Blog Author Archive: Sophie Overett
Do you have someone in your life who is difficult to buy gifts for? Is it your dad? Regardless, all you need to know is their favourite TV show, and we’ve got the rest covered. Here’s some book tips for the TV lover!
Watching: The Walking Dead
Give them: A Town Called Dust by Justin Woolley
The Walking Dead is basically a cultural phenomenon at this point. The series about a man waking up from a coma to find himself in the throes of the zombie apocalypse captured imaginations around the world. Odds are someone in your life is a diehard fan of the series – whether it’s your teenage sister or straight laced hubby. This holiday season, grab them A Town Called Dust by Justin Woolley, a terrific dystopian series set in the outskirts of Alice Springs with a small community left to fight off hoards of the undead.
Watching: Grey’s Anatomy
Give them: Life Support by Nicki Edwards
Medical dramas are a dime a dozen, but few have had the longevity of Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy, a series that really taps into the heart (pun!) of the genre. Stop wondering about the difference between McDreamy and McSteamy and instead settle your giftee with Nicki Edwards’ Life Support, a story about a small town nurse who finds herself balancing her career, the death of her husband and a mysterious new beau.
Give them: Standoff by David Rollins
The combination of crime, character study and national security proved the trifecta for multi-award-winning drama, Homeland. Standoff by David Rollins takes a different approach, but is similarly thrilling as the story of an OSI Special Agent investigating an airport massacre only to find a survivor left crawling out of the Texan desert.
Give them: The Young Royals Series by S.A. Gordon
Who doesn’t like to see hot young royals caught between lovers and station? Reign might take you back to the days of Mary, Queen of Scots, but that doesn’t mean the monarch drama needs to stay in the 1500s. S.A. Gordon’s Young Royals Series takes an All-American girl and drops her into the life of luxury after she captures the eye of Prince David. Fraught relationships and torn commitments ensue!
Watching: The Jinx: the life and deaths of Robert Durst
Give them: Chopper Unchopped
Thanks to the Serial Podcast, true crime seems to be a hot water-cooler topic these days. Everyone listened with eager ears as Sarah Koenig opened up the long closed case of Adnan Syed and scrambled to answer the question of whether he really did kill his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. With the podcast between seasons, a lot of listeners turned their attention to HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, a six-part miniseries exploring the strange connection between a string of unsolved crime and a real estate tycoon. Give your criminally-curious pal the insidelook at one of Australia’s most notorious criminals, Mark ‘Chopper’ Brandon, in Chopper Unchopped.
Is the show you have in mind not featured here? Tell us in the comments and we’ll let you know what to get!
If the last episode started to hint at Jessica’s desperate need for connection, this episode builds on the theme dramatically, exploring the way those connections are used with both the best of intentions and the worst. Almost no one leaves this episode unscathed (except perhaps Kilgrave and Hogarth, but more on that later).
Last episode ended with the reveal of Luke and Jessica’s powers to each other, and this episode picks up right where we left off. Confronted with the other’s abilities, they put each other to the test in the sexiest possible way. Afterwards, they have dinner and they talk about higher callings, simultaneously echoing and rejecting their brother-from-another-mother Spider Man – great power might come with great responsibility after all, but how you interpret that doesn’t necessarily mean donning a suit, something Jessica alludes to having tried once. Not that it worked out.
Luke and Jessica are the emotional epicentre of this episode and cast a lot of the things happening in other scenes and with other characters into a harsher light. With Luke, Jessica’s often at her finest. Smart, sexy, loving, tender. We know her relationship with him is complicated, but for a lot of this episode it’s the easiest thing in her life. Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter have such a natural chemistry, and such a nuanced understanding of their characters, that the scenes where they’re together are a genuine pleasure to watch. So much so that we know it’s not going to last.
Jessica’s past is a mangled beast, and it seems to darken her present more with every scene. She’s haunted by the photograph of Luke’s dead wife in his bathroom cabinet, and by the shadow of Kilgrave, who she finally talks to Luke about, however elusively. The two storylines come together in a not unexpected, but still heartbreaking, way when, through flashback, we find out that Kilgrave had ordered Jessica to kill Luke’s wife. The act seems to have been a severing point for Kilgrave’s hold on her. The memory comes back stark for Jessica, and she breaks everything off with Luke at the end of the episode. The reprieve their connection made in the series was just that – a reprieve, and Jessica has other work to do.
