Friday, May 29, 2020

Friday Creature Feature - Digimon

Digimon. Digital Monsters. Digimon are the champions.

Often misunderstood as a ripoff of Pokemon, Digimon is one of my oldest fandoms. I’ve gone out of my way to defend the franchise in the past, but today is more of an educational moment about what Digimon really are.

In an era that was full of monster/human team ups (Pokemon, Monster Ranchers, Yu-Gi-Oh, etc.) Digimon took their own spin on it. Instead of being based on Pokemon, as people think, it’s actually more like tamagotchi, as Digimon started out as virtual pets. While tamagotchi was marketed towards girls, Digimon was marketed towards boys. But enough of Digimon history. Let’s get into the monsters themselves.

There are eight animated Digimon continuities thus far and at least five of them exist in the same "multiverse". Depending on the universe in question, the origins of Digimon varies. That being said, there are some base characteristics that define what makes a Digimon, regardless of the universe. Digimon, or Digital Monsters, are made up of living data. They have a physical form, formed from computer data instead of DNA. Because Digimon are made of data, in most continuities they cannot be permanently destroyed, just reconfigured and reincarnated.

Digimon grow and develop through the process of Digivolution. Like evolution from Pokemon, Digimon change their physical form to become something stronger. In contrast to Pokemon, Digimon can typically only digivolve suddenly with the help of a human partner. Other Digimon seem to digivolve through natural progression of gaining experience from battle, much like Pokemon. Depending on how a Digimon is raised or how it grows, a Digimon can digivolve differently (kind of like Eevee in Pokemon). A prime example is how Guilmon digivolved to Megidramon when his partner was filled with anger, but when his partner was calm and collected, he became Gallantmon.

Unlike Pokemon, which exists within its own universe separate from ours, Digimon is set in what could be our universe. The Digimon themselves exist and come from the Digital World, a parallel world to our own created from computer data. The basis of the Digimon anime usually stem from the fact that Digimon slip across the border into our world or humans (usually children) slip into the Digital World. The fact that the anime is set in our world is part of the allure of the franchise for me.  Digimon and humans can travel to and from the Digital World through a sort of portal, depending on the continuity. Sometimes the portal is like a wormhole in space. Other times, the portal is literally created from a computer or other digital devices.

For the most part, use of these portals requires a Digivice, a piece of technology that links the a human (usually a child) to their Digimon partner. The design of the Digivice varies based on the season and the particular universe, but there are basic aspects that are pretty standard. Essentially the Digivice is modeled after the tamagotchi-like devices that began the franchise. In the anime, the Digivice is often an important key in the human partners reaching the Digital World, as previously stated, but more importantly they help the Digimon jump-start their digivolution process.

What did I miss, Digimon fans? Who's your favorite Digimon and who would you want as your partner?

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Community: When Character Development is Hidden

(Guest Post by T.J.)

On April 1st, Netflix viewers were given the option of watching all six seasons of Community. Now, this has popped up as a suggested show on my Hulu for who knows how long. But the idea that Netflix had it reminded me that I’d never really given the show a try. I’d watched about ½ of the first episode before getting bored back in 2013. This time, though, I was going to make it through at least the first few episodes. Well, I made it through all six seasons in about four weeks. (Just waiting for the implied movie.) This is the first show I’ve really binged in a while.

(Note: There will be spoilers here. I mean, the show ended 5 years ago.)

I do want to say that I found the writing very clever. A little inconsistent, but definitely funny. But it was even more awesome by the actors’ abilities to play off each other so well. I love that the 4th wall is made very thin throughout the show.

But really, let’s talk about the characters. There are so many character flaws throughout the show, which is something that makes them very relatable. However, during a series nowadays (i.e. post-1990) we expect to see character growth. And some of our lovable characters just didn’t change….or did they?

This post could go really long, so I’m going to focus on the original seven that sat around the table.

