I'm a content writer and novelist who loves books, writing, theater, and my cat. I have published two novels and traveled to London and Paris.
Analysis of the "Very Special Episode"
In past decades, situation comedies and dramas were often known for their "very special episodes." These stories took a break from more lighthearted fare to discuss serious topics or issues, often those facing young audiences of the day. Special episodes could often be categorized thus:
Pick a few "very special episodes" to focus on from sitcoms or sitcom/dramas (Diff’rent Strokes, Punky Brewster, Seventh Heaven, Full House…) How has the "very special episode" evolved? Why are they often mocked, even by those who enjoyed their affiliated shows? Is the "very special episode" still around now, and what does it look like?
Are Competition Shows Inherently Against Minorities?
The impetus for this topic started because, during the pandemic, I’ve become rather hooked on Chopped and its iterations. One thing I’ve noticed about Chopped though, is a dearth of female competitors and winners. Many episodes have male chefs outnumbering females 3-1, and many episodes have the female chef eliminated in round one. Some fans have noted this happens even and especially if female judges outnumber male ones.
Then I started noticing this trend in other competition shows. For instance, I am a huge Jeopardy fan, and have noticed that men win much more often than women. Also, women can have winning streaks–some, like Julia Collins, have won as many as 20 games in a row. But this is nothing compared to the streaks of Ken Jennings (74), James Holzhauer (30 ), and other male players.
This got me thinking, women aren’t the only ones getting shortchanged. It’s fairly common, for instance, to see persons of Asian descent on Jeopardy or Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but not other POCs. It’s becoming more common to see LGBTQ people in competition shows, but not as common as it could be (and those contestants also often lose). Also, while people with learning disabilities or "invisible" diseases such as celiac or diabetes do appear on cooking competitions, trivia competitions, and athletic competitions, it is completely unheard of for people with visible, physical disabilities or disabilities like autism to appear. (Of course, in the case of athletics, the argument is, "Well, we have Special Olympics/Paralympics," but that’s problematic in itself).
Is this trend as prevalent as it appears? Is it changing in a positive or negative way? What could competitions, from sports to cooking to trivia, do to be more inclusive and welcoming? Discuss.
Toxic Love in Literature
Bella Swan and Edward Cullen. Catherine and Heathcliff. Lily Evans and Severus Snape. Besides the obvious examples of unhealthy relationships in literature, there are also some that are commonly contested, like Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy or Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester. Despite the toxicity of these relationships though, and despite the fact that from a twenty-first century mindset, they could be called manipulative or abusive, people still love them. People still read the stories of these characters and enjoy them.
Do toxic relationships in literature have a particular pull? If so, what is it? What makes a relationship toxic, and are any of these, or others, redeemable? Is the woman always the "victim," or can men be victimized by toxicity as well? Are toxic relationships more "accepted" with white couples (you’ll notice none of these examples contain people of color or minorities)? Why is that? What about LGBTQ examples? Discuss.
Should Conventional Theater Change to Accommodate Diverse Actors?
Musical theater is a huge and well-loved medium, and in recent years has given us some cutting-edge hits (Legally Blonde, Wicked, Dear Evan Hansen, Hamilton, etc.) Yet there are some accepted "rules" of theater culture that still feel like stereotypes or "boxing in" actors. For instance: sopranos get the leads; mezzos and altos play "witches and britches." Tenors play romantic leads; basses play villains. Actresses past the age of 30 can expect to play mothers and grandmothers, but not love interests for their own sake. If you are a white male, you cannot convincingly play a male or female of any color (although I have conversely seen white women tapped to play WOCs). Actors with disabilities can only really expect casting in disabled roles.
Most theater aficionados will tell you there are solid reasons behind this thinking, even truth. Then again, in 2019, should conventional theater change more to suit the needs and desires of actors? Could or should a musical be written to give an ingenue role to an alto or a hero role to a bass? Is it pushing the envelope to allow actors of certain orientations to play outside of them, or for a white actor to play a POC (outside of a historical context)? In short, what would and should truly "diverse," "inclusive" theater look like?
The Phenomenon of the Unlikable Female Lead
Scarlett O’Hara is a selfish, stereotypical Southern belle. Julianne Potter (My Best Friend’s Wedding) made multiple attempts to break up a happy relationship out of a belief her best friend "belonged" to her. Emma Woodhouse could be considered on the fence, because while she is charming and engaging, she does meddle in others’ lives constantly, and looks down on those she considers "beneath" her.
These are only a few examples of the unlikable female lead, in literature, film, and other mediums. These women are not inherently evil, but they are self-absorbed, gossipy, backstabbing, and at times downright narcissistic. Yet…a lot of people like them. Why? Is there a "happy medium" between perfect, Mary Sue women and evil women, and have these or other characters found it? Discuss this, as well as whether the unlikable female lead does female representation more harm than good overall.
The Allure of the Strange and Unusual at Human Expense
Centuries ago, people who were "different" in any way–those with visible disabilities, facial deformities or marks, extreme obesity, or other conditions–often found "employment" in circuses and sideshows. They were ridiculed as freaks and shut out from society, and we now look back at their plights as an ultimate example of humanity’s inhumanity. We say we are too well-informed, too "politically correct," to parade people around for entertainment any longer.
Yet, we also have reality television. These days, the "freak show" looks more like documentaries chronicling the lives of little people, large fundamentalist families, people who have broken away from extreme forms of religion or cults, and yes, the extremely obese or thin again. We also have documentaries that place miserably failing restaurants, hotels, and other businesses on display, mostly so the hosts can be lauded for saving them and the business owners, who are implicitly understood to be careless or stupid.
Some reality shows are much gentler than others, doing their best to present their subjects with dignity and as real, three-dimensional people. Discouragingly though, the shows that seem to pull in the ratings and the viewers are the same ones that invite viewers to gawk and ridicule.
Why is this? Is the nature of reality TV itself to present the most unusual of humanity at people’s expense–that is, is there nothing to be done about it? What does it say about us as humans that we continue to consume and enjoy this entertainment? Discuss.
Some examples you might use:
-The filthiest and most rundown establishments on Hotel Impossible or Restaurant " "
Real People, Film Portrayals, and Responsibility
Most actors spend their careers playing fictional characters. However, many actors are chosen to star in biopics, Biblical epics, or similar films at least once. When an actor makes the switch from playing a character to portraying a real person, the gravitas factor goes through the roof, and while most actors will try to play real people respectfully and responsibly, there are some who arguably do it "better" than others. Just for one example, look at the many actors who have played Jesus Christ over the years.
In your opinion, what does it take to play a certain real role responsibly and respectfully? How much of a production team’s choice is based on "casting type" and how much is based on say, personality or lived experience? What are some of the best biopic portrayals you’ve seen, of whom and by whom, and why? Discuss.
Recreating the Beauty of Saving Mr. Banks
Saving Mr. Banks (2013) was something of a groundbreaking film for Disney. The company had done films based on true stories before, but Saving Mr. Banks was the first to juxtapose the story of a Disney classic’s making with the story of the original work’s author. Saving Mr. Banks met with critical acclaim and is also one of my favorites in the canon. In fact, I’d very much like to see more films like this.
Do other films in the canon, live-action or animation, lend itself to this type of storytelling? Would actors or viewers be interested in say, learning about the personal lives and struggles behind the makings of Disney’s Golden, Bronze, or Renaissance films? Are there untold stories to be mined from animators (e.g,, Walt’s Nine Old Men, female animators, etc.) and other production staff/voice actors? Discuss.
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