Meanwhile, Jessica continues her search for Kilgrave and her defence of Hope, who continues to sit in prison while the media runs wild with her story. Jessica talks to Hogarth about stopping the latter, but Hogarth isn’t quite ready to step up. Turns out Hope told Hogarth everything, and by everything we mean everything. Now with the knowledge of Kilgrave’s control of Jessica, Hogarth’s surer of her case, but still, she’s not biting on the mind control defence. The case is still weak, and Hogarth risks looking as delusional as Hope sounds.
Jessica takes the conversation to Trish, asking her to talk about mind control on her radio show and telling her about the fact that surgical anaesthesia can knock Kilgrave out of the game. Trish has a reveal of her own – namely her new prowess with krav maga. (Trish is the best, right? We can all agree on that now?) The next day, Trish interviews Hope live on air, giving Hope the platform to plead her case, Hogarth by her side. Hogarth talks about delusion, and Trish takes the bait – talking about mind control and insults Kilgrave’s manhood. Jessica stops the interview, but not quickly enough. Kilgrave calls up the show, charming in his threats or threatening in his charms, depending on how you look at it, and Jessica and Trish flee the building.
Interestingly, Kilgrave’s evil feels both very present and elusive on the show, his danger removed. It’s not like it is with Kingpin in Daredevil, where we see his violence and his power. Kilgrave is yet to bloody his own hands, but David Tennant plays a brilliant threat in his call to Trish here and in the loom his presence has, weighing on Jessica’s shoulders. Jessica’s desperation is clearest here, and she tries to keep Trish safe by confining her to her fortress apartment before heading home herself.
One of the other major threads of the episode is Jessica’s continued search for the surgical anaesthesia. She tries Hogarth’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Luke, contemplates holding up a hospital. Her solution comes now in the form of a very high Malcolm, who stumbles into her path. Jessica takes him to the hospital and flings him into a nurse, giving her the opportunity to steal what she needs.
Back at Trish’s, a police officer shows up, breaks in, tries to kill her under Kilgrave’s instructions. Her krav maga can hold him off, but it’s not enough to save her life. Luckily, Jessica is. They fake Trish’s death and Jessica follows the cop back to Kilgrave, who’s looking lavish in a luxury, glasshouse apartment. He’s pleased with the news of Trish’s death and promptly orders the cop to kill himself too. Jessica saves him, and we get a charged look between Kilgrave and Jessica as they finally see each other. Kilgrave escapes, but not before throwing a few attackers Jessica’s way and leading her down into a room covered with photographs of herself, her every move observed and caught, and a note – see you later. The only question is when.
One of the things both Daredevil and Jessica Jones have been criticised for is a stalled pace. Both have thirteen episodes but operate more as one long film than the usual episodic format. It means the episodes appear less tightly told, but the reality is the opposite – without the usual ‘monster of the week’ that often accompanies these sorts of shows, Jessica Jones and Daredevil are aiming for something a little more complex and a little more carefully plotted.
That fact is on point in this episode, which is much more subdued than the previous, but still manages to move us substantially forwards. Ultimately, it’s an episode about legwork (often literally), but it’s not a sprint towards answers or a climax – if anything, it asks more questions.
The bulk of the episode is devoted to continuing the search for Kilgrave. Jessica interviews Hope at the police station, who tells her in no uncertain terms to kill herself and seems unable to do much beyond wallow. Jessica visits Hogarth instead, begging her to represent the (no pun intended) hopeless case. Hogarth does on two conditions – first that Jessica finds some sort of evidence that Hope was under mind control, and second that Jessica will owe her a favour.
The hunt begins. Almost immediately we flashback to Jessica, bleeding from the face, staggering across the road. Kilgrave behind her, yelling at her to come back. A bus gains speed, flips, knocking Kilgrave out in the process.