Pierce Hawthorne: I’d say “poor Pierce” but I really don’t know that I can honestly say that. From a writer’s perspective, I felt like Pierce had the least consistent writing. Somehow, they made him more racist and more homophobic as the show went on.  He was the villain in season 2, which was quite the bummer. And any redemption he had (like in the season 2 finale) was quickly lost. I just didn’t understand what they were trying to do with the character and I don’t blame Chevy Chase for leaving. However, the polygraph episode for Pierce’s funeral (one of the funniest of the show) showed Pierce’s true character: that he overlooked all the flaws of those around him and saw them for who they truly were. The touching reminder moment of Mr. Stone asking Annie if she knew she was Pierce’s favorite made me smile. Pierce did admit that other people had an effect on his life in the end, the only real development we got to see from him.

Troy Barnes: Not only was Troy traveling the world on a boat, he had LeVar Burton with him. (Of course, their fate is still in question.) Troy grew up. I think that’s the most obvious thing for him. Troy was the high school football star who couldn’t handle the life he was about to lead and faked an injury. In all honesty, it was probably the best decision he made. Troy behaved as a child a lot of the time. But once in a while, he would make a choice that was very adult. I mean, when you think about it, Troy was only 23 when he left Greendale. Troy never knew, though, that what he needed in life was perspective. He went through a healthy relationship with a healthy breakup with Britta, something that not a lot of people could do at that age (or any age for that matter).

Shirley Bennett: This is a woman that is full of drive. Only she doesn’t know she has it. She’s very passive-aggressive but proves that age is a number and that you can still fit in if you want. Of course, I’m always left wondering who’s babysitting her kids throughout the show. Shirley doesn’t go out with any kind of bang. She just quietly goes off to do her own thing. But overall, Shirley knew that she wasn’t limited by anything more than the walls she had created herself. Her character didn’t have a great send off, but it was an interesting way for her story to end to have her flat out leave the area. That’s nice.

Abed Nadir: It would be easy to say Abed has no character growth. “Abed’s a robot he has no emotion.” At the same time, I feel  Except that’s not true. Abed just interprets the world differently. Abed probably has one of the earliest moments of character change in the show when he decides he wants to go to into film. This change dictates who Abed is for the rest of the series. However, we see some change in his emotions, especially when he’s hooked up to a lie detector, Abed says he’s “Cool…, cool, cool” with Troy leaving. Except it’s a lie. He’s obviously hurt. Nobody understood Abed better than Troy. But without Troy, Abed was forced to rely on his other roommate, Annie, to help him connect better to the rest of the world.

Britta Perry: I gotta say, Britta’s overarching character development seemed to be one of the worst to me. She goes from confident anarchist to clumsy airhead and bounces between those two throughout the show. However, there is one thing that I really liked about her character arc that people may not notice: she swallows her pride. When Britta’s friends force her to accept that her parents are helping fund her life, Britta hates it at first. But eventually, she learns that she just can’t do everything she wants. She never sells out like her fellow anarchists. But she also learns how to live her life in a way she’s okay with. Maybe Britta doesn’t have a great job, but she has one and she’s trying to make it work. Of course, I’m left wondering how she afforded that apartment by herself once Abed and Annie left….

Annie Edison: First, I prefer Annie to be with Jeff. But I didn’t get to write a happily ever after, so what does it matter? Second, Annie, like Troy, grows up throughout the show. She’s a perfectionist who can’t let go of her tendencies. Over time she figures out how to balance perfectionism ideals with acceptance of inadequacies. In the last two seasons of the show, Annie ends up filling Troy’s shoes, to an extent. She ends up understanding Abed. Maybe not to Troy’s ability, but in her own quirky way. At the very beginning, Annie and Shirley go up to Britta and ask for her help to show them how to protest something. While Annie doesn’t become an activist, she does become an I-just-put-my-foot-down-and-your-gonna-deal-with-it kind of girl. In season 6 she stands up for Chang during rehearsals for The Karate Kid. Even though it wasn’t what she expected, it still showed growth. Besides who wouldn’t want a friend like Annie who was willing to take risks like that?

