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What To Expect From “American Horror Story: Cult”

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The clues have been coming fast and furious for the upcoming 7th season of the horror anthology TV series “American Horror Story,” which premiered on Tuesday, September 5, on FX.

While there will be a number of returning characters from past seasons – including Ally Mayfair-Richards (played by Sarah Paulson), Kai Anderson (played by Evan Peters) and Dr. Rudy Vincent (played by Cheyenne Jackson), there will also be a number of interesting new twists and turns, as well as new talent (Billie Lourd, Alison Pill, Lena Dunham). Here’s what to expect from “American Horror Story: Cult.”

#1: “American Horror Story: Cult” will be based on the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election

While FX has not released the exact plot lines and narratives of Season 7, we’ve received a number of tantalizing clues from the trailer as well as from the show’s director and co-creator, Ryan Murphy.

Here’s what we know: the action in Episode 1 will start on election night 2016 and all of the action will take place in Michigan. From the trailer, we see two very different reactions to the results of the election: Ally appears to be horrified while Kai appears to be exultant. (In fact, Kai lets out a roar of approval and then proceeds to mimic having sex with the television in front of him!)

As Murphy has pointed out, the fallout from the 2016 presidential election is a “horror show” with a “horrifying aftermath.” While he has said that neither Hillary Clinton nor Donald Trump will appear on screen during the show, Season 7 is clearly intended to be an “allegory” of what could happen – or what might already be happening – in much of America. As such, one person close to “American Horror Story” has said that Season 7 will be the “first full season of narrative television conceived, developed and written in response to the November election.”

#2: “American Horror Story: Cult” will focus on cults, not the occult

There’s another important point to keep in mind about the upcoming season of FX’s “American Horror Story” – it will not feature supernatural elements, as in past seasons. Instead, the focus will be on cults, and what happens when people feel very afraid and vulnerable.

From what we know, Kai Anderson (played by Evan Peters) is going to be a cult leader. The real reason why he’s so excited about a Trump win is because it frees him to run a cult where he can recruit very vulnerable people. In fact, there’s a line in the trailer that’s actually a bit alarming, “If you get people scared enough, it will set the world on fire.”

And we get another clue from the names of the episodes that have been released. If you look at Episode 7, it will be called “Valerie Solanas Died For Your Sins, Scum Bag.” That episode will feature Andy Warhol, the cult around the Factory in New York City, and the events that led to Valerie Solanas shooting Warhol for not including her in his cult of personality. Director Ryan Murphy has already cast Lena Dunham for the role of Valerie Solanas, and has said that the episode will focus on “female rage” and what feelings people have when they are not accepted into cults.

#3: Get ready for Twisty the Clown and other regulars in “American Horror Story”

We’ve been getting a lot of clues from the team at FX that evil clowns – including Twisty the Clown from Season 4 (“American Horror Story: Freak Show”) – will make their way back into Season 7. And Director Ryan Murphy has also suggested that a number of other characters from previous seasons – including Bloody Face, Rubber Man and Piggy Man – will also appear in Season 7.

In fact, it’s all a bit creepy. Who’s not afraid of evil clowns? And judging from the trailer, these evil clowns and other characters start to become part of different phobias taking over the town in Michigan. In the trailer, we hear someone say, “It has just been getting so much worse” since the election, and it’s unclear what exactly this references – but it could be that the clowns are somehow connected to the cult of personality that Kai is trying to create.

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#4: The link between “American Horror Story” and the 1976 film “Network”

What’s really fascinating about Season 7 is how it seems to be much more of a statement on American society than previous episodes. You can interpret “American Horror Story” to be a metaphor for the broader swath of American society that has fallen under the misguided ideas of President Donald Trump – the people marching in Charlottesville, for example.

And that’s a point that Ryan Murphy makes – he says that much of the action in Season 7 was actually inspired by the 1976 film “Network,” which was a media satire. That film, says Murphy, helps to explain much of what we are seeing today.

#5: Plenty of evil plot twists involving children and bad neighbors from hell

One of the questions that we hear in the trailer for Season 7 is, “What fills your heart with dread?” The answer is both confusing and chilling: “Children.” And then the next scene is of an evil nanny or babysitter doing bad things to children. Yikes!

But again, it’s unclear for now how the phobias, the clowns, and the cults are related. We do have some clues from the episode titles, though. For example, Episode 2 is called “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and Episode 3 is called “Neighbors From Hell.”