Back to now, Jessica talks to a mechanic on the same street about where injured parties would be taken and ends up at Metro-General Hospital. She steals a nurse’s outfit and searches computers, but no one matching Kilgrave’s description was taken there on the night of the accident. Instead, she tracks down the ambulance drivers, discovering one who went AWOL leaving the bus flip scene. Jack is now living with his conservative, overbearing and religious mother. Young, on virtual life support (a machine provided to him by a mysterious benefactor), Jack’s had a stroke after donating both his kidneys and being left in an alley. Jessica tells him she knows, and he writes something down for her Kil… ‘Kilgrave,’ Jessica says, only that’s not what he’s writing. Kill Me. Jessica can’t and she leaves, shaken.
She ends up tracking the life support machine serial number to David Karada, who she finds lecturing at a university. He bolts when he sees her, and she chases him to the basement of the building. He’s terrified, and Jessica reveals that Karada had forged Kilgrave’s death certificate in the same sentence Karada reveals Kilgrave still alive and carting around photographs of Jessica. Karada performed the surgery on Jack, transferring his kidneys over to Kilgrave who sat awake the whole time. Turns out surgical anaesthetic weakens Kilgrave’s mind control, and that’s enough of a win for Jessica today and enough evidence for Hogarth to represent Hope.
In one of the most notable shifts away from Jessica’s POV we’ve had so far, Kilgrave gets his first real appearance, where he takes over a family and an apartment and settles himself in for what is seemingly the long haul. The scene is eerie and uncomfortable, but does a good job of setting up a villain we’ve only seen so far in hallucination and flashback.
The episode opens with Jessica at the police station being interviewed about the death of Hope’s parents. She’s not forthcoming, and even less so when the detective presents her with a photograph of Luke, the tall, handsome barman from the night before – a photograph the detective lifted from Jessica’s office. She goes to warn Luke, or apologise, but Luke’s not having it. He doesn’t do drama, and at Jessica’s reveal that she’d been investigating the woman he hooked up with, Gina, from episode one, for her husband, he’s even less inclined.
Later, Luke confronts Gina who in turn confronts Jessica about the photographs while her husband heads to the bar with friends to perform the typical scorned husband beating. Jessica leaves Gina behind and runs to the bar, getting us to one of the most fun fight scenes I’ve seen in a while. Jessica is unbridled fury and strength, and we really see her superhuman abilities in action for the first time. She’s powerful in this scene, erratic, but powerful, and Luke beside her is a different sort of strength, flipping people as easily as, say, wiping down his bar.
If Jessica acknowledges this, she ignores it, but Luke isn’t quite so willing to turn a blind eye. He shows up at her apartment at the end of the episode and takes an electric knife to his own arm. It doesn’t even cut skin, and Jessica and Luke see each other for perhaps the first time. Jessica’s reaction will have to wait until the next episode.
One of the broader themes of this episode and indeed, the season, is Jessica’s desire to protect those she cares about. Just the only way she seems to be able to think to do that is by cutting them off entirely. If we know one thing about Jessica in these early episodes, it’s that she views herself as Enemy #1.
The storyline with Trish and Jessica is one of the most compelling currently. Trish spends a lot of this episode following Jessica, no matter how much the latter tries to push her away. Trish has turned her house into a fortress for Jessica, she’s taking intensive self-defence classes and devotes a big portion of her energy to trying to get the door and lock of Jessica’s office/apartment fixed. Jessica furrows away mostly, but the thing is, no matter how much she tries to isolate herself, she still clings to moments of connection – she did by going back to Luke’s bar (twice), and she did by telling Trish about her detective agency – Alias Investigations – after bullying her out of her office only seconds before, and later asking her out for a drink. It seems no matter how hard Jessica tries to remove herself entirely from existing and possible relationships, something in her fights to have these connections felt, and the show does a terrific job of representing that.
I’m really interested in where Hogarth’s affair is going. That plot is only lightly peppered throughout episodes, but it’s compelling and obviously building to something a lot bigger.
The scene with the twins upstairs is interesting and adds to the texture of the apartment building where Jessica lives. I wonder what’s going to happen to the clearly one-sided crush brewing there, and I also wonder how this oddball crew of characters are going to fare in the inevitable Kilgrave confrontation by the end of the season.
What did you think of episode 2?
