Monday, February 28, 2022

A Lesson in Forgiveness - Avatar: The Last Airbender

Avatar Aang

SPOILER WARNING


This post is going to reference some spoilers from the final season of Avatar: the Last Airbender (ATLA), so if you don’t want things spoiled, I would recommend at least watching through episode 3.14 (the Southern Raiders) before reading.


Friday, February 25, 2022

What’s the Cytoverse?


(Spoiler free. You’ll find all of this out in the first part of the first book.)

First of all, it’s Cytoverse (say it like Sai-to-verse) and this is not part of Brandon Sanderson’s Cosmere. And like most of Brandon’s works, there’s not just a standalone book or even trilogy. There’s a trilogy with a bunch of novellas from other characters’ perspectives, just to keep things interesting. Partly because it’s cool to see things from someone else’s point of view, but also because BrandoSando has superhuman levels of concentration and typing speed.

Let’s start at the beginning, or more correctly, where this story begins in Skyward. Humans are trapped on a planet with an ongoing barrage of alien ships attacking them and keeping them from really growing. The heroes of these people become pilots and fight off the aliens, and nobody even knows why since all of the leadership were killed off. (I actually think that some of this is just a little too convenient, even for a Young Adult novel. It’s still a fun read, though. Superhuman abilities, spies, political intrigue, etc. It's a fun trip!)


Spensa is the main character of this series. Her dad was one of those great heroic pilots until… something happened, and now he’s gone and she’s looked down on by everyone for being the daughter of a traitor. Spensa, however, basically wants to stick it to the man and become a great pilot anyway, paving her own destiny, but how could anyone trust her after everything that’s happened?

Spensa can also hear the stars, which is definitely not normal for them. I kind of wish I could hear the stars.


 


(Spoilers below)

 



Cytonics can communicate telepathically to other cytonics and apparently teleport, which is really cool. We’re also talking about teleporting across the galaxy if desired, which sounds even cooler. Other cytonics have other abilities, and we’re really not sure how they all work.

The thing is, what if someone managed to get absolute control over all of the cytonics and used that power to have galactic control over planetary systems? Imagine if one entity controlled all of the trade and travel between all of the countries on the planet. That’s a game changer, right?



Spensa also reminds a lot of Vin from the Mistborn series. She’s got great instincts and is willing to jump into danger and think on her feet well enough to stay alive. If you’re looking for a lighter, happier version of Mistborn for some teens or you don’t want to commit to Mistborn and the entire cosmere, this is a great place to start.

 

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Before They Were Heroes (MCU)


You won’t typically see us with any shortage of Marvel content. But while we wait for the premiere of Moon Knight, we’re in a bit of an MCU drought. With how far the Marvel Cinematic Universe has come since Iron Man started the show (or Spider-Man if you want to count 2003 as the beginning). I wanted to take a step back and look at where our heroes were before they became the Avengers.


Chris Evans (Captain America) - Fantastic Four

Before he was Steve Rogers, Chris Evans was already a superhero. Back in the day, he played Johnny Storm in Fox’s first iteration of Fantastic Four. As the Human Torch, we saw him “flame on” in 2005 against Julian McMahon (before he played Jonah in Runaways). At the time, Chris Evan was also known for playing one of the exes in Scott Pilgrim.


Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner) - 13 Going on 30

He wasn’t the MCU’s first Hulk, but he is the one we’ve come to love. Before he first hulked out, he was the best friend/love interest in this 2004 romcom. As grown up Matt Flamhaff, it was his influence that showed Jennifer Garner she shouldn’t have wished to grow up so fast. A must see movie for anyone who thinks they grew up too fast and I shamelessly watched it for my 30th birthday last year.


Scarlett Johnansson (Black Widow) - The Prestige

Before Natasha stepped onto the scene in Iron Man 2, she was the lovely stage assistant Olivia in The Prestige. I remember going to see this movie with my brothers and it was trippy! Weird to look back now and see Black Widow in a magic act. She also voiced Princess Mindy in the Spongebob Squarepants movie, if you’re a Spongebob fan.


Chris Hemsworth (Thor) - Star Trek

Before he became the God of Thunder, Chris Hemsworth was a Starfleet captain (albeit for 5 minutes) caught in the middle of a battle against enemies from the future. During his short time as captain of the ship, his wife (played by Jennifer Morrison, Emma Swan) gave birth to the famous Captain Kirk.


Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) - Friends

There are so many wonderful shows and movies I could reference in talking about Paul Rudd. Supporting roles in Perk of Being a Wallflower and Night at the Museum and a recurring role in Parks and Rec. But as it’s me, I’m going to reference his character from Friends: Mike Hannigan. He came out of nowhere towards the tail end of the series. Literally came out of nowhere. Joey basically called out a random name and Paul Rudd responded. He eventually became Phoebe’s soulmate and they were married by the end of the series. Also, does he ever age?