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There’s a good chance that, if “American Horror Story: Cult” is a rousing success this fall, it will lead to an entirely new type of genre on TV: the political horror film. Who needs the supernatural and occult to scare you when you have the politicians in Washington, DC?

And this is something that Season 7 intends to use with great effect – there’s even a rumored plot line involving Kai running for a city council spot and then dreaming even bigger – a shot at the U.S. Senate. At which point, you’re probably thinking about Kid Rock and his recently announced U.S. Senate bid from the state of – you guessed it – Michigan (where “American Horror Story” takes place). These are scary times.

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What to Expect From “Star Trek: Discovery”

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For more than a year now, Star Trek fans have been waiting for the upcoming TV series “Star Trek: Discovery.” After being announced in November 2015 as the first show specifically created for CBS All Access, there have been a number of twists and turns that have delayed its debut. So what can we expect from “Star Trek: Discovery” when it finally comes to CBS?

Right now, we don’t even have a firm date for the release of the show. The original release date was January 2017, but that was moved back to May 2017, and now CBS executives are saying that it’s far more likely that there will be a fall 2017 release. But they won’t even commit to a specific date. Meanwhile, filming continues in Toronto. But all of these delays are making fans anxious, as they are getting concerned that the latest “Discovery” could be a complete disaster like the doomed “Enterprise.”

In terms of what we know about the show, we know that the action will take place a decade before the events of the original “Star Trek” series. And we know that the show’s producers are being very careful to separate this TV show from the “Star Trek” films. In a teaser video that CBS released, we just got some boilerplate information about the show, saying that it would feature “new crews, new villains, new heroes and new worlds.”

The first-ever serialized “Star Trek”

If you think about the other “Star Trek” TV shows, they have always been episodic in nature. In other words, you could watch Episode 5 of a season without the need to watch Episodes 4, 3, 2 or 1. Each show took place in a different place in the universe, with a different problem or villain. One episode it might be the Klingons, another week it might be someone else.

But the producers of “Star Trek: Discovery” are saying that this is going to be a serialized “Star Trek.” That would make it more similar to shows like “Game of Thrones” that you might watch on cable TV, where there is a single narrative arc connecting each and every show.

Right now, the best guess about that narrative arc comes from hints that the “Star Trek” producers have dropped. The first hint is that the series will be connected to “an incident and an event in ‘Star Trek’ history that’s been talked about but never been explored.”

Further hints and clues suggest that the incident might be related to the “Balance of Terror” story from the original “Star Trek” series that appeared back in 1966. The “Balance of Terror” episode introduced us to the Romulans, and featured a cat-and-mouse game between the starship Enterprise and the Romulan Bird of Prey ship, which was protected with a cloaking device.

And here’s where things get interesting – that episode from 1966 featured Sarek, Spock’s father, and we know that the new “Star Trek: Discovery” will feature Sarek as a Vulcan astrophysicist. So there might be a tie-in somehow.

A very diverse cast led by an African-American woman

We already know that the lead character for “Star Trek: Discovery” is going to be Sonequa Martin-Green (best known for her TV role in “The Walking Dead”), who will play the first officer of the USS Discovery. In the show, she will not be a full starship captain. Instead, she will be referred to as “Number One,” which is a reference back to the “Star Trek” pilot episode called “The Cage,” which also referred to the ship’s captain as “Number One.”

According to producers and showrunners, there will be a real emphasis on showing minority and female characters. And there will also be LGBTQ characters. In fact, the thinking now is that one of the main characters is going to be outwardly gay. Other top characters to keep an eye on include Nambue (played by Maulik Pancholy), chief medical officer of the USS Shenzhou, and Sarek (played by James Frain), Spock’s father.

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A new kind of starship that looks way too retro

While the entire series appears to be nearly a year behind in production, we did get an early preview of the USS Discovery at last summer’s Comic-Con in San Diego. There was a big unveiling of the USS Discovery, including a brief teaser trailer. The Discovery is golden hued and has a very different look than other “Star Trek” vessels. That has fans complaining, saying that the starship looks “too old and industrial” and not futuristic enough. Given that the action of this CBS show will take place only a decade before the first “Star Trek,” it’s hard to see how the Discovery eventually made way for the Enterprise we know and love.