With the final installment of The Hunger Games coming out this week, it could almost be the end of an era. Sure, we still have The Maze Runner and Divergent sequels to look forward to, but the mainstream popularisation of the dystopian seems to be winding down. Don’t worry if you were a late adopter to the trope though – the good thing about it having been so popular means you have a straight up library of books to see you through until the next genre boom.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Any list of dystopian novels not including Margaret Atwood’s formative story feels lacking. Atwood’s story of a closed-ranks society subjugating it’s women as child-bearers or prostitutes, famously only uses examples of both that have really happened. By combining them all, Atwood not only harnesses our collective fear of conformity, isolation and lack of control, but also proves that one man’s utopia is a lot of people’s dystopia.
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
Even mentioning a zombie outbreak can be met with eyerolls these days, but it doesn’t change the fact that a good zombie story can be something remarkable. Colson Whitehead’s story of a society rebuilt after the apocalypse goes the places you’d expect it to (nothing’s at peace forever after all), but there’s some terrific twists and characters along the way.
A Town Called Dust by Justin Woolley
Parts of Australia lend themselves pretty generously to the apocalypse (we have Mad Max as testimony to that), but rarely is it approached as organically and generously as it is in Justin Woolley’s A Town Called Dust. The story finds an emotional centre in two kids, Squid and Lynn, fighting against the restrictions placed on them by their society and the ones they place on themselves.
Blindness by Jose Saramago
When it comes to dystopian fiction, a lot seems to be focused on the hows and whys when really what you care about is what happens next. Blindness has that in spades – not zombies or nuclear war, it’s a story that starts simply enough – with one person going blind. And then another. Then another. It’s not just a dystopian, but a plague story about what happens when the threat isn’t outside, but in.
Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan
Brian K. Vaughan’s latest comic book series, Saga, has redefined the space opera to such a degree that it’s almost possible to forget that one of his earlier series, Y: The Last Man did the same for the dystopian. All men on Earth drop dead except one, and a world of women are left scrambling to hold together a species on the brink of extinction in this funny and heartbreaking series.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I know, I know, this is a double hitter of ol’ Suzanne, but there’s a reason this series swept up the world’s collective imagination. Tightly told, excellently paced with characters you’ll love (and cry over when Collins inevitably kills them), The Hunger Games is an intense and emphatic tale about a teenage girl’s efforts to save her little sister which suddenly, somehow, turns her into the face of a rebellion.
What was the last great dystopian novel you read?
Jessica Jones tells us who and what she is from the first line of dialogue. In the opening scene, her sardonic voice over sets her up as a freelancing private detective with an eye for ‘the worst in people’. The scene is straight out of a forties noir, from the eerie jazz score to the voyeuristic window shots, to the Hitchcockian sense of shadow.
It sets the scene, but more than that, it sets the tone of the entire series. Jessica Jones has more in common with the detective pulp fiction novels you find at second hand stores than with previous Marvel Studios properties, and it owns that every step of the way.
This first episode has two cases and the way Jessica comes into them is classic detective story tropes. The first case she gets after cajoling Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer Jessica’s worked for before. After a bit of banter revealing the pair’s spotty professional history, Hogarth asks Jessica to track down Gregory Spheeris, a strip club owner, and hand him a summons for a personal injury lawsuit.
The second case is even more typical and plays with the trope of many classic crime stories that balance pay cheque cases with more nuanced and intriguing ones. A couple walk into Jessica’s office trying to find their missing daughter, Hope. Hope has uncharacteristically dropped out of college, and her parents are worried. Jessica’s interest isn’t overwhelming, but it’s piqued enough to take the case.
In between receiving the two, one of Jessica’s stakeouts is disturbed when she finds herself watching a tall, dark and handsome stranger leaving a bar with a woman. She’s intrigued by him for reasons we don’t quite know yet – whether it’s simply attraction, which is well and truly acted on later in the episode, or if the man is in some way related to Jessica’s currently ambiguous history. We know they don’t know each other, they introduce themselves later in the episode, although when they have sex it’s both hot and angsty, almost brutal in the emotional intensity of the scene. Their chemistry is basically off the charts. Afterwards, Jessica ends up in the bathroom, rifling through his medicine cabinet only to find a photograph of a woman. Her reaction is so grief-stricken that perhaps this is the connection she has with the stranger, or if it’s not, the episode lingers enough on it that it must be important.