Benedict Cumberbatch (Doctor Strange) - The Hobbit

Depends on your social circle but I feel like our beloved Stephen Strange is best known as Sherlock, but Trekkies might remember that he played the rebooted Khan. But one of his biggest things before Doctor Strange was when he voiced the dragon Smaug in The Hobbit trilogy. You may have your opinions on how well the trilogy was done, but I think we can agree he was a great dragon.

Of course we could also address other heroes like Star-Lord or Gamora, but I figured we’d save their previous lives for another day. After writing this, now I just want to go watch the Star Trek movies again. And The Prestige.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Year of the Disney Tiger


On the first day of this month, family and friends around the world, especially in Asia, gathered to welcome the Chinese Lunar New Year. The year of the Water Tiger was ushered in with food, fireworks, gifts, and other festivities. According to chinahighlights.com, persons born under the Tiger sign in the Chinese Zodiac are “brave, competitive, unpredictable, … confident[,] … very charming[,] … well-liked[,]… [and] likely to be impetuous, irritable, and overindulgent.” Tiger people can be “stubborn,” “tough” judges, active workers, “express themselves boldly,” “high-handed,” “authoritative,” and keep their word. In addition, they have “indomitable fortitude, … be competent leaders[,] … will not make preparations…, but can handle anything that comes along.” From this description, those who are tigers have a spectrum of qualities. Similarly, there are Tiger characters in the Disney cannon who also have a broad range of personality traits. In honor of the Zodiac Tiger, this post will look at three of these animated striped felines and how they exhibit some of the behaviors of the Chinese astrological animal.


Tigger: Confident and Indomitable Fortitude

From the moment he meets Winnie the Pooh, Tigger exudes confidence. In response to the question, “what’s a Tigger?,” the bouncy cat isn’t shy in describing himself, stating at the end of his musical number that he’s “the only one!” The sentient plush is confident that he likes (only to strongly dislike) honey, assert that “Tiggers never get lost,” ice skating is what he does “best,” and that the inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood love to receive his bounces, among others. 

Along with feeling confident in himself, Tigger also has indomitable fortitude. Even if it gets him into scrapes, the springy tiger is willing to pursue new things. To prove to Roo that he’s the best at bouncing up trees, Tigger exuberantly goes up and up nearly “bouncing clear out of the book.” A fear of heights paralyzes him, preventing the striped toy from going back down. While trusting the story’s narrator to help him back to the ground, this experience doesn’t deflate Tigger’s confidence. Nor does it influence him to be more thoughtful and careful. Instead, Tigger is ready to bounce (with his friends) into the next chapter of Pooh’s story.


Shere Khan: Very Charming and Irritable

His very name struck fear in the hearts of the denizens of the jungles of India. Yet upon his first appearance, Shere Khan is composed with a deceitfully calm voice. The villain of The Jungle Book intimidates (or at least would attempt to) by being charming. In trying to suss out if the “man-cub,” Mowgli is in Kaa’s coils, Khan subtley pressures the python into divulging this information by being polite and gracious. Later, at the conclusion of the vulture quartet’s musical number, the tiger issues applause and praises them. 

Shere Khan’s regal manners quickly dissolve however into irritation after Mowgli stands up to him and refuses to run. Enraged by the boy’s defiance, the big cat leaps at the child in an attempt to murder him, but is stopped by Baloo’s intervention. Khan unleashes his fury, first attacking the bear, next Mowgli, and then the vultures as each try to save the others’ lives. The striped feline’s irritability becomes his down fall. In his violent anger, Khan fails to notice a flaming tree branch being tied to his tail by Mowgli. When he does though, the tiger is confronted by his fear of fire, and attempts to run away from the fiery limb only to have it strike and burn him multiple times as he goes. 


Rajah: Bold Expression and Brave

As a loyal B.F.F., Rajah doesn’t hesitate to boldly express his dissatisfaction with suitors who fail to value and respect Princess Jasmine. He is unafraid to bite off the seat of Prince Achmed’s trousers or threaten to maul Aladdin (disguised as Prince Ali) if they will not leave the tiger’s royal bestie alone. While affectionate and supportive of Jasmine and her positions on love and marriage, Rajah readily reminds her that while she may not have experienced other friendships, he is still one of her “real friends.” He also will not let the unhappy princess run away without confronting her about it first. 