Jeff Winger: Nothing bugs me more than an antihero that I can’t relate to. He was the whole reason I couldn’t get into the first episode. I don’t mind an antihero but give me someone I can relate to. But over the 6 seasons I discovered that I could understand him more and more. The more Jeff’s psyche got airtime, the more real of a person he became. To me, though, Jeff went from an arrogant, conceited womanizer to an arrogant, conceited womanizer. Yes, those are the same words, not a typo. But here’s the thing, now of those adjectives and noun are not the flaw that changed over time. Jeff’s change comes from his need to trust others and to be trustworthy to them. At the end of the series, Jeff knows that his life has changed for the better. He has become a somewhat better person. My favorite moment in that last episode is when he hugs Abed. I don’t know what the writers/director were thinking, but here’s my interpretation. The first hug to Abed was for goodbye. The second, however, was a thank you. In that first episode, Abed helped form the study group, not Jeff. Jeff kept them together (mostly), but Abed is the one who brought them all together. For Jeff to hug Abed, it took a lot of personal growth because in the first episode, that’s not something Jeff would’ve been remotely comfortable with, especially in public.

Okay, that’s it. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed this guest post from a former blogger here. So, I guess there’s only one thing left to say. Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled.

Monday, May 25, 2020

5 Monster Manual Creatures that Deserve More Love

As a dungeon master it's easy to go for the usual goblins and dragons when you're building your campaign. But deep within the Monster Manual you will find a plethora of fun critters to put your players up against. Here are five you may want to slip into your next session.

5: Gibbering Mouther

A Lovecraftian horror, the Gibbering Mouther is an unusual critter to say the least. It's a mass of everchanging mouths and eyes that constantly gibbers nonsense and can drive anything around it insane. This is a fun way to give that barbarian or fighter in the party something to mess with, giving some of the characters that don't get a lot of play time a chance to shine.

4: Rug of Smothering (Animated Object) 

A pit trap is good, a pit trap with spikes is better, an elegant rug that strangles the first person to step on it is the best. Rug of Smothering (Found under "Animated Objects") is a fun and twisted way to further fuel your player's trust issues. The rug not only does bludgeoning damage, it suffocates whoever it wraps around until they pass out. That puts a fun time mechanic into the combat on top of trying to figure out where the weak spot is on an angry bath mat.

3: Kuo-Toa

Another Lovecraftian throwback, these little fishy slime monsters make a great alternative to the overused goblins. Their sticky shield ability can steal players weapons and only being a 1/4 challenge rating you can throw a lot of them up against the party without feeling too guilty. Kuo-Toa come in their basic form, a stronger warrior form called the Kuo-Toa whip and a formidable magic user called the Kuo-Toa Archpriest, so you can build a colorful encounter for any level adventurers.

2: Githyanki/Githzerai

Used a lot in the Dungeons and Dragons video games, these folks still haven't had their just due (the upcoming Baulder's Gate III might change that). Essentially these folks used to be a slave race under the Illithids, or mind flayers, until they broke out and crippled the multiverse spanning empire. Divided into two people, they now travel the multiverse hunting their former masters and pillaging worlds for resources. They can make for either fun one-time encounters or be the catalyst for hours of adventures.

1: Magmin

This thing is a fun surprise for anyone who doesn't immediately recognize them. They look like little on-fire goblins, but once killed they explode and cause fire damage. They're like little fiery pinatas that your players will be both annoyed by and delighted to fight. Make them a big encounter for a low level party or an extra obstacle for a high level party, either way they make for a great touch of madness.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Raid: Shadow Legends- Is It Worth Clicking On?

Full disclosure: This is NOT a sponsored video. Although if you know or are the people who want to make us a sponsor let us know.


So you've probably seen Raid: Shadow Legends advertised across the internet more than ads for singles in your area. Well this new little segment is meant to review the plethora of free to play mobile games fighting for your attention and help you answer the question-

Is it worth clicking on?

Yet Another Fantasy Game

Raid is based in the generic fantasy setting, meaning elves, dwarves and orcs all competing for the same world. The catch is that no one race is necessarily evil, just with their own views and goals. This is necessary since nearly every creature and character you meet can be recruited onto your team, to be leveled up and equipped and thrown up against more enemies to capture, like Pokemon but with better graphics.

A combination selling point and drawback is the graphics. While absolutely beautiful, more than a few of the female characters skew towards the chain mail bikini look. Probably not great for the prepubescent crowd, or those who prefer to maintain modesty.