Jessica heads out, vomits, and has a restless night of sleep on her couch. Her insomnia, drinking, panic attacks and powers are peppered throughout the episode and currently serve less narrative purpose than they do character setup. Her powers in particular are portrayed as just a fact of her – in the same way as having a natural aptitude for sport might be, or being able to pick a lock. Useful, sure, but not something that makes life all that much easier. She leaps up two flights of stairs, throws an alarm clock through a roof and lifts a car off the road to stop Spheeris escaping the court summons Jessica needs to hand him (and thus solving case #1).
Her panic attacks are a little different. They come up only a few times throughout the episode and are always coded the same way. With a shift into purple lighting and a faceless man leaning close, his coy, British voice asking her to do things. In these scenes Jessica either freezes or scrambles, and repeats street names like a mantra – Main Street, Birch Street, Higgins Drive, Cobalt Lane.
But back to the case.
Jessica speaks to Hope’s best friend, who’s still pissed at her for bailing out on rent. She reveals that Hope met a guy, and Jessica steals a credit card bill that reveals Hope’s been buying up in terms of sexy undies and expensive dinners. Jessica follows the latter to a restaurant she immediately recognises. Flashback to our purple mood lighting, Jessica all dolled up, sitting opposite the British man from her panic attacks. He tells her she’ll love it. Jessica loves it. He tells her to smile and she does.
The same man was there with Hope, days before.
Jessica panics. Jessica repeats her mantra. Jessica finds Hope’s parents. The police didn’t recommend Jessica to them, but someone else at the station did. Someone with an English accent. Jessica tells them to pack, and then she does. She tries to book a ticket to Hong Kong, but her card doesn’t work. Hogarth hasn’t paid her yet for the Spheeris job, and won’t for another few days, so Jessica ends up at Trish’s.
We’ve seen ads for Trish’s radio show throughout the episode, and they’ve all been met with bite and regret. This conversation doesn’t go any differently. Jessica asks for money, and Trish gives it without hesitation, but not without anger.
He’s back is the only answer Jessica can give her. The lingerie, the restaurant, all the things this (now named) man, Kilgrave, is doing with Hope, he did with Jessica. Jessica needs the money to run, before he comes after her, but Trish doesn’t think she should leave Hope with him. ‘You’re still the one who tried to do something’ Trish tells her, but Jessica isn’t having it. ‘I was never the hero you wanted me to be.’
Jessica leaves with Trish’s wad of cash and Trish’s words, and suddenly Jessica makes a detour. She finds Hope at the same hotel the man took her to, sprawled on the bed. Kilgrave is not there but he’s told Hope to stay and she’s physically unable to move to the point where she’s wet the bed. Jessica knocks Hope out to get her back to her office, lugging her over her shoulder in one of the more useful examples of her superhuman strength. Hope’s parents meet them there, and there’s a tearful, sweet reunion as Jessica tells them to clear out back to Omaha, to get as far away as possible to let Kilgrave’s mind control powers wear off.
For a second, it feels resolved. That maybe today the good guys win, only Hope and her parents get in the elevator and Hope pulls out a gun. By the time Jessica gets to them, Hope’s parents are dead and Hope’s left pulling the trigger, again and again. ‘Smile’, she tells Jessica, who backs out of the apartment building, staggering to the cab. Jessica knows there are two options – keep denying it or do something about it.
Jessica walks back into the building.
One theme’s made very clear in this first episode, and it’s something that I’m sure will thread throughout the series – not of healing, but recovery. They’re two words that sound the same and are often used interchangeably, but Jessica Jones knows that their differences are stark for survivors of trauma. Jessica’s never going to heal, or be the person she was before all this, but she can recover. If the first half of this episode shows a woman in retreat, or in survival mode, the moment she makes the detour to the hotel shows a woman who’s, well, doing something about it, and I’m excited to see the way it shapes up in the next episodes.
Interestingly, Jessica’s sardonic voiceover only falters twice – once when she sees the ad for Trish’s show on the side of a bus, and once when she’s reminiscing. It’s a simple and clever tool that’s rarely used in narration, but is used very effectively here.
Jessica’s neighbour, Malcolm, is a total doll. The line with him offering Jessica the TV he stole made me hearteyes forever.
So Jeri Hogarth’s cheating on her wife with the secretary! I highly doubt that’s going to be a standalone plot line and I’m interested to see how it threads with the Jessica and Kilgrave plots.