Coupled with his bold expression is Rajah’s bravery. If Jasmine encounters distress or danger, the courageous cat springs into action to protect her. At the sound of Prince Ali’s voice, the large feline extends his claws, has teeth bared, and directs warning growls at the unwanted visitor. Rajah’s biggest display of courage occurs when Jafar takes over Agrabah. After the wicked sultan turned sorcerer forces the deposed royal family to grovel before him with magic, Rajah rushes toward and lunges at the villain. While Jafar prevents the attack by magically transforming the big cat into a small kitten and subsequently placing him in a cage, Rajah readily came to the defense of his human family. 


Rajah, Shere Khan, and Tigger are only a few of several tigers that appear in Disney films and television shows. There are also many Zodiac Tiger characteristics that could be discussed. However, it’s interesting and entertaining to see that the big cats featured here in this post exhibit some of the same personality traits as the animal in the Chinese calendar. “Best wishes, wishing you happiness and prosperity.” 

Friday, February 18, 2022

TJ's Top 5 Frasier Episodes


(Guest post by TJ)

Today’s “top” list relates to a show that’s been somewhat in the news lately for a reboot. (Note: since the title and the main character are the same, I’m writing the TV show as FRASIER and Kelsey Grammer’s role as Frasier.)

If you don’t know, FRASIER is a direct spin off from CHEERS as it follows the bar’s pompous psychologist, Frasier Crane, from the famous Boston bar to his hometown of Seattle. It’s impressive that this spinoff lasted just as long as its predecessor, garnering various awards, including 37 Emmy awards, a record held until Game of Thrones took over in 2016. 

When I started FRASIER, one of the first things I recognized was how I saw similarities between Frasier Crane and myself. I’m sure I can be pompous and arrogant, but ignoring the negativity of Dr. Crane, what I really felt connected to were Frasier’s desires for calm, peace, and having just a finer life. I saw a man who was part-childish in his attitude toward others and part-adult in his need for his own consistency. And now, I present my top 5 episodes. 

Honorable Mentions:

Daphne Returns – S08 E19; Taking Liberties – S08 E05; Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz – S06 E10; Three Valentines – S06 E14; Mixed Doubles – S04 


5 – My Coffee with Niles – S01 E24 – “Are you happy?” What a question! No, you don’t have to answer it. But what leads to Frasier answering the question in the end—even though the final time it’s asked is by the barista and not Niles—is what makes the show so great. Even though he’s having a deep, meaningful conversation with Niles, you get all five main characters at different points being exactly who they are.

The depth at which Niles’ question is reviewed is what really makes this episode help the viewer really recognize what FRASIER is about. The whole show is about Frasier pointing out that even though he is happy in a moment, he is never truly satisfied with his life. 


4 – Ham Radio – S04 E18
– Randomly, the first episode I ever watched (and only episode I saw upon its initial airing.) And…I really didn’t get it. In 2016 when I watched this episode, I was hit with nostalgia because I completely recognized it. I knew what was going to happen. But with the context of who Roz, Niles, and Bulldog were—especially in contrast to Frasier—this episode was far better. 

Frasier’s embarrassing antics of proving that he’ll never learn made a lot more sense. But now that I have a better appreciation of an old-time radio mystery, I can understand what he was trying to do—and why his behavior ruined it. Plus, Roz trying to say “multiple murderers” and Niles overruling Frasier to kill all the characters in the radio play was pretty funny. 


3 – The Two Mrs. Cranes – S04 E01
 – Speaking of embarrassing themselves—this is an episode where everyone does that all on their own, not just Frasier. Even this episode is somewhat Daphne-centric, it showcases everyone’s ability to make a fool of themselves just to maintain the most absurd lie—a lie that spirals out of control.

First, Daphne wants to let her ex-boyfriend down gently, so she pretends to be married to Niles—who plays along to live a dream he’s been wishing for since meeting Daphne. Martin is told he can’t partake of the lie and gets his revenge by pretending to be a retired astronaut—and makes Roz pretend to be Maris, who is married to Frasier. But when Daphne realizes that her ex has made a life for himself and Roz…well…she just had to look at the Brit and knew she wanted him…it becomes a war between the two “married” women to get Clive’s attention.


2 – Moon Dance – S03 E13 –
The first glimpse of the Niles/Daphne pairing. This is one of the best episodes for fans of those two. At Martin’s insistence, Niles asks a doctor out to a charity ball. The goal is to make his separated wife, Maris, jealous when she hears about him attending with someone else. But since Niles has no clue how to dance, Daphne teaches him. Of course, Niles’ date has to cancel and Daphne tells the lovestruck Niles to take her, still clueless of Dr. Crane’s feelings toward her. Of course, Martin thinks Niles should say no, but he can’t pass up a dream come true. 

What transpires on the dance floor, though, is some great acting on Daphne’s part professing her love for Dr. Crane. Niles, on the other hand, confesses his real love, but plays it off when Daphne says she was just making all his friends have something to talk about to get back to Maris. FRASIER took a long time playing will they/won’t they with Niles and Daphne. This episode is one of the strongest points where the audience has to wait again to see their favorite couple get together. 