A darker version of “Star Trek”

One aspect of “Star Trek” that fans have loved for more than 50 years is the optimistic message of the whole show. It’s all about exploring the universe, going where no man has gone before, and interacting with all the remarkable specimens and races of the galaxy in a way that unites rather than divides.

But it sounds like the plan for this new “Star Trek: Discovery” is to create a darker vision for the series. In fact, there have been suggestions that it could be united by a more post-apocalyptic story line. That makes sense, if you take into account that “Balance of Terror” episode, which featured the Earth-Romulan war and the ability of the warlike Romulans to destroy intergalactic space outposts with incredible weapons.

But that has fans concerned – they’re afraid that the optimistic, upbeat mood of the original Gene Roddenberry series might be lost. And, if that were the case, then it would lead to serious concerns that the show is headed in the right direction.

What’s most interesting about this new CBS show is what can best be called “the Netflix effect.” That means that CBS is specifically ordering a show that can become part of their All Access streaming service, and that’s what perhaps led to this being a serialized show. The whole reason people binge-watch is because they want to find out what happens next, and that’s why serialized shows are so popular.

There are some who say that, ever since “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was released in 1987, each successive Star Trek series has been less and less popular. There’s still hope, though, that more than 50 years after the original “Star Trek,” we’re going to have a new series that’s better than anything we’ve ever seen before.

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Why “Glow” Is the Netflix Show of the Summer

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Think about what makes a great summer TV show – it has to be fun and entertaining, of course. It has to be binge-worthy. And it has to feature themes and topics that are light enough for the carefree days of summer, when many of us are heading to the beach (or, at least, the local neighborhood pool). So that’s exactly why “Glow” is the Netflix show of the summer – it delivers on all of this, and more.

#1: “Glow” is just good nostalgic fun

There’s nothing that says nostalgia more than ‘80’s music, big hair, and Jane Fonda leotards. This show has it all, and it’s just good fun. There are LA skate punks, seedy California motels, and plenty of hair spray.

Critics have called it “shameless summer fun” – and why not? If you’re sitting at home during the summer, you probably want to stream something on TV that’s not going to require a lot of mental effort, and that’s “Glow.” Just sit back and soak in the outrageous outfits and beautiful women in the wrestling ring.

The basic plotline of “Glow” is that a group of washed-up actresses from Hollywood during the 1980s are going to unite to form the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling (GLOW). The movie itself was inspired by the original cult TV hit of the 1980s, which covered the rise of the women’s pro wrestling league in the 1980s.

And that’s what makes us so nostalgic – there seemed to be an era not so long ago when it was perfectly OK to enjoy shows just like this. Back then, professional wrestling was still a very underground, amateur sport and that’s what gave it so much fan appeal.

#2: “Glow” features a great ensemble cast and sharp character development

The real goal of “Glow” is to show us how these out-of-work actresses suddenly became wrestling stars. In this Netflix series, we meet them from the very beginning, when Sam Sylvia (played by Marc Maron) comes up with this outrageous concept. Maron himself is excellent in the role of the GLOW promoter, and special mention has to be made about Alison Brie, who plays the role of actress-turned-wrestler Ruth Wilder.

While Alison Brie is the official star of the show, the unofficial star of this show are the other 12 ladies. Each one of them seems to have a unique story, and it’s all very compelling. The character development in this series is top-notch, and encourages you to keep on watching. By the end of the 10 Netflix episodes, you will really care about these women.

#3: “Glow” is light and binge-worthy enough for a summer escape

You can watch “Glow” however you want. It’s a Netflix show, so the initial urge is to binge. And that’s what many people did as soon as the show came out. But here’s the thing: “Glow” is only 10 episodes of 30 minutes each. That’s a total of 5 hours. You could theoretically binge on this during a long summer afternoon. And that’s why “Glow” is really so much fun. It doesn’t require as much focus or attention as a typical 10-episode or 12-episode Netflix binge.

#4: “Glow” is the perfect mix of “Wonder Woman” and “Orange Is the New Black”

The one movie that took cinema box offices by storm this summer was “Wonder Woman.” That movie was so special because it was a superhero movie made by a woman for women. It reflected a real female mentality and point of view. And, in many ways, “Glow” shares some of those characteristics. It’s also made by two women – Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch – and it also reflects a uniquely feminine point of view. In short, “Glow” seems to tap into the current cultural zeitgeist.

