. Their foibles gave me lots of laughs. And their love for one another gave me all the feels, as they say. Most importantly, the series confirmed that it’s cool to be smart and best to be yourself. And it all started with a big bang – BANG!

 

 

 

Londonderry Air

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Derry-Girls-Ep-2-2054-1068x623In honor of the wearin’ o’ the green and all things Irish today, St. Patrick’s Day, I’d like to recommend a hilarious Netflix comedy called Derry Girls. The comedy series was not on my radar until my very Irish friend Maura recommended it on Facebook. In no time at all, I had binge-watched my way through the trials and tribulations of four teenage girls and one male English cousin living in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the 1990s.

The featured teens in Derry Girls have a delightful mixture of innocence and bravado as they navigate the social scene in their Irish Catholic enclave. They don’t realize how economically disadvantaged they are until they try to sign up for a school trip to France and find out that none of them has a trust fund, and in fact they are all quite poor.

But their economic and social limitations do nothing to cramp their irrepressible style, and each episode features new shenanigans and repercussions from their parents and their school. The girls (and cousin) attend an all girls Catholic high school presided over by a scene-stealing nun, whose dry wit and jaded attitude make her the perfect foil for both troublemaker and goody two shoes alike.  When the girls fall for a dreamy young priest, Sister’s facial expressions alone are priceless.

It seems unlikely to find humor in a show about a divided country that pitted Protestants against Catholics and in which car bombings and assassinations were commonplace. Indeed, toward the end of Season 1, things take a darker turn and only deepen the viewer’s appreciation for the life-affirming and youthful spirit of these young people.

So grab a pint of Guinness, put your feet up, and enjoy an episode or three of the fabulous Derry Girls. Your Irish eyes won’t be the only things smiling!

 

Decisions, Decisions

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1-56“I’m just saying that any decision made, big or small, has an impact around the world.” This statement by Marty Byrde, the main character in the Netflix series Ozark, encapsulates the main theme of the show. Marty is an ordinary accountant whose one decision has serious repercussions for his family and for just about everyone with whom he comes into contact. Like Lake Ozark, the moody locale of the series, a placid existence can experience the ripple effects of that first pebble dropped into it.

Every day we make decisions: what to eat, what to wear, which roads to take to work. Will I exercise or sit around? Should I give a dollar to the homeless man on the corner? Sometime our decisions are momentous: Should I ask the woman I love to marry me? Should I take the job in California? Sometimes we don’t even realize we are making a life-changing choice: What will it hurt if we skip using the condom this once?

Most of us, though, go about our ordinary lives without considering that each little action  can have far-reaching consequences. Every smile, every kind word we speak to another person can influence someone’s mood and possibly affect the rest of their day. The accumulation of good habits and actions has an even greater effect on our lives, our health, and our relationships.

Of course, the reverse is also true. Small lies or cutting corners in our business dealings can add up. It’s a truism that someone who can be trusted in small things can also be trusted with the big things. The way we treat our loved ones and others in our lives also can become an accumulation of small hurts, small digs at another’s self-esteem. I think people underestimate the effects of their words on others, especially cruel or denigrating words.

The fascinating aspect of a series like Ozark is the depiction of someone not all that different from ourselves who digs himself deeper and deeper into a life he had never imagined or wanted for himself. And even though Marty Byrde acts a bit cold-blooded as he explains his philosophy about decision-making, he is descending into a moral and psychological abyss as his actions threaten to destroy the very thing he seeks to protect: his family.

 

 

I’ll Be There For You

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Rumors that Netflix was about to drop the iconic Nineties series Friends from its lineup put my daughter and me into a frenzy. We’d started watching reruns of the smash hit 10-season comedy the year before and were determined to make it through to the final episode, which originally aired on May 6, 2004, and was the most-watched series finale at the time.

I’d watched Friends on and off when it originally aired but never really encouraged my kids to tune in to the inevitable reruns that popped up in syndication a few years later. For one thing, there’s a lot of frank talk about sex and hooking up, a subject I didn’t really want my kids being privy to. I also thought the series might seem dated to the generation growing up on smartphones and laptops. By the time our youngest was in high school, I had relaxed my standards. After all, she was already watching shows like Gossip Girl and One Tree Hill.

So the two of us started capping off our days with a nightly viewing of a Friends episode or two. The series starts off awkwardly. The laughs seem forced, and the chemistry among the characters takes a few episodes to develop. My daughter seemed unimpressed as she sat through those first few episodes stone-faced.  After a while, though, she and I found ourselves laughing hysterically at the foibles of the six young adults living and working in New York City.

Never mind that Friends shared the unrealistic depiction of NYC that almost every movie and TV show has over the years. Despite their lack of funds or spectacular jobs, the friends live in spacious apartments in the heart of Manhattan. They spend inordinate amounts of time at a coffee shop instead of at their jobs. Ross and Rachel each have young children, but they are conveniently out of the picture for entire episodes.

But looking for realism in a sitcom is a fool’s errand, and over this past year, my daughter and I have found much to enjoy about the show. There are just so many laugh-out-loud moments, such as when Joey gets a turkey carcass stuck on his head. Recurring characters such as Janice with her donkey bray of a laugh also add to the humor. The actors who portray the six core friends are expert physical comedians. Sometimes their facial expressions alone cause hilarity.

But what truly makes Friends a special series are the many moments of true love and sacrifice that the characters make for each other throughout the series. There are serious subjects tackled in Friends, including a sexual abuse storyline that is played for laughs but also gets the point across that what happened to Joey as a child and then Chandler as an adult was inappropriate and wrong. The series also deals with infertility, adoption, excessive drinking, and the pain of divorce. And the way these six friends help each other through the bad times is a reminder of the theme song lyrics, “I’ll be there for you.”