1 – Something Borrowed, Something Blue – S07 E23/E24 –
Speaking of will they/won’t they, the season 7 finale is pretty much the end of that question. We spend two episodes preparing for a wedding that’s been doomed for a while now. Niles believes he’s happy, knowing that he’ll never have Daphne since she’ll never feel the same way about him, right? But the night before the wedding is a string of conversations that lead to an extremely tense situation between Niles and Daphne—again, thanks to Frasier’s big bazoo (his mouth if you don’t know).

Niles is extremely distraught having learned that the girl of his dreams has feelings for him too, but neither of them are able to do something about it. That moment, though of Daphne in her. Wedding dress finding Niles in the Winnebago is such a moment of relief for fans (and Niles) despite being somewhat of a cliffhanger. Still, that moment is worth the whole episode. 

So, there you have it, my favorite ten episodes of the classic 90’s comedy FRASIER. Was it a show you got and liked? Do you have a favorite moment?

Alien abductions are involuntary, but probings are scheduled. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Book of Boba Fett - Setup and Payoff

Well that was fun. 

Spoiler warning, because duh. 

Rebirth of Boba Fett

I imagine myself as an expert on characters in literature, why they're popular, what makes them interesting, but I am completely baffled by the appeal of the character Boba Fett. He only had a handful of lines and the biggest action scene he had in the OG movies he was eaten by a tentacle monster. Don't get me wrong, I love him too, I just don't understand why. 

Boba Fett's solo adventure gives us the bounty hunter as a fully realized character, helmet off and not an angsty pre-teen like what we got in the prequel series or Clone Wars. So how do we start up with the new fleshed out Boba Fett? We start with a visceral birthing scene out of the Sarlaac, complete with goo. 

Good way to pick up from when we last saw the Fett. 

Slow Burn

It's interesting to watch a series as it comes out episodically in this age. We see fan and critic reaction sometimes minutes after the show drops. Book of Boba Fett is a slow burn, establishing what happened to Boba after his visceral birth and following him taking Jabba's place as head crime boss on Tattooine. The show slips somewhere between The Supranos and Deadwood with more thinking and calculated strategies than outright jetpack action. 

A lion's share of the show comes from Boba Fett building his crew, including the orc looking guys that hung around Jabba's palace back in Jedi, his assassin lady friend, the galaxy's coolest Wookie who gives us our first onscreen instance of Wookie-rip-arms-out-of-sockets action, a group of kids who look like they escaped the set of Disney's Descendents, and a brand new rancor brought by Danny Trejo (Quick side note: Is Danny Trejo a Muppet? The only times I've seen him lately are with Muppets, including Muppets Most Wanted, Muppets Now! and Muppets Haunted Mansion. Is this a new thing or has he been a Muppet this whole time? Did we just never notice?)

Mandalorian Season 2 1/2

The Boba Fett crime lord plot comes to a screeching halt for two episodes as we take some time to catch up with everyone's other favorite masked Star Wars guy Mando and Disney's biggest cash cow Grogu. Mando's trying to get his honor back after he flashed his face in the season 2 finale, and Grogu has to choose which class he wants to be between being a Jedi knight or a Mandalorian bounty hunter. As an audience we are treated to a cameo from Rosario Dawson's Asoka Tano (Yay!) , a weird Grease montage of Mando building a new spaceship (Boo) and another CGI cameo from young Mark Hamil (ehhh?) before palling up with Boba for the finale. 

It All Comes Together

So Boba's biggest obstacle are a bunch of fish people wanting to use Tattooine to move the often talked about spice, which is either a drug, a seasoning or something they're stealing from the Dune set down the street. While Boba is crewing up the fish people team up with local crime lords, elected officials and Clone Wars flashback Cade Bane. 

The principal of Chekhov's gun states that if you show the audience a gun in the first act you better fire it by the third. In Book of Boba Fett every gun that's shown throughout the season is fired in the last episode, including a big one with a rancor shaped barrel. The finale is everything the show promised to be, an epic space cowboy battle that gave us all the Boba Fett action we could handle, and Grogu was right in the middle of it for Disney to hedge their bets on the marketing success. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: This is the Star Wars I want, fun space adventures and not the family drama the movies have weirdly become. More space cowboys less space Dynasty and we'll be golden. 

Also I want answers to the Danny Trejo Muppet question. 

-JOE

Monday, February 14, 2022

5 Times Monica and Chandler were #RelationshipGoals


Happy Valentine’s Day! It might be a greeting card industry holiday at this point, but I still enjoy it. To celebrate this year, I wanted to spotlight one of television's best couples. There are many reasons why Chandler and Monica (Mondler) rank best on my favorite tv couples. I’m just going to cover a few of my favorite Mondler moments.