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And there’s one more thing – the same team behind “Glow” is also behind the Netflix cult favorite, “Orange Is the New Black.” If you love OITNB, you’ll love “Glow.” It’s also a story of strong female characters. Only this time, these characters are not in the Litchfield prison facility, they are in the professional wrestling ring.

So “Glow” manages to combine the very best of “Wonder Woman” and “Orange Is the New Black.” These female wrestlers may not be traditional superheroes, but they are heroes to many (including many teenage boys). And the show delivers the same type of dynamic character development that we’ve come to expect from “Orange Is the New Black,” but without all the heavy commentary about socio-economic conditions in America.

#5: “Glow” is not afraid to explore gender and racial stereotypes

Yes, “Glow” is a light, entertaining TV series for the summer. But it also has range and depth to it. The show is fearless in exploring gender and racial stereotypes. There are plenty of scenes where the wrestling promoters are trying to come up for identities for these girls – “the Arab girl” or “the Big Black Beautiful Woman” – where we vividly glimpse all the stereotypes floating through American society at that time.

But there are also all the stereotypes within the Hollywood acting community. There’s a reason why these women are out of work or under-employed – they are fighting against entrenched prejudices in the industry. In fact, many of the characters talk about “justice” during this TV show.

#6: “Glow” is the perfect origin story show

Deep down, we all love origin stories. We all want to know how something started, and why. And that’s why people love “Glow” so much. In many ways, this Netflix series is the perfect origins story, showing us how a pop culture phenomenon of the 1980s came to be.

And this is also a story of underdogs. And who in America doesn’t love a good underdog story? To give the series as much authenticity as possible, the female actresses even agreed to do their own stunts on set. So we are seeing real women being transformed right before our eyes into pro wrestling divas. This is really exciting stuff.

Thus, for so many reasons, “Glow” really is the Netflix show of the summer. It’s lightweight and entertaining – but comes packed with enough punch to make it truly binge-worthy. You’ll love following along as these women, led by Ruth Wilder, reinvent themselves as the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.

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“Orange is the New Black” Season 5 Is the Worst One Yet

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Maybe long-time Netflix viewers started to expect too much from “Orange Is the New Black,” and they were inevitably doomed to be disappointed sooner or later. After four magnificent seasons, in which “Orange Is the New Black” made us re-think what’s possible in a TV series, Season 5 just never lived up to expectations. It’s safe to say that “Orange Is the New Black” Season 5 is the worst one yet.

Bizarre tonal shifts

While “Orange Is the New Black” has always shifted between genres, often interposing scenes of tragedy and comedy next to each other, there’s something distinctly “off” about this season. It’s almost like the series has lost its bearing, veering wildly from comedy to tragedy and then back to comedy, and viewers really don’t know what to think.

The New York Times has compared Season 5 of OITNB to “a speeding vehicle with a wheel missing.” With this season, the show is going too fast, the steering is unsteady, and it’s clear that there’s no slowing down. And this lack of focus can be disjointing – especially since all the action of Season 5 takes place within a very concentrated period of 72 hours. The mood swings are just too intense.

Plotlines and narratives just don’t add up

By now, you probably know that the dramatic narrative of Season 5 involves a prison riot and its aftermath at the Litchfield prison facility. The inmates rise up, take over the facility, take hostages, and reorganize themselves. One prison inmate, Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson (played by Danielle Brooks), tries to negotiate with the private company that runs the prison, urging them to change the living conditions within the prison.

So far, so good, right? This is the type of compelling story that “Orange Is the New Black” is known for. But then comes an episode smack dab in the middle of Season 5 that just doesn’t make any sense. Online fans have referred to this as “an homage to slasher films,” and it involves one of the prison guards (Piscatella) acting like he’s a villain from one of the “Friday the 13th” movies, abducting and tying up inmates.

What’s so bizarre about this whole plotline is that even the show’s writers don’t know how to play this. As a result, you get an episode that’s part horror film, and part comedy. It’s campy and cute and also horrifying. At some point, viewers don’t really know what to think. “Are they just messing with us?” is a thought that’s going to come to you during Season 5.

And that’s not all. There’s also the plotline of the prison inmate Tiffany “Pennsatucky” Doggett (played by Taryn Manning), who winds up getting married to the man who raped her in Season 3. The show tries to make this into a bigger story of forgiveness and redemption, but it just comes off as a mess.