What did you think of the episode?
Two years ago, I found myself in outback, mid-west Queensland for work. I was driving between the tiny, remote town of Julia Creek towards the slightly-less tiny, even more remote town of Richmond when I saw it. Somewhere among the desolate desert, all Mars-red dirt and musk-stick pink grass, was a slumped form flying a kite.
Initial confusion aside, my dread grew. I’m an avid consumer of horror movies, and this is not an image you particularly want when driving in the nothing-land of the outback.
As I drove closer though, I realised I was wrong. It wasn’t a kite, nor was it a slumped body. Rather, it was an enormous, decaying red kangaroo with a bird of prey soaring above it. What distance had fooled me into thinking was the string of a kite, was in fact the line of the kangaroo’s intestines, hooked in the bird’s beak and swaying in the mid-afternoon heat.
Australia has a rich culture when it comes to horror. Our topography and our landscape lends itself to the genre in the same way dank American woods and hidden European villages do. The isolation of us as country and continent, and our coastal hugging cities mean that our empty middle forms a neat stage for serial killers (in reality and in fiction), and avenging spirits to reclaim.
Unusual, in many ways, from the norm. Famously, horror has been about the interior. It’s a genre that explores a person’s safe spaces and what happens when that safe space is suddenly made unsafe – it occurs time and time again in haunting narratives or home invasion films, from your Paranormal Activities to your Rosemary’s Baby, Scream, The Conjuring, You’re Next. It dominates the genre.
But Australian horror tends to drag its victims out instead of in. Gone are shambled houses or gated communities, gone are neighbours who turn a blind eye. Instead, you’re left screaming in the desert (Wolf Creek, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Prey) or in the bush (Van Diemen’s Land, Acolytes) or in the sea (The Reef, Triangle) or all three (Black Water, Rogue), in vast expanses that somehow become even more claustrophobic than the prison of a home. Even the films that utilise buildings seem to have an unhinged, outback edge to them – think the first Saw movie, or Patrick, or The Tunnel – each set in confined spaces that still latch onto the desert and deserted tropes – total isolation, an unforgiving environment and no one left to hear you scream.
And scream they do. Or pant. Warble. Run.
These characters are different again – gone are family curses and premeditated attacks. Australian horror doesn’t invade after all, but rather positions the victim as invader. As the great mistreader. There’s an argument to be made in how it ties into our identity as Australians – after all, the cultural core of fair dinkum adventurer is perhaps as key as the loveable larrikin. So our victims explore, and they explore an old country that’s young in colonialism, one with a history as mysterious as the landmarks it holds. Australian horror works because it takes advantage of what we’re known for – a wild that wants to kill us and a great big empty middle that’s prepared to keep our secrets.
All that said, the genre’s shifting – slowly, surely, with films like The Babadook and The Loved Ones that tackle the genre more traditionally. These are interior stories that breakdown base wants and desires. These are characters that are robbed and rocked and dragged in instead of out – literally and figuratively. Or perhaps shifting is the wrong word – growing, expanding. After all, John Jarret may seem committed to leaving horror in the outback, but a new generation of filmmakers and writers are pulling it back in. Reminding suburban cinemagoers and readers that they don’t need to be roadtripping through the desert for shadows to touch their lives. It can be in their homes, on their trains, in their neighbour’s carefully turned eye, or in the roadkill they swerve to miss.
There’s this really great scene in Southland, a drama series about cops in Los Angeles, where one of the detectives fails. I know, I know, it’s not exactly an uplifting episode (then again, it’s not exactly an uplifting show), but a kid he knows off the streets – whip smart, an avid reader, cute as a button, finds himself in a gang before he hits adolescence.
The scene where our detective finds out, and when the kid finds out that the detective has found out, is probably one of the most harrowing scenes I’ve seen recently. After all, neither of them have really failed. Its society and a broken system that’s failed them both.
Most of the episode the kid has been making fun of our detective for his total obliviousness when it comes to books. He schools him on Lord of the Rings, Where the Wild Things Are and finally on Cormac McCarthy.