“I like maintaining you.”

Okay maybe I’m starting off with this one because I feel high maintenance, but I love how Chandler accepts Monica as she is, faults and all. Yes, he teases her about being compulsively neat, but he also loves her and encourages her to embrace her passions. She might have been high maintenance, but it’s sweet how Chandler just wants to be there to help her. (Episode 6x12, “The One With The Joke”)


Monica’s dream wedding dress

It literally took tackling another woman onto the floor, but Monica found her perfect wedding dress. Unfortunately, said woman manipulated her into giving up the dress by stealing Chandler’s dream band. But after learning why Chandler loved the Swing Kings so much, Monica gave up her dress to get the band. (Episode 7x17, “The One With The Cheap Wedding Dress”)


“She's a mother... without a baby…”

Due to a mix up during the adoption process, Monica and Chandler got the call about a baby instead of a preacher/doctor couple. They tried to play the part at first, but their consciences got the better of them. As the birth mother was turning them away for lying, Chandler gave the most heartfelt speech about Monica and why she deserved the baby. Having seen my wife dream of being a mother, I know what Chandler was talking about. (Episode 10x09, “The One With The Birth Mother”)


Not sweating the small stuff

I know I could do better at letting the small stuff go. And with Monica and Chandler it wasn’t even that small. Monica had opened all of their wedding presents without him. And Chandler had kissed another bride to cover up losing the reception pictures. Instead of holding a grudge towards each other for their mistakes, they half-jokingly said “Call it even?” and moved on with life. We could all do with being more forgiving like that. (Episode 8x02, “The One With The Red Sweater”)


“Welcome to an adult relationship!”

The biggest thing I love about Monica and Chandler is they never split up. Sure, there are plenty of people who break up but still end up marrying each other in the end. But it’s refreshing to have a TV couple that doesn’t need the break-up/make-up cycle to fuel their plot. Chandler thought early on that one fight meant he and Monica were done, but that’s just when they began to grow together as a couple. Sure, they’d have lots of other issues with career, infertility, and adoption (to name a few things), but they stay as a team right through the end. (Episode 5x05, “The One With The Kips”)

Few TV couples compare to Monica and Chandler. But some others that come close might include Turk and Carla, Jim and Pam, and Sawyer and Juliet. But regardless of TV couples or marital status, have a happy Valentine’s Day from us!

Friday, February 11, 2022

Moon Prism... Inadequacies?


(Guest Post by Mike)

Without shame I can say I love Sailor Moon. It was the first anime I ever watched, and it began what would be a lifelong love of animation, and Japanese culture. Not only did I enjoy watching Sailor Moon because of its quirky story line of super-heroines saving the world from countless evils, I related to many of the characters’ struggles behind the scenes. Take for example Usagi. Who would have ever thought she would become a heroine, and leader of the Sailor Scouts? In her normal, mundane life she was, frankly, a selfish idiot. She cried, whined and complained all the time, and was seemingly hopeless. However, she was chosen to be Sailor Moon, who, when in need, is always able to lead her team to victory. Luna saw in her what she did not see in herself, the potential to be something more. No, Usagi was not perfect, nor was she particularly brave, but her heart was pure. Sometimes a willingness to do good, along with diligent work on our part is all that is needed to fulfill our purpose. It is so easy to fall into a pit of despair when things do not go our way. How many times were the scouts nearly defeated by their enemies? Many, yet they always persevered.

As I have reflected during all these years of watching Sailor Moon, seeing her struggles, the weight of her responsibilities, and need to maintain a normal appearance to the word, I have often felt solidarity with her. Why have I been chosen for a particular calling? Why me? Will I be good enough? Surely there must be someone better suited, right? I could not help but see the similarities when studying Come, Follow Me in the past weeks, especially when learning about Enoch. When the Lord speaks to Enoch, he replied “Why is it that I have found favor in thy sight, and am but a lad, and all the people hate me; for I am slow of speech; wherefore am I thy servant? (Moses 6:31). Similar words have been spoke by other Prophets such as Moses, Nephi, and Joseph Smith. These were men that were called of God, to preach his word, yet they felt inadequate and unprepared. I know I felt have this very way in callings I have received, and I would be lying if I didn’t have fears about possible future callings. In fact, I think sometimes I unconsciously sabotage my spiritual progression to escape being considered for other callings.


We are often our hardest critics. What friends, family, and even the Lord see in us, maybe much more than we see in ourselves. Luna knew of Usagi’s potential. Would it be a rough and bumpy ride? Absolutely, but she knew what Usagi was able to become. Just as the Lord believed in Enoch, Moses, and other prophets who did not believe in themselves, we must learn to trust those who can see us for who we really are, and what we can become. Usagi was an imperfect crybaby, nonetheless, she was called to be Sailor Moon. It is curious to note that the feelings of inadequacies did not end with Usagi. Each of the scouts had their personal struggles, and development arcs, but those are posts for another time. 