“Orange Is the New Black” fails to deliver on Shakespearean-sized ambitions

After four seasons of being an “important” series, “Orange Is the New Black” seemingly overdoses on its sense of self-importance. The website Vox.com has called Season 5 “staggeringly ambitious” and “a huge mess” – in the same sentence. That’s because the whole series starts to take itself too importantly.

Here’s just one example: the effort by the prison inmates to reorganize themselves into some kind of new women’s commune. There are all kinds of “important” socio-economic issues raised here, such as the possibility of building a society anew so that it is fair to everyone. But “Orange Is the New Black” constantly interjects its Shakespearean ambitions here, almost as if the show’s writers were trying to combine the very best of Shakespeare’s tragedies and comedies into one TV show for the ages.

And here’s another example: the role of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (played by Uzo Aduba), who has a role very much like that of the Fool in “King Lear.” She’s been taking medications for her mental illness, but the more addled she becomes, the more capable she is of speaking truth to power. But when it all comes as a rambling monologue, it just doesn’t add up.

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“Orange Is the New Black” has a final cliffhanger scene that may have driven too far off the cliff

The big cliffhanger scene of Season 5 – the one that has already sparked debate and discussion about a Season 6 for “Orange Is the New Black” – is a microcosm of what’s both right and wrong about the series. In that final cliffhanger scene, the riot police have stormed the Litchfield facility to restore order. And the 10 key characters are standing together in one room. For one of the first times in the five seasons of the show, the dramatic action has seemingly transcended racial and tribal lines.

This is supposed to be a big, important moment. It is supposed to be a moment when we imagine what’s possible when people rise up and reorganize into a better, more just society. But instead, the cliffhanger comes off as a tired ending to the season after the show has already careened out of control.

It’s almost as if many of the main characters are being prepared to be sent in new directions (or perhaps written out of the show entirely), and the easiest way to do this is just to gather all of them in one place (the abandoned swimming pool-turned-bunker at the prison) and then have the writers spend the off-season debating what to do with all of them. Next season, when some characters disappear, there will be a good reason why.

In addition, two of the main stars of the show – Alex Vause (played by Laura Prepon) and Piper Chapman (played by Taylor Schilling) – seemingly no longer have a primary role to play in the series. In Season 5, they are often reduced to offering snarky commentary on the prison’s living conditions, but do not play a heroic role in changing those conditions. Some fans have even speculated that these characters won’t even be coming back for Season 6.

Ultimately, the problem may be that “Orange Is the New Black” simply raised our expectations too high. It was always one of the Netflix poster children for the “golden age” of binge-watching, but it’s clear that binge-watching (just like binge-eating) can have some pretty negative consequences. You don’t feel so good, and you suddenly can’t stomach the idea of one more episode of the series.

Hopefully, that feeling of a bad binge will wear off and we’ll be just as excited for Season 6 as we were for Season 5. But one thing is certainly clear – “Orange is the New Black” Season 5 is the worst one yet.

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How “House of Cards” Season 5 Stacks Up

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By now, viewers know what to expect from Netflix’s “House of Cards” – a bleak portrayal of the American political landscape in which the only constant is the relentless ambition for power. And that’s exactly what Season 5 of “House of Cards,” which debuted on Netflix on May 30, delivers.

1. Raw political ambition and the lust for political power

If anything, Season 5 of “House of Cards” is bleaker and more nihilistic than any of the preceding four seasons. We’re already used to the raw power ambitions of U.S. President Frank Underwood (played by Kevin Spacey) and First Lady Claire Underwood (played by Robin Wright), but now we’re convinced that nothing is ever going to change. In fact, if anything, it’s clear that America’s timeless traditions and institutions may be no match for the current powerbrokers in Washington.

There are scenes in Season 5 that have deep symbolic meanings – such as when Claire Underwood appears to trample an American eagle underfoot on a rug in the White House, or when Frank Underwood appears to wander the White House alone, almost like a ghost, while music plays at some party he has no intention of joining. The message is clear: America is now a waning power on the world stage, and there’s no idealistic young up-and-comer who is going to save the day.

In fact, one of the trademark plot twists in “House of Cards” is how even idealistic newcomers are quickly brought up to speed on how things happen in Washington, D.C. The people who survive are not those that have an ideology or who want to change the system – it is the people who spend all day thinking of ways to subvert the system to their own whims. They study constitutional law, not to understand how to protect the Constitution, but how to subvert it.