The episode ends with the detective at Borders (it’s a pretty old show) picking up a copy of McCarthy’s The Road. In a single act, the writers have surmised the episode, these characters, and the sheer hopelessness these cops meet when it comes to protecting the people they’re supposed to. Modern LA might not be a post-apocalyptic America as it is in The Road (although after four hours at LAX, I could certainly argue it is), but it is an impossible place for the paternalistic cop.
Books make for an interesting prop in TV. They play out, ultimately, as what they are. I can’t think of any other medium that can as effectively drop another narrative inside themselves. A story in a story told by a book cover and a nod to the viewers who’ve read it.
They come up time and time again.
Don Draper, Mad Men
Mad Men goes beyond exploring the changing tides of 1960s America. It’s a meditation on the era’s pop culture, and how it informs not only the times but the characters. None more so than its leading man, Don Draper. Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre, Don’s reading habits are always topical indicators for the month and year we’re in (important for a series that had large time jumps), often abstract and usually telling of Don’s emotional state. Perhaps none more so than Dante’s The Inferno which steals the first scene in the first episode of Season 6. For a character who has continually self-sabotaged, who has ignored a history which has constantly raised its head to meet him, who has destroyed relationships and career time and time again, reading a book on the nine circles of hell is a perfect allegory. Plus, you know, it spawned a hundred think pieces.
Rory Gilmore, Gilmore Girls
What character reading list would be complete without Rory Gilmore? Throughout the seven seasons of the show, Rory reads a whopping 339 books. There are challenges set up in her honour! Rory reads some of the most formative books of modern (and ancient) history, feminist texts, children’s stories, literary fiction and science fiction. She’s a broad and generous reader, like we all should be. Rory’s reading habits rarely inform the episode, or her state of mind while she’s reading them, but the general fact of it rounds Rory’s character and serves as fundamental elements of some of the most important relationships on the show – Jess and Rory, Rory and Paris, and Rory and her grandfather. It serves a different sort of narrative connection to what books do in Mad Men. Just like in Southland, books are more than a reflection of the interior, they’re a basis for connection.
Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons
Lisa Simpson’s reading habit is probably one of the most well-known and documented in television history. I mean, there are tumblr’s devoted to this eight-year old’s reading habit. If anything, what Lisa’s reading is a plot device for episode hijinks or more an indication of the writer or animator’s preferences than anything else, but the simple fact of Lisa reading is integral to her character, to her differentiation to her family, to her wit, her intelligence and abundant capacity for empathy. I don’t know if people will be trying to read everything Lisa does like they will Rory Gilmore, but it’s hard to deny that Lisa’s habit is one of the most voracious on TV.
Taystee Jefferson, Orange is the New Black
Books come up in Orange is the New Black all the time, and serve a purpose somewhere between Mad Men’s level of character commentary and The Simpsons in-jokes (after all, there’s nothing better than seeing a murdering, criminal mastermind reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars). But Taystee Jefferson, like the kid in Southland, represents something beyond pop culture. She’s a commentary on the prison system – bright and compassionate, a leader and a friend, on top of being an avid reader, yet when she is released from prison, she can’t survive outside of it.
It doesn’t help that Taystee was groomed from a young age by the aforementioned murderous-John-Green-reading-mastermind, Vee, who massages circumstances to keep Taystee in her control. Books are Taystee’s escape from a situation where there is none, and it’s not a surprise nor a coincidence that the books she references tend towards the fantastic – Harry Potter, Outlander, Stephen King. The only time she references a book not escapist is when she mentions The Help, and man, if that isn’t a whole other story.
Tony Soprano, The Sopranos
This is kind of a cheat as we don’t actually see Tony read all that much in The Sopranos, but there are fair chunks of season’s devoted to Tony watching things. By the end of the show’s run, Tony must have worked his way through the gangster cinema canon, from 1931’s The Public Enemy to 1990s Goodfellas, Chinatown, The Godfather. The history of mafia cinema plays out as a wink and a nod to the viewer, but also to inform on what Tony is and ultimately, who he wants to be, because there’s nothing Tony would rather be than the kingpin.
Any well-read characters with a special space in your heart? Let us know in the comments!
As the stories we consume move from page to screen and screen to, well, other screen, the way we can tell stories changes shape and format too. Webseries’ have exploded as a medium for narrative recently and, in particular, has seen a lot of young filmmakers mining classic stories for tales to tell. But retelling classic stories across tens to hundreds of five minute episodes has been done with varying levels of success.