Never doubt who you are, and what your true potential is. Sure, we will not be transforming into super heroes with lasers shooting out of our hands, or magical tiaras, but the Lord has a work for us to do. Let us always be ready to raise our hand and shout “Moon Prism Power” when we are called. If Usagi can save the world, you too can choose to reach your highest potential.



Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Sarah Jane Smith Binge List


This month would have marked the 76th birthday of Elizabeth Sladen, who played fan-favorite Sarah Jane Smith alongside seven different Doctors and got her own spin-off Sarah Jane Adventures (SJA) during the early years of Modern Who. In honor of her birthday, I wanted to highlight some of her best stories that I want to rewatch someday soon.


Third Doctor Era (Season 11)

The Time Warrior - Naturally you need to start with her first appearance. She snuck into UNIT and teamed up with the Third Doctor, almost by accident.

Invasion of the Dinosaurs - This was my favorite of Sarah Jane’s early stories. To say the special effects are dated would be an understatement, but the story is solid

Planet of the Spiders - Sarah Jane’s first experience with the Doctor regenerating (also the first time “regeneration” was a canon term). It also gave us the only TV appearance of the Hermit.


Fourth Doctor Era (Seasons 12-14)

Robot - Can’t talk about Sarah Jane without addressing the beginning of the Fourth Doctor and the introduction of Harry Sullivan.

Genesis of the Daleks - One of Sarah Jane’s iconic stories, featuring Davros for the first time and the backstory of the Daleks.

The Android Invasion - In some ways, this one was freakier than Blink. But that’s just one Whovian's opinion.

The Hand of Fear - After her final adventure with the Fourth Doctor, it was sad to leave Sarah Jane behind, especially since she was left in the wrong place.

A Girl’s Best Friend - It was supposed to be a pilot for a spin-off series, but Sarah Jane wouldn’t get that spin-off until the modern era. But this Christmas special did get Sarah Jane her K-9, who would keep on reappearing.

Fifth Doctor Era (20th Anniversary)

The Five Doctors - Sarah Jane only had one appearance during Peter Davison’s run. She teamed up with the Third Doctor in the Death Zone, before returning to her home again. She would not be seen again in the Classic era.


Tenth Doctor Era (Series 2-4, SJA Series 1-3)

School Reunion - The Tenth Doctor, Rose, and Mickey teamed up with Sarah Jane and K-9. I would love more episodes like this, bringing Classic companions back for one-off stories.

SJA Series 1 - The first installment of the Sarah Jane Adventures introduced Luke, Maria, and Clyde. If you were to only watch a couple stories from this season I’d recommend  “Invasion of the Bane”, “Revenge of the Slitheen”, and “Whatever Happened to Sarah Jane?”

The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End - Sarah Jane and Luke guest star in this epic Doctor Who crossover, along with the companions of the main series and the team from Torchwood. 


SJA Series 2 - This season said goodbye to Maria and hello to Rani. Some of the must-sees from this period include “The Last Sontaran”, “The Day of the Clown”, and “The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith” (which explains why she was raised by her aunt).

SJA Series 3 - This season took place during the year of Tenth Doctor specials. Without a companion, he showed up in the Sarah Jane Adventures. “The Wedding of Sarah Jane Smith” saw him team up with Sarah Jane and her friends.

The End of Time - Sarah Jane and Luke only briefly show up during the Tenth Doctor’s farewell tour, but this heartbreaking scene is still worth watching.


Eleventh Doctor Era (SJA Series 4-5)

SJA Series 4 - With Luke off for early admission at Oxford, Sarah Jane had a smaller team. But that didn’t stop her from facing off against her alien foes. Highlights for this season are “The Nightmare Man”, “The Empty Planet”, and of course “Death of the Doctor”, which featured the return of Jo Grant and the appearance of the Eleventh Doctor.

SJA Series 5 - This season was cut short, due to Elizabeth Sladen’s passing. In “Sky” she adopted a little alien girl (named “Sky”) and “The Man Who Never Was” gave her a loving tribute at the end.

Sometime after this, Sarah Jane Smith reportedly died. We don’t know how she died, but some speculated she had been taken by the Doctor again. Her funeral was attended by many of the Doctor’s companions and her team. Her funeral was described in a webcast in 2020. A beautiful goodbye to a beautiful companion. We miss you, Sarah Jane. We miss you, Elizabeth Sladen.