The game touts an engaging story, but to be honest the story to me seemed pretty generic, with some great evil guy who's trying to cause a war of some kind bla bla bla we've heard it before. This is one game you probably won't be playing for the story, unless you become intrigued by mediocrity.

The Grind of Raid

Game play Raid is the basic combat from JRPG's but sped up for the attention deficient mobile players. You fight battles to gain experience, level up to fight bigger creatures, collect loot drops to make your guys even stronger, rinse and repeat. The game play is competent if unimaginative. All the challenges are just stronger monsters with unique drops, with your choice being who you bring to the fight.

Where they Try To Get You

As with all free to play games, free to play means consistently asking for money for in-game items. Raid is actually pretty light on this. There's few ads, none of which stop the game and everything you can buy in the shop you can easily earn in game. The temptation comes when you know you can either grind for some more strength or just pay a couple bucks for a few new characters to unlock. It's the most sinister of in-game spending, where it's not play to win, but play to make the game just a little easier... for now.

The Verdict

Overall Raid: Shadow Legends is a fun to play if grindy game for mobile. It's worth checking out if you like the fantasy genre but don't want to commit to something like Witcher 3 or Skyrim. Worth checking out for something to do, and to see what characters you can get if nothing else.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Unpopular Opinions: LOST

This coming weekend is the tenth anniversary of the finale one of the largest fandoms I’ve been a part of: LOST. It feels like it was surrounded by controversy the whole time the series was around. A shipwreck, a mysterious island, time travel, conspiracy theories, and purgatory. I’d never been part of a fandom with such intense theories along the way and I’m not sure another will ever compare. But with a fandom that was so critical with its theories during its run, it was only natural that the show ended up with a lot of criticisms by the end.

The series ending was good
The series finale was NEVER going to appease everyone. In particular, the flash-sideways were widely misunderstood. Throughout the series’ run, a theory kept popping up that the Island was purgatory. Repeatedly, the writers said that wasn’t the case. However, in the final season a “flash-sideways” timeline came into play. It was assumed to be a result of time travel, but in the series finale it was revealed to be a form of purgatory. Let me repeat, the Island WAS NOT purgatory. The flash-sideways WAS purgatory. I never understood why people struggle to understand that.

Not all the questions needed answers
Similar to the series finale controversy, after the series was over I felt like all I heard were complaints about how there were still so many unanswered questions about the show. What was the heart of the Island? What’s the deal with Libby? Who built all the Egyptian-esque ruins?  The writers said that some of these (like Libby) were supposed to be answered, but due to actor availability and such they weren’t able to. That being said, not everything needed to be answered. If we got a massive info-dump in the final episode, it would’ve been boring. Personally, I’m okay with the Island still having an air of mystery in the end.

Nikki and Paulo weren’t so bad
The problem with Nikki and Paulo is that they appeared out of the blue and tried to take center-stage after months of being invisible. At the time, the writers were trying to appease viewers by exploring more of the other survivors and their stories. I think it backfired because they tried to make Nikki and Paulo main characters. If they’d been recurring characters, like Rose and Bernard, who periodically appeared through season 3-4, it would have been better. Also, they just didn’t bother me as much as they apparently bothered other people. Just would have been better if they introduced obscure survivors periodically like they did with Arzt or Frogurt.

Ana Lucia was a good character
I’m not saying you have to like her, but she was a great character. In fact, I started re-watching the series during social distancing and my wife (who’s only watched bits and pieces) had an immediate dislike of Ana Lucia. I feel like that was pretty common back in the day. But it’s not because she’s a bad character. If anything it’s because she’s a good character. I think you’re meant to hate her at first and you may never actually like her as a person… but as her complexities and backstory get revealed, she gets more depth and substance. And all in the course of one season.

I liked Season 3 (with minor exceptions)
Season 3 of LOST started to drag on, especially in the first half. It’s because of all the filler and lowered ratings that the show runners got the deal to end the show after a total of six seasons. It gave the writers a chance to play out their preferred end game, instead of fishing for stories (that’s how Jack’s tattoo backstory happened….). But other than a few filler episodes, like the tattoo backstory, I liked season 3. The pacing kind of failed at times, but when doesn’t it? Every show has downtime. You can’t expect every episode to be groundbreaking.