Even the war on terror becomes just another tool for political power consolidation. In Season 5, the Underwoods are intent on inflaming public fears about ICO (the show’s version of ISIS) in order to steadily erode constitutional rights and find loopholes to increase their own power.

2. An underlying pessimism about American institutions

“House of Cards” almost seems to celebrate the men and women who have no ideology and no guiding political philosophy. That, perhaps, is why so many critics have called this the bleakest “House of Cards” yet. There is a sense that any vestige of dignity has departed the office of the Presidency, and all we see, in episode after episode, is yet another lesson in how absolute power corrupts absolutely. The goal of power, it appears, is simply to get more power. In doing so, all the political actors in “House of Cards” go about their nefarious ways.

What is most disturbing about Season 5, perhaps, is that it is not just the men and women who are flawed – it is the very institutions keeping them in power. There is a sense that all the ideals, principles and careful checks and balances that the Founding Fathers had the foresight to create are nothing more than tools now in the hands of the wrong people.

And Frank Underwood has no shame whatsoever in rubbing this in our face. At one point, he turns to the camera and says, “You voted for me, America.” Thus, as easy as it might be to blame a single person (or power couple, as in the case of the Underwoods) for this low point in American politics, we only have ourselves to blame.

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3. The Trump context

Of course, you can now see why so many people are trying to make this season’s “House of Cards” a pointed commentary on the current political environment in Washington. The Trump presidency, in many ways, is a mirror image of the Underwood presidency. You have an egomaniac in the White House, using the Oval Office simply to advance his own ambitions and business brand.

The way that Frank Underwood humiliates his underlings, too, has an analogue in the way that Donald Trump likes to punish and humiliate his underlings – whether it’s forcing Sean Spicer to go out and give a press conference at the most inopportune time, or when it comes to directly contravening statements made by one of his inner circle via a late night Twitter outburst.

And, of course, the way that many say that President Trump has degraded the office of the presidency with his constant half-truths and reckless Executive Orders have a clear precedent in the Underwood presidency.

But here is the thing – whereas Frank Underwood has absolutely no underlying ideology or values, one could argue that Donald Trump is at least following some abstract notion of “making America great again.” In the case of Frank Underwood, it’s not so much a case of making America great – it’s about making himself great.

And many people fail to point out that Season 5 of “House of Cards” actually started production BEFORE Trump was ever elected. Thus, even though the show debuted almost exactly four months after Trump was sworn in, it actually had already been in production long before.

For liberals, Donald Trump is just a slightly more odious version of Frank Underwood. For conservatives, though, the double-dealing and corrupt Underwoods are a slightly more odious version of the Clintons. You can see why we’re at such a political impasse in America these days – both figures are so polarizing that there’s little or no opportunity to meet in the middle.

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So what to make of “House of Cards,” then? Many would argue that it has simply become too repetitive. The characters may change, but the plot does not. There is more scheming, more shifting of alliances and more egomaniacal attempts to subvert the system. Even the newcomers to Season 5 – Patricia Clarkson (as the deputy undersecretary of commerce for international trade) and Campbell Scott (as a top adviser to the President) – do little to change the underlying dynamic of the show.

But something very distinct has changed in the way that we view “House of Cards” in 2017. If, back in 2013 when the show first premiered, we thought that the Underwood presidency was pure fiction and too insidious to ever become true, we now realize that it is, indeed, possible. In fact, it may now be the case that fact is stranger than fiction. The naked power grab of the Trump presidency and all the inflamed rhetoric about making America great again may actually have the opposite effect – it may reveal just how low the American political system has fallen, and how the lust for power has become all-consuming on both sides of the political aisle.

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“Master of None” Season 2 Sparks Social Commentary and Conversation

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When Netflix signed up comedian Aziz Ansari to do a special original comedy series, they couldn’t have possibly expected that “Master of None” was going to spark so much social commentary and conversation. But Season 2 of the show has just absolutely changed the national conversation on so many topics, including LGBT issues and what it means to be a Indian-American.

The show, of course, is a fictional account of Aziz Ansari’s life in which Aziz plays Dev Shah, a 30-year-old New York actor. The show is “loosely based” on real-life experiences, including his travels abroad, his experiences in New York, and the friends and family members who have influenced him.

And here’s where things get really interesting. “Master of None” (the title of the show is a reference to the expression “Jack of all trades, master of none) was really meant to be more of an itinerant series, moving from here to there at whim, showing some funny scenes from Aziz’s life. (In Season 2, for example, Aziz winds up in Italy.)