Monday, February 7, 2022

D&D Class Breakdown: Bard

 For new players, it can be hard to choose your first class. For veteran players, it can be hard to choose a class and not fall into stereotypes everyone's seen a thousand times. So now I'm going to deconstruct the 5E Player's Handbook classes (Sorry Artificer, you'll come later) and talk about what works, what doesn't, and some interesting ways to play the classes. 

I won't be going into game mechanics as much as I'll be going into roleplay. 

Let's talk about bards!


What is a bard? 
Historically a bard is a traveling singer/storyteller and news outlet who would travel the world looking for new stories to tell or songs to sing. Usually living off the road they made their money in the occasional odd job, but made a majority of their money by tips from performing. Some lucky bards would be hired by kings or other high ranking officials to chronicle their epic feats in poetry and song. They were a combination Kindle, Spotify playlist and Facebook feed on legs. 

In Dungeons and Dragons bards are all that but with magic, drawing power from their ability to perform. Due to their nomadic lifestyle, they pick up a wide variety of skills from all classes. Bards can also use their performances to enhance their companions or debuff their foes. 

In the Game


Every tavern in your standard Dungeons and Dragons game has at least one bard sitting in the corner tuning a lute or singing a song. Sometimes seen as schemers on the same level as rogues, they're trusted only because they bring a level of entertainment to the commonfolk. They're usually people from half-bred races (Half-elf and Tiefling) or if there human they tend to have a backstory about how their parents didn't appreciate their artistic expression so they left home to find their own path. Essentially this is every person who didn't make it on American Idols fantasy life made into a character. 

None of this of course are what bards are truly known for. The best known bard trope is them being played like Austin Powers with magic. The bard trope of being a sex maniac has permeated every part of the D&D online discussion, from funny memes to conversations about consent. This trope is of course extremely problematic and I would be remiss if I didn't try to go into the specifics. 

First, if you're reading this blog it's likely you're probably at least conservative leaning and probably enjoy a Dungeons and Dragons game to kill some bad guys and roleplay out some laughs, but it's unlikely that you want the bard at the table to go into a lengthy discussion about how he's trying to seduce the bar maid as well as everything else in the room. The even more problematic bards will, when charisma checks don't work, resort to magic to seduce their partners, adding layers to the problematic behavior that the group then gets to endure listening to. Weather by magic or persuasion, a DM may attempt to fade them to black to hint at what's occurring, only for the problematic bard to decide to give a detailed account of their exploits. The entire game session then becomes hearing a player describe imaginary sex to everyone present until the group decides to disband. 

Second, and far more serious, is the fact that while the first issue of the descriptive bard is describing exploits, this can be triggering to people who have been victims of sexual assault, especially if the bard continues to harass an NPC despite them saying no, and especially if the bard decides to use magic to force the issue. Dungeons and Dragons is a game about escaping into a fantasy world with friends, and if not everyone is on board with the fantasy someone at the table is indulging then it's time to stop immediately. 

Breaking the Trope


The fact that the flirtatious bard trope is played so often and is so well known speaks to a lack of creativity on its part. A bard by their very nature should have more creativity to their character than "I roll to seduce" at every opportunity. Here are some ideas to switch up the trope and make some more interesting characters. 

War Bard
Fun fact: Many armies throughout time have had musicians who can help rally the troops and inspire them in battle. A bard trained to be specifically for military reasons and who focuses on the coordination and inspiration of their allies would be an invaluable asset to a team, and give them opportunities to roleplay in military situations when needs be. 

The Writer of the Epic
The wandering minstrel usually seems to have no real destination, just a lute and a few coins in their purse, but most were looking for that one epic story that would put their names in the history books, the one who wrote the great epic that's handed down generations. This bard would always be looking for the bravest adventurers, the most dangerous places and the most terrifying monsters to write about as they compose their epic. 

The Scholar
Instead of one epic story, the scholar is looking for all the stories. They want town histories, charters, journals, and anything else that can give them just a little more knowledge about the world. They'll go into deep caverns to find the lost maps of a long dead adventurer or brave an enemy encampment to find that one document that truly shows the king's heritage. They hope that one day the knowledge will be useful to someone but for now they feel that the most important job they can have is to be the one who gathers it. 

Full Edgelord
It always blows my mind that so few people ever play bards as punk rockers. As my favorite bard trope I can tell you it's a lot of fun to play a burnout bard covered in tattoos and earrings just looking for the next gig, more interested in not sounding like anyone else than they are saving the world. 

Famous Bards


Scanlan Shorthalt (Critical Role)
The gnome bard of Vox Machina, this little guy helped make the flirtatious bard trope famous, despite actually doing it justice. While he was constantly on the search for a romantic partner, he never pressured anyone or used his considerable magic on them to change their minds, even with his crush 
Pike Trickfoot. A gentleman as well as a hedonist, he probably played the trope the best it could be played. 