Time travel from Season 5 was genius
I mentioned this in a post about time travel, but I really enjoyed the time travel in LOST. I don't have a problem with the Back to the Future time travel set up, but there's something about LOST that makes sense to me. And yet the time travel arc from LOST got quite a bit of flack. But to me it gave the show a needed change of pace and it gave them a chance to tell the stories they wanted (like Rousseau and DHARMA) in a way that would have been impossible. Or at the very least, disjointed and awkward. Instead, we got to see DHARMA close up and personal. I'm still not sure I like how they did Rousseau's story (I was hoping for more mystery) but it was still good, as far as time travel.

Man in Black wasn’t such a bad guy (at first)
I’m not sure this one is so much of an “opinion” as an observation. Toward the tail end of season 6, we got the backstory to the “villain” of the story. But the thing is that he didn’t start as a villain. In the flashback episode that gives us backstory for Jacob and the Man in Black, we see how the “Mother” treated them. If anything she was the bad guy of the series. She killed Jacob and MIB’s mom and took the babies, she killed a village of people on the Island for digging a hole, and she refused to let MIB leave the Island. At first, before becoming Smokified, MIB wasn’t bad. He just wanted to see what was in the outside world. He wanted to know where his birth mother came from. It wasn’t until he was pitted against Jacob that he started being a bad guy. And he did all his bad guy deeds out of desperation, to find a way to leave the Island finally.

What do you think? Did you watch LOST until the end? Where would you disagree? LOST is still one of my favorite shows and I don't think there could be another show like it. It's always worth a re-watch.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Why Tiana is One of My Favorite Disney Princesses

(Guest Post by David T)

“..Almost there. I’m almost there. People down here think I’m crazy. But I don’t care. Trials and tribulations, I’ve had my share. There ain’t nothing gonna stop me now, cause I’m almost there.” 

Over ten years ago, on the 11th of December 2009, Walt Disney Pictures debuted their newest princess. Making animation history in The Princess and the Frog, Tiana became the first African American Disney Princess. From the moment I saw her on the big screen, Tiana has been one of my favorite Disney Princesses. I feel a personal connection with Tiana, drawn inspiration from her, and love her courage. 

Personal Connection
As a boy, one of my favorite role-playing activities was as a chef, pretending to whip up and serve my own culinary creations. I would imagine managing my own restaurant or cafe. In fact, my childhood dream was to have my own restaurant where I would have specific decor and serve specialty pizzas. I had long abandoned that dream by the time I saw The Princess and the Frog. But when I learned that Tiana loved to cook, and dreamed of owning a restaurant like her daddy, James, I grew nostalgic. I recalled the excitement of my childhood dream. And while I don’t want to be a chef or restaurant owner, I still felt (and still do feel) a personal connection to Tiana. As she sang how she was “almost there” in achieving her dreams, I teared up, and was so happy when they were fully realized.

After a long period of unemployment, I was hired as a server at a restaurant. Working in food service wasn’t my first choice, but it was a job to pay the bills, and Tiana and her work ethic inspired me to remain positive. I greeted guests warmly, served them their favorite meals, and ensured they had a great experience just like Tiana did at her morning job at Duke’s Cafe. There were times I worked double shifts. True, I wasn’t saving up for my own restaurant like Tiana was, but she still inspired me when the hours were long and I went home really tired.

Kindness, determination, generosity, friendship, and hard work, among others make Tiana a princess. However, what I think truly makes Tiana the princess heroine of her film is her courage in the face of temptation. In an effort to retrieve his voodoo blood talisman from her possession, Dr. Facilier conjures up an illusion of “Tiana’s Place” (the name of her future restaurant), complete with Tiana wearing the white gown imagined in the "Almost There" musical sequence. The “Shadow Man” negotiates the exchange of the magical object by promising to fulfill Tiana’s dream. As part of his effort to persuade her, the voodoo doctor reminds the young woman who has had to work hard all her life of the unsupportive and discouraging comments made by a coworker, friends, and businessmen through visual memories. To try to seal the deal, a visual memory of Tiana’s hardworking father appears, reminding her of James’ unfulfilled restaurant dream. As Tiana intently stares at the image of her family, her grip on the talisman begins to loosen, and Dr. Facilier whispers into her ear that she’s “almost there.”