One of the other most popular sitcoms of the Nineties was Seinfeld. It also featured a group of friends living in New York City. But the tone was more cynical and heartless. Not one of the main characters was particularly sympathetic, and they weren’t all that kind or supportive of each other. So it was easy to laugh at each of them when bad things happened to them. You kind of felt that they deserved it. Friends was an entirely different kind of comedy. Although the characters could at times be selfish and competitive, when push came to shove, they always chose their friendship over themselves.

It turns out the rumors about Netflix ditching its Friends were unfounded. The series will continue to be streamed through 2019. That gives my daughter and me a little breathing room as we head into the home stretch in season 10. But as hooked as we are on our late night bonding over the trials and tribulations of Monica, Ross, Rachel, Chandler, Joey, and Phoebe, I suspect we will have finished the series before we ring in the New Year.

 

“Midwife” Delivers Nostalgia

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My sister and I share tastes in many things. We both love sweets, good books, and serious theater. So it was a bit odd that I didn’t immediately take her up on her suggestion that I watch the PBS series Call the Midwife. For the better part of two years, my sister would mention how much she loved this period piece about midwives set in London in the early Sixties. And for two years, the idea of the show lacked appeal to me.

Finally, I decided to give the show a try. I instantly fell in love with the nurses and nuns of Nonnatus House, a home for midwives in Poplar, a poor district in the East End of London. In each episode, these nurse midwives tend to the growing families’ needs for medical care, sustenance, and moral support in often rather grim conditions. Their life’s work is imbued with optimism and love, for both God and their neighbors.

The series, which completed its seventh season this past spring, also delves into the lives and loves of the Nonnatus House residents themselves. Based upon the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, the series begins with Jenny moving into the midwives’ domicile and struggling to be accepted in the small world of Poplar – and in the world of the religious sisters themselves. One of the nuns struggles with her growing affection for the local doctor. Another shows a gruff exterior that hides a kind and caring interior. The non-religious midwives also have their trials and tribulations, such as alcoholism and the hidden love for another woman.

I love the faithfulness to the culture of the early 1960s, where abortion and homosexuality were illegal, birth control was in its infancy, and most women in the area of Poplar gave birth at home. The clothing, hairstyles, music, and topical references all add to the realism that transports the viewer to another time and place that many remember well. In the season seven finale, for instance, the Nonnatus House residents learn that President John F. Kennedy has been killed.

I’ve learned some interesting things from watching the series. For example, I never knew that there were Anglican nuns. The sisters and their religious devotion are treated with great respect in the series. The beauty of their rituals, the habits they wear, and the love with which they minister to the needs of their community are all lovely depictions of what a life of faith can bring to the world.

Call the Midwife is a deeply heartfelt paean to a world and a time and place that seem distant but in many ways are not so far from our own modern trials and tribulations. There is plenty of childbirth on screen, so the show is definitely not for the squeamish. But the series has evoked so many tears from me – tears of sorrow, yes, but also tears of joy.

When season seven concludes, it is 1963. I look forward to next spring when the residents of Poplar take on 1964 with the same cheek, gusto, drama, and neighborly love that they’ve shown season after season on this wonderful series.

Newcomers to the series can catch all seven seasons of Call the Midwife on Netflix. Season 8 will debut with a Christmas special on PBS in December, followed by season 8 in the spring.

As for me, I will never doubt that sister of mine and her conviction that I’d like something. When it comes to most things, we are two peas in a pod.

Fab New “Queer Eye”

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When the reality series Queer Eye for the Straight Guy debuted in 2003, I immediately fell in love with the self-named “Fab Five,” five gay men with different areas of expertise whose job each episode was to do a makeover on a straight man. I loved experiencing the free-spirited attitudes and funny repartee of Carson, Ted, Kyan, Thom, and Jai each week as they took men from clueless to chic.

So I was a little skeptical about whether I could embrace a whole new Fab Five in the Queer Eye reboot that premiered earlier this year. After four episodes, I’m happy to say that I find the new quintet as endearing, funny, and sweet as the original five. So far, the new Fab Five have been focusing their efforts on sprucing up the “redneck” contingent in Georgia. To see them prancing around the environs of Nascar and antique car fans has been amusing and surprisingly touching.

While the original Queer Eye aired during a period when gays on TV were still a rarity, the show did not explicitly address homophobia or gay rights. The Fab Five’s “gayness” was an unspoken subtext to the Cinderella stories that unfolded each episode.

The new Queer Eye seems to be aiming more overtly for acceptance and understanding between people whose cultures are vastly different from each other. In the first episode, for instance, Bobby confronts the stereotype of gay couples having one masculine and one feminine member. And in episode four, African-American Karamo has a meeting of hearts and minds with a white Atlanta area police officer.

I realize that reality TV is not all that real. For instance, I doubt Karamo being pulled over by a police officer (who turns out to be a friend of the makeover recipient) was a real surprise. And no doubt some of the conversations had between Fab Five members and their subjects are prepared in advance. But there are some honestly touching moments in Queer Eye, as five gay men lovingly coax a straight guy out of his comfort zone and give him a new lease on life.

The success of Queer Eye is not just the opportunity to see that gay and straight people have a lot in common. It’s also a celebration of those aspects of gay culture that bring color and dimension to the world. Just as blacks shouldn’t have to tone down or assimilate in order to find acceptance, people in the LGBTQ community should also be accepted and embraced on their own terms. I’m glad to say that Queer Eye is a delightful step in that direction.