That approach was a remarkably successful formula for Season 1 back in late 2015, when the show routinely made the list of “Best TV Show of 2015.” Critics loved the show, and ranked it as one of the Top 10 shows of the year. There was a lull, and then in May 2017, here came Season 2, fortified with 10 new episodes.

On the surface, perhaps, viewers weren’t expecting the series to become such a spark for social commentary. After all, one of the key plotlines of Season 2 was the character of Dev Shah going to Italy to learn how to make pasta. There were some funny scenes – like the one where Aziz Ansari and his friend accidentally get their car stuck between two buildings in Italy. But then came “Thanksgiving”…

In “Thanksgiving,” Dev shares the story of how he likes to celebrate Thanksgiving with his childhood friends since his parents do not celebrate the holiday. And one of his best friends from childhood (Denise, played by Lena Waithe) happens to be both black and queer. That led to the idea that the episode would feature Denise talking about her decision to “come out” and announce that she’s queer. The episode also featured Angela Bassett as Denise’s mom Catherine, and that’s where things became explosive – the mom is not so accepting of Denise, and that sparked a major conversation about LGBT life.

In fact, that one episode attracted so much buzz that Aziz Ansari and Lena Waithe did a special feature for New York Magazine’s Vulture blog, in which they broke down, scene by scene, how and why they decided to do the “Thanksgiving” episode. Lena Waithe is also gay in real-life, and was willing to share her own experiences and ideas about what it was like to come out on TV.

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And there have been other episodes that have also sparked social commentary. For example, Episode 3 (“Religion”) features Dev and his decision not to be a devout Muslim. He can’t possibly tell his parents that, so he has to fake it in front of them. That led to a lot of discussion in the media and entertainment blogs about Aziz’s “pork-fueled feud with his parents.”

More generally, it gets to the root of what it’s like to be Muslim in America. That’s a particularly sensitive topic right now, especially with all the discussion about a “Muslim ban.” How are Muslims assimilating into America? How are they reacting to the Muslim ban. Aziz is such a funny comedian, that we sometimes don’t even think that he’s thinking about these issues. But he’s only human, and it’s clear that all of his hilarious “brown people jokes” are really meant to be a biting commentary about America and its unwillingness to accept Muslims as equals.

And then, in another episode of the show, Aziz Ansari explores how it’s possible that everyday people can actually be racist in their own way. In Episode 4 of Season 2, for example, he dates a number of different girls, and the one he ends up sleeping with actually has a figurine in her home that the character Dev Shah interprets to be racist.

That raises an interesting question – especially from a social commentary perspective – and that’s how people can claim they have “brown friends” or “black friends” and yet still be racist. It could be that these feelings and emotions are so deep under the surface that they don’t even know that they are there. But the appearance of something seemingly as innocuous as a figurine can bring them to light.

Finally, there was one other issue raised in Season 2 that has started to get traction on the blogs and social media, and that’s the very difficult topic of sexual harassment. Despite all the claims that women are equal to men in America, it’s still the case that sexual harassment in the workplace is rampant. And that’s a topic that “Master of None” hasn’t been afraid to tackle.

So, as you can see, “Master of None” is really more than just a Netflix original comedy. It’s more than just funny insights into Aziz Ansari’s life. No – it’s really an increasingly important platform to discuss important social issues that show up again and again in daily life.

Take the example of LGBT issues. That’s something that Aziz Ansari rarely – if ever – tackles in his standup comedy routines, but it’s a topic that suddenly shows up in “Master of None.” Or take the issue of sexual harassment. Aziz may make a lot of jokes about how he is “human garbage” for the way he acts around women sometimes, but his show takes a deeper, more critical look at the issue.

Ultimately, comedy is a great tool for exploring these issues. And, as we’ve seen with Aziz Ansari and his amazing Saturday Night Live (SNL) hosting gig after the presidential election, he’s increasingly willing to take a stand on tough issues. That’s what makes “Master of None” such a great Netflix show. Even as we’re laughing, we’re also getting incisive takes on deeply important social issues.

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Why Fans Loved Season 3 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”

When Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” first premiered back in March 2015, it was clear that this comedy was going to develop into a cult show with a huge fan base. And so, perhaps, it’s no surprise that fans loved Season 3 of “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” as much as they loved Season 1 and Season 2. This show really delivered everything they wanted – and then some.