In that powerful moment of temptation, when her dream could finally come true, Tiana remembers her father and mother’s counsel and definitively and courageously rejects the Shadow Man’s deal. Tightening her hold again on the valuable magical piece, Tiana declares “my daddy never did get what he wanted. But he had what he needed. He had love! He never lost sight of what was really important. And NEITHER WILL I!” The courage to make this crucial decision, to not take the offer, Tiana held fast to her values and standards. Even if it meant remaining a frog the rest of her life, she willingly sacrificed her lifelong dream and smashed the talisman. Tiana embraced what she needed, which was Naveen and the love that they shared.

I love Tiana today just as much as I did the day when I first saw her on the big screen. I feel just as connected to her, find her just as inspiring, and love her courage just as much; which is why Tiana is one of my all-time favorite Disney Princesses!!!!! “Grab somebody, come on down. Bring your paintbrush, we’re paintin’ the town. There’s some sweetness goin’ around. Dreams do come true in New Orleans!”

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Pokemon Nicknames: Disney (Gen II)

So I've had a lot of downtime lately (like a lot of you) so I've been playing Pokemon a bit more frequently. Currently working on a dog-themed team on Ultra Sun. But regardless of my current team, it felt like as good a time as ever to do some more Pokemon/Disney nicknames. This time I'll cover a few Gen II favorites to complement the Gen I names I did a couple months ago.

Feraligatr (or Krookodile) as Tick-Tock

Flaaffy as Bellwether

Noctowl as Archimedes

Ledyba as Francis

Heracross as Dim

Politoed as Naveen (or Tiana)

Ursaring as Lumpjaw

Monday, May 11, 2020

A Truly Extraordinary Playlist

If you haven't seen Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, you're missing out on something, well, extraordinary. Yes, the music is fun, the acting is spot on, and the choreography is something like you've probably never seen on TV unless you watch a lot of So You Think You Can Dance. But moreover, the story is compelling, the emotions are real, and the message is clear: Zoey is on a journey (see here for more about that journey). Just like the button-down shirts Zoey wears under her cardigans, there is so much more beneath the surface. You can focus on the meticulously chosen music (as I do below), but when you get down to it, there is a real beating heart of emotion subtly hidden beneath the fun and the comedy (which I also subtly hide within my review below). So without further ado, here are the top 11 songs from Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist (and some subtly disguised emotional realizations because, hey, that's what we do!)...

Minor spoilers below if you haven't watched the series ... SO GO WATCH IT FIRST!!

11) "The Boy Is Mine"
Hearing Joan and Ava fight over Max was a treat. The dancing was fun, the singing was impeccable (who doesn't want to hear Angelica Schuyler sing a Brandy & Monica song with Lorelai Gilmore?), and the production was perfect. But underneath, two women fighting over Max mirrored Zoey's own emotional fight over being Team Max or Team Whatshisface. (Uh, duh. Team Max all the way!)

10) "Great Pretender"
I mean, Mo has an amazing voice. He has several great songs I could have chosen ("Bailamos", "Issues", "I Will Follow Him") but I really liked this raw version where we get to see inside the heart of a truly intriguing character. Mo's genderfluidity is a minor plot point, but really we just love Mo for Mo. And isn't that what it's all about, great pretending aside?

9) "Pressure"
If you weren't Team Max by this point, are you even watching the show? The entire "Glitch" episode was cringey and wonderful, much like most musical television shows. But watching Max pretend like Zoey's outlandish performance was supposed to be a thing all along? How can you not love Max?! Zoey sings, "Don't ask for help / You're all alone", but she realizes she's simply not all alone. And it makes her "I'm Yours" ode to Max so much sweeter.