William Shakespeare
I'd love to just name drop all my favorite authors here but Shakespeare is known as the "Old Bard" so he had to be mentioned. And yes, this is THE William Shakespeare, not some fictional version on Dr. Who. While not using any magic we are aware of, Shakespeare wrote stories that speak to people centuries after his death, and will captivate audiences long after his name becomes legend and the source is forgotten. 

Dazzler (X-Men)
The musical mutant, Dazzler controls light with the use of her voice, and so when she gives a musical performance she can create a light show to augment her singing. In battle her light can blind enemies, create illusions and become focused into a laser beam to devastating effect. 

While fiction contains many characters who express themselves through art, none do so with the power and the usefulness quite like the bard. 

-JOE

Check out the other D&D Classes as well: BarbarianClericDruidFighter

Friday, February 4, 2022

"You're Just Like Me. Trash!" --Forky

(Guest Post by Mike T)

I don’t cry during movies. Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Titanic, The Pianist, Lion King… fantastic movies, but I reign it in, look up a little bit, take some deep breaths, and usually succeed in keeping a dry face. But I do not watch Toy Story 4 around people who aren’t ready to see me weep. What is it about the Toy Story movies? How do these animated full-tilt fantasy films grapple with the most fundamental and realistic questions about what it means to be human? They are a singular achievement in film, technologically and creatively. And Toy Story 4 is the best of them.


The first three Toy Stories bravely tackle the difficult themes of childhood, sentience, memory, free will, purpose, and connection. The last film does something almost unimaginably ambitious - in addition to the prior themes, it attempts to explore more fully the idea of creation, self-hatred, and intrinsic worth. In a children’s film. If you asked me to do that, as a writer, I would throw in the towel. Immediately. But these geniuses at Pixar make it look easy, and they do it with one character - Forky. You’ve probably noticed my love of hyperboles, and I’m about to throw one more at you: Forky is one of the most important characters I have ever seen in film. 

For those in need of a brush-up, Forky is made from trash. Woody, who is feeling less and less useful to Bonnie, decides (of his own accord) to accompany her to her orientation day of kindergarten. As Woody predicted, Bonnie struggles in a new and unfamiliar environment. When her craft materials get stolen, Woody sneakily produces some new craft materials from the trash can. Bonnie looks around, wondering who her secret benefactor might be, and then gets to work making something new out of the materials. Forky is born. Of course, he doesn’t talk until he’s only in the presence of other toys, but his first words are bold and decided: “TRASH”. Thus ensues Woody’s challenge to protect Forky (and Bonnie, who is by now passionately attached to her creation) from his insatiable desire to fling himself back into the waste-basket.


When I first watched all this, I almost couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Was this kids’ movie really going to be driven by one character trying to prevent the suicide of another character by convincing him of his intrinsic worth to his creator? Forky never says he hates himself - that might be overstepping for a kids film. But he fully believes he is trash, and he is ready to go back to the trash. He cannot comprehend that his very existence - literally, just sticking around and being there - is so deeply important to his creator. Forky is not beautiful. His eyes are different sizes, there’s a greasy stain on his face, and his arms continuously threaten to completely fall off of his body. But to Bonnie, Forky represents something: her own ability to create, her ability to pass value into something simply by wanting it so. Love is her creative force. In a touching conversation, Woody guides Forky down a long, dark street (at times dragging him), all the while trying to make the case for Forky’s immutable value in Bonnie’s eyes.

I remember as a small kid (maybe 5 or 6), I was brought to tears when I realized I had to throw away my popsicle stick after I ate the popsicle. For some reason, the idea of subjective experience chose that moment to turn on in my brain, and I couldn’t help feeling like this poor popsicle stick didn’t deserve to be abandoned. How could I just discard something that had its own existence? More importantly, if this stick was worthy of nothing but the trash, where was my promise that I deserved anything better? In much of my life, patterns of self-loathing became the norm. My brain defaulted to criticizing myself and refusing to believe others could love me. It wasn’t the best situation, but it’s what I was familiar with - trusting others was terrifying, accepting my own potential was terrifying… because they both take work. A lot of it. Being a human takes work. But our value is already born inside of every one of us. We are much, much more than trash. We are capable of love and inspiring love, and God desperately wants us to feel His love. He wants us to love him back. More times than I can count, Christ has all but dragged me down a long, dark street, promising and promising that somewhere in me was something more beautiful than I could comprehend.

I know, I know. There’s a chance I’m reading too much of my own story into all this, but I think that’s precisely the beauty of a great screenplay. 

“Why do I have to be a toy?” Forky asks.

“Because,” says Woody, “you have Bonnie’s name written on the bottom of your sticks."



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