🎵 The song for this post is Dracula's Castle, by Michiru Yamane, for Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. 🎵
Jane the Virgin, Season 1
Man, TV is great, isn't it? People are fighting over whether the "second Golden Age of Television" is over or not, but if you're years late to watching the shows, it doesn't matter, does it?
Jane the Virgin is to telenovelas what Scream is to horror movies: at once a great example of, a love letter to, and criticism of its genre. There are unbelievable coincidences, mysterious twins, amnesia subplots, and you are here for all of it. I say over and over again that art should remember a few things:
- It's supposed to be fun! Or at least, people should be happy they consumed it!
- Your audience knows they're watching something that was built intentionally.
and the best way to sabotage the first bullet point is to forget the second and make everything self-serious. Jane knows that they're doing.
all I’m saying is I seen Step Brothers six times over the last 24 months but I ain’t watched Kill Bill in at least a decade— Dane Delgado (@danegado) July 17, 2018
Well, usually. Season 1 is 22 episodes of 45 minutes each. That's a lot of space to fill, and in aggregate, you'll go through subplots that fizzle and contribute less than others. Certain conflicts get contrived. But you forgive it. You've got no heart in your chest if you don't fall in love with most of the cast several times a season.
Rodents of Unusual Size
20 POUND SWAMP RATS WITH BRIGHT ORANGE TEETH. MILLIONS OF THEM, EATING THE UNITED STATES COASTLINE.
There was a special showing of Rodents of Unusual Size nearby and it became that diamond in the rough, the reason you still check marketing emails every now and then. It's a short documentary ostensibly about the invasion of "nutria," these 20lb rodents that have decimated coastlines around the world. It's more properly about the people of Louisiana, resilience, adaptability, incentives, native vs. invasive, and our realtionship to the environment. It changed my thinking of fur and meat eating from "almost always bad" to "bad most of the time but if done conscientiously, maybe even the right thing."
The Innkeeper Chronicles
Genre fiction! It's been so long!
A rec from a friend, I had a lot of fun with The Innkeeper Chronicles, by Ilona Andrews. While the first is plenty fun on its own, I enjoyed the last two a whole lot more: there's less need to establish the world, and the conflicts themselves feel higher-stakes. The first book is plenty fun though!
The most scorching hot take I can offer is I would have enjoyed high school (and life more generally) a lot more if I gave myself permission to enjoy work like this earlier (and more) than, say, Tolkien. Cultural forces and my choices within them set me up to be a self-serious person who reads big-L Literature and required my stories to contain a certain amount of "boringness fiber" for me to think it was nutritious.
I slogged through Lord of the Rings abroad in a homestay program and had to labor to stay interested (I wrote that in a 9th grade book report The Fellowship of the Ring would be better named as Run, Frodo! Run!). Once you put in the effort to think you've taken away A Weighty Thing from what you've read, it's easy to enter a Sunk Cost fallacy where you rationalize backwards, feeling like "because it was hard to chew, it must have been good"
And sometimes it is! I'm ultimately glad I read The Lord of the Rings, and think it's a fine work! But I think a consequence of this (and a lot of other ingredients) is a gatekeeping culture where genre work gets devalued. I felt my hackles getting raised at various points and I'm glad I was good enough to challenge them. I'm happily anticipating the next books in this world.
Once you learn and accept the rules of this universe, it has an aesthetic that reminds me of why I love Castlevania so damn much (at the bottom of this post is a recipe for a game I'd love to play based on this). The cast is a delightful ensemble, the authors are great at keeping enough balls in the air at a time to keep the pages turning, and a number of the surprises landed excellently.
There's a fair amount of suburban Americana in here that I'm really charmed by — e.g. two women fighting an alien in a Costco with comically large jars of bleach, saving an alien race with an emergency trip to Wal-Mart, a hot werewolf coming back from The Home Depot and building a fire pit in the backyard for a barbeque. And like reading romance novels, I love seeing how art looks when it's structured for audiences who aren't the New York-living Man-In-A-Vest Reader (Dina, the protagonist, is literally a magical caregiver, frequently pushing aside her needs to address those of everyone around her, hyper-competent, and can see petty chauvinistic displays for what they are).
A Gentleman in Moscow
A rec from my dad. After a slow start, I'm happy to say its been years since I've enjoyed a novel this much. The writing is a bit indulgent but easily forgiven since it's often legit delightful:
As if on cue, the door to the back stair opened and in rushed Andrey with a pile of oranges about to tumble from his arms. Reaching Emile's side, he bowed at the waist and spilled them onto the counter.
With the instincts of convicts who discover the gates of their prison open, the individual oranges rolled in every direction to maximize their chances of escape.
Structurally, it's a bit reminiscent of Forrest Gump where you follow a sympathetic character through a world passing through history. In this instance, the character is a lot more of a draw than Forrest, with the historical bits taking a backseat. This is a good thing: I'm convinced most Boomers loved Forrest Gump largely because of the feelings of hearing all "their music" and nostalgia for being the young, active generation; while this is structurally similar, I personally find it a more lasting and interesting work.
I loved how it provoked deep questions of the role of personal agency. I've always felt, as a depressed person, that advice like "you choose to be happy" is reductive pablum mostly parroted by smooth-brained people who have short memories (a good investigation of that kind of thing here); this book is more of the more delightful challenges to my cynicism and hopelessness.
I'm not often consuming art that says something so true and motivational that I'm inspired to get it tattooed, but I found it here. It takes a bit before the book hits its rhythm but I encourage you to stick with it.
The Innkeeper video game would look like:
Dina is the frail-but-powerful spellcaster type.
Arland is a tank with slow health regen, hits like a tank.
Sean is quick, has fast health regen, hits a little less like a tank.
Maud is your "all-around" with light magic powers.
"Tiny" levels: side-scroller one-off levels for Beast, Helen, or Wing.
"Ship battle" levels from other games (where you do turn-based puzzles and combat), as either Dina, Caldenia, or George.
Ace Attorney (or better, Aviary Attorney)-like games for negotiations with Nuan Cee.
Cooking minigame for Orro; if you lose he lets out a Wario-style WAAAAHHHH!!!
Thanks for the read! Disagreed? Violent agreement!? Feel free to drop me a line at , or leave a comment below! I'd love to hear from you 😄