8) "Everybody Hurts"
Oh, Leif. We love you and we hate you. I mean, "All I Do Is Win" was an absurdly funny and sad look into Leif's mindset. But "Everybody Hurts" really acted as a bookend to his ridiculousness when he realized that people could see right through him. Plus this is the song that my first girlfriend played on her answering machine after I broke up with her in high school, so it hits a little close to home.

7) "How Do I Live?"
At the end of a ridiculously glitchy episode ("I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"? Hilarious, and painful, and silly), Zoey sings this heartbreaking rendition of LeAnn Rimes's song. But really, underneath the raw emotion, we learn the simple truth that the best way to fix stress in your life is to face your problems head on. Zoey faces her father's deteriorating health, and that snaps her doubly glitchy glitch back to just a singly glitchy glitch. 

6) "Roar"
Lauren Graham is not the best singer, and that's one of the charms of the show -- that extraordinary singers (Renée Elise Goldsberry, Bernadette Peters, Skylar Astin) can sing alongside mediocre singers (Mary Steenburgen, Lauren Graham, Zak Orth). In this scene, Joan gives a speech, but "Roar" takes us on such a different journey that lets us see into Joan's heart -- so much so that it was almost like the speech didn't matter. Which is good, because we never heard the speech!

5) “I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)”
Again, why are you not Team Max? I could have chosen so many of his love songs ("I Think I Love You", "Sucker", the hilarious "All of Me"), but "I'm Gonna Be" is just the tops. No song showed how true Max's love for Zoey is, or to what lengths he would go to help her, more than this song by The Pretenders. And if you don't think of Team Max every time you hear this song now, you might need to see a doctor, because what in the world is wrong with you?! (Go Team Max!)

4) "Mad World"
The first version when he's sitting at his desk, thank you very much. The second version was good, but that first version when Simon is singing to himself? And Zoey's expressions as she is listening in on this extremely personal heart song? Ho. Lee. Cow. It's perfect. And again, not only are we seeing into Simon's heart, but we are also seeing into Zoey's new world of whatever this power is. Telepathy? Legilimency? Eavesdropping?

3) "True Colors"
Quite simply, this song captures Mitch's relationship with Zoey so accurately. Coupled with his "Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)" in the season finale sung to David, I've decided that Mitch is the best dad on television, which is really saying something for a guy with progressive supranuclear palsy who doesn't "actually" say a word the entire season. And Peter Gallagher might be the best actor on the series. Just sayin'. 

2) "Fight Song"
I run to this song regularly. But after hearing (seeing?) the version performed in American Sign Language, while an independent daughter is expressing her desire to be able to grow up and experience life? Well that version is now emblazoned on my soul as my own heart song. What an amazing moment. Just watch the video and be moved.

1) "American Pie"
Okay, this was just perfect. Nobody really knows what all the meanings are in Don McLean's beautiful folk rock poem, and that just allows so much more interpretation to be layered on this song, as each character (except Mitch, RIP) sings their part. But oh my goodness, it's so much more than that. It's the conclusion to a season with a roller coaster of emotions. It's a fitting ode to great music. It's a masterclass in retrofitting lyrics to fit a story. It's a perfect use of a terrific ensemble cast. It's a showcase of technical wizardry as the camera doesn't stop for seven minutes. It's a meticulously planned and choreographed sequence. And maybe most importantly, it's a cathartic release of emotions that mirrors an ideal way of viewing death. It happens, it's sad, but it doesn't mean that everybody else's life has to stop fully. My friend TJ and I dreaded the season finale because we knew Mitch was going to die, and we just didn't want to become emotional wrecks as the characters we have grown to love mourn this wonderful man. But "American Pie" allowed us to feel sad and shed some tears and mourn, without feeling crushed and depressed and broken. And isn't that an extraordinary way to view life?

Also, go Team Max!

Friday, May 8, 2020

Everything's Not Awesome

"Everything's not awesome, But that doesn't mean that it's hopeless and bleak..."

Have you seen Lego Movie 2? If not, get off your couch or chair or floor (wherever you are) and find a copy--it's $10 at Target, just FYI. I won't go into the plot details of the Lego Movie series, but that's not so important I suppose.