So, what are some of the best old stories adapted to webseries? And what are some that should be on a showrunner’s radar?
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
Based on: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
It’s hard to deny the influence of Pride and Prejudice on pop culture. Arguably one of the formative novels of modern times, it translates better than it should to a modern post-grad American webseries, with a charismatic cast, a few sisters less and a bulked out role for the delightful Charlotte, Lizzie’s BFF. This Youtube juggernaut crossed neatly to the format and brought a whole new audience to Austen’s most beloved novel.
Based on: Carmilla by Sheridan Le fanu
Lesbians in love! One is a vampire! I read Carmilla as a part of a gothic lit course back in university and was totally taken with its exploration of sexuality and gender. A pretty interesting feat given it was written by a white dude in the 1800s. But where the novella undercuts its progress with bouts of homophobia, the team at VerveGirl have made a wonderfully compelling story, finding new ways to traumatise its heroines and developing the romance to a conclusion that emotionally resonates.
Nothing Much to Do
Based on: Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare
I’m not above saying I prefer Shakespeare’s comedies to his tragedies. I mean, sure, soliloquys and murder are great, but I always find myself a little in love with Shakespeare’s idea of love. This isn’t romantic teenagers who die for it, or women sent mad by ghosts. Its banter and its mistaken identity and its hatred twisting its way around (and often being twisted) into something a little more.
Much Ado About Nothing embodies almost all of these themes, and the webseries Nothing Much to Do works with them too. It’s entirely charming, with a loud, charismatic cast and a tongue in cheek love for its source material.
BAMF Girls Club
Based on: A million things. Just watch it.
So it’s not exactly based on one great novel, but this series placing some of our greatest modern heroines, from Hermione to Katniss to Buffy, in a house together is not only ridiculously fun, it challenges gender constructs, tropes and preconceived notions on what it is to be a female character. Also: hilarious.
And with more than half of these series’ finished up, what should be adapted next for the Youtube generation?
Based on: The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
With the exception of Carmilla, which is only very nearly scary, horror hasn’t really made the leap to webseries yet. Sure, horror shorts are a dime a dozen, but there’s a gap there for some real spine chilling, long-form stuff. You could dig deep for Stephen King (who’s famous for offering his shorts to emerging filmmakers for a buck) or even try your hand adapting old faves like Dracula, but Henry James’ Turn of the Screw has everything you need.
After all, a lonesome nanny on an isolated property with two weird kids has always been a horror goldmine, and could make for the perfect marriage of the found footage genre and the webseries format.
The Kitty Charing Project
Based on: Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
Why should Jane Austen’s regency romances get all the adaptions? Georgette Heyer is much younger than her predecessor (her first book hit the stands 1921) but this kickass historical romance author wrote 54 novels, which means she has a wealth of canon to draw on.
Cotillion is the story of Kitty Charing who can inherit a fortune if she marries one of her cousins. She finds her heart set on Jack, who in true regency romance form, turns out to be the straight up worst. To make said worst guy jealous, she convinces her other cousin, Freddy, to pose as her fiancé. We all know how this ends. Amazingly.
In the vein of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved, The Kitty Charing Project would be a total delight – a web diary from the effervescent Kitty and her efforts to make her gross, cheating ex jealous. Everyone wins. Except Jack.
Based on: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
The story of a bored and incredibly fashionable housewife who begins a string of ill thought out affairs is, in some ways, perfect for webseries. Emma Bovary would totally be a beauty and fashion blogger, wiling away her afternoons with the help of her friend / hanger on Lheureux. As she begins her affairs, her blog moves away from the beauty tips that started her fortune and towards full blown confessional. The ending would be pretty dark, but hey, it’s about time webseries got a little gritty.
He Died with a Felafel in His Hand
Based on: He Died with a Felafel in His Hand by John Birmingham
We’ve all had that housemate. The one who moves in with only a guitar, who leaves melted cheese on the counter and lies about dead relatives. Birmingham’s book He Died with a Felafel in His Hand makes you glad that that was your worst housemate. His story of sudden death, fridge pissing and bogans behaving badly is basically the best/worst. With 89 housemate installments, it’s a perfect fit for a quick and dirty webseries which will leave you cringing in your lunch break.