#1: More twisted, wacky plot lines

All you have to know about “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is that comedian Tina Fey is one of the executive producers and co-creators of the show. She is really the creative genius behind the show, and it shows up in all the plot lines of the show. Even the major premise of the show – that Kimmy Schmidt (played by Ellie Kemper) was rescued after being imprisoned for 15 years by a doomsday cult and is now living in New York City with a gay Broadway actor (Titus Andromedon, played by the amazing Tituss Burgess) – is just so wacky.

But it’s that 15-year separation from the world that makes Kimmy so endearing and lovable. It gives the show’s main actors a unique vantage point to question the world around them. Kimmy seems to question everything, and especially the Internet. She’s still fascinated by Google, and can’t quite figure out the meaning of Airbnb, asking at one point, “So, it’s basically like a sleepover with strangers?”

And the wacky, twisted plot lines include the appearance of characters like Jane Krakowski’s Jacqueline. She plays an Upper East Side society woman, but it turns out that her whole life is really just a façade. In fact, her real name is Jackie Lynn, and she’s a native American who fled her life on a Lakota Indian reservation. And to make things even more farcical – she’s dating someone who is linked to the NFL’s Washington Redskins. Everything about Jacqueline is a hot mess – like how she tries to keep the trappings of wealth even after her divorce by creating cardboard cutouts of jewelry – and that’s why fans can’t stop laughing when they see her.

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#2: The new star power of Tituss Burgess

The show might be named for Kimmy Schmidt, and she may still be the star of the show, but the one actor that everyone is talking about these days is Tituss Burgess, who plays Kimmy’s gay roommate in New York. You’ve probably seen him making all the rounds on the late-night comedy shows, and for good reason: we may be seeing a new star break out on “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”

The best example, perhaps, is the parody of Beyonce’s “Lemonade” that was touted so highly in the trailer for Season 3. In this scene, Titus Andromedon dresses up in a yellow, flouncy maxi-dress just like Beyonce, grabs a baseball bat, and proceeds to take that bat to both a fire hydrant and a car belonging to his gay lover, a construction worker who happens to be cheating on him. And just like Beyonce sang about jealousy and craziness, Titus also sings about being turned crazy by jealousy. The actual Beyonce clip with the dress and baseball bat (“Hold Up”) has been viewed more than 100,000,000 times on YouTube – and now the parody video with Tituss Burgess is also going viral.

#3: The nuanced return of the doomsday cult plot line

In the first two seasons of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” we learn the basic back story of how she was held captive by a doomsday cult leader (played by Jon Hamm), and how she was kept in some kind of underground bunker for 15 years. But in Season 3 is where we really start to find out all the details. This makes the show much more nuanced and intriguing.

And, in some ways, the details are really dark. There’s the insinuation that Jon Hamm may have continually raped her over those 15 years – and that really gives us pause for thought. Kimmy Schmidt seems so optimistic and so naïve, that we suddenly realize how much of her past life she’s had to sublimate. There’s a dark alternative reality to all her good moods, and it involves both sexual and mental abuse.

In Season 3, the unhinged cult leader (Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne, played by Jon Hamm) has a new surprise in store for Kimmy Schmidt, and that’s his plan to marry his jailhouse sweetheart, Wendy (played by Laura Dern). On the surface, Wendy seems like a very established, well put-together woman, but we quickly realize that she’s a lunatic, just like everyone else on the show.

In one plot line of Season 3, Wendy visits Kimmy, trying to convince her to sign some divorce papers so that she can marry the cult leader. That leads to a whole lot of hilarious jokes – like the need to print out the divorce papers using an outdated, archaic dot-matrix printer.

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#4: The ongoing visual and verbal jokes

“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” has so much humor going on at one time, that it can be difficult to sort through it all. On one hand, of course, there are all the verbal jokes. And then there are all the visual jokes. These visual jokes are really what separates “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” from other shows. In one episode, for example, a water stain on the wall becomes an ongoing sight gag.

In terms of the verbal jokes, Season 3 really distinguishes itself with all the ongoing jokes about young millennials. That’s because Kimmy Schmidt has decided to go back to college in Season 3, and somehow ends up on the campus of Columbia University in New York City, where she learns about all the strange habits of young millennial college students. One of these concerns dating – and the whole need