It's been a crazy the last couple months with quarantines and lock-downs and whatever else has been happening. It's easy to get caught up in it all (I've shared my fair share of memes, as you know if you've been watching our Facebook page). It's easy to get bummed out (even while chuckling the whole time) at all the "2020 can't get any worse" memes. I try to stay generally positive (despite life's anxieties and insecurities) and I actually generally avoid the this-year-sucks-uggghh memes. Generally just don't think that kind of humor helps me out at all.

"Everything's not awesome, but in my heart, I believe..."

Things have been rough. I actually count myself very blessed with everything that's been going on. My family hasn't been hit near as hard as many others. But whether it's this pandemic or some personal trial, there'll always be something to bring us down. Everything may not be "awesome", but it doesn't have to be the end. If we stick together and support each other, we can build a better future. Lately that's involved social distancing, but it also involves ministering to those around us. 

I typically cringe when I see Facebook spammed with the inspirational memes and quotes are preachy about positive thinking, but there is some truth to it. "Everything's not awesome" but if we give up on things getting better, it really won't be. I think it's part of having free will. We get to choose what we think about what, we get to choose how we react to life, and we get to choose the path we want to take in our lives. So while we can't change what's going on outside, we can change how we think about it. Give someone the benefit of the doubt. Count your blessings. Whatever it takes.

"We can make things better if we stick together, side by side, you and I, we will build it together."

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Party in Your Pajamas at Awesome Con!

A few months ago, I went to my first comic con, and I was hooked. So naturally, like the geek I am, I got tickets to Awesome Con, which sounded ... well, awesome. Held yearly in Washington DC, Awesome Con boasts more than 70,000 fans who celebrate geek culture, along with side areas like Awesome Con Junior, Pride Alley, and Future Con (this is where I wanted to go, where "science and science fiction meet"). My brother and I were all set to go, ready to stay at our sister's house in Maryland, and looking forward to the opportunity to bond and geek out together. We even picked out our cosplay outfits: Seinfeld and Newman!

And then ... coronavirus. Awesome Con was postponed. No trip to DC. No Future Con. NO SEINFELD!

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But even though Awesome Con is postponed until December (count me in!), they made the decision to continue with the con this past weekend -- ONLINE! Now this was a unique prospect! "Party in your pajamas" indeed! What a great way for people all over (not just in the DC metro area) to enjoy the comic con. During these strange times, what an equally strange – and awesome – way to connect people in a geeky community. It gave us a chance to forget the stresses of living in a world where a virus has taken the lives of so many. It was an opportunity to bond with other geeks and feel like we are part of a community, despite the limits of social distancing. And it was a moment of escape back to normalcy in this topsy-turvy world. (Yes, that was a Hunchback of Notre Dame reference.) So let's look at this party we throw here in town once a year! (See what I did there?)

The pet cosplay was hands down the cutest and best use of the unique at-home comic con format.
Can we make this a regular part of every comic con?

Disney predicted this.. : Tangled
I won't be able to bring my kids to Awesome Con in December because 💸.
But I could bring them to Awesome Con Online!
The best part was the three movie watchalongs: Tangled, TMNT, and my personal favorite Into the Spider-Verse!

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Q&A sessions were held with Zachary Levi, Ross Marquand, and Mikal Mosley.
Zachary Levi is always a treat. He is down to earth, personal, funny, and just a great geek.

Dungeons and Dragons Online ITA download , Dungeons and Dragons ...
There were a ton of wonderful events, tutorials, segments, and forums throughout the weekend.
I especially enjoyed how to make face masks, the trivia games, and the drawing demo.
But the most apropos segment was how to play D&D (and other tabletop RPGs) online.
This was a growing trend, even before #stayathome. And it's needed now more than ever.

And of course there was this! 🕺💃

Overall, Awesome Con Online was a success. There was a ton of work that went into it. It wasn't the live comic con we were all hoping for, but as far as at home entertainment goes, this event really was mad and crazy, upsy-daisy! So kudos to Awesome Con for pulling out all the stops, making the best of a tough situation, and bringing joy and distraction to a world in crisis.

Ugly folk, forget your shyness
You could soon be called Your Highness!
Put your foulest features on display
Be the king of Topsy Turvy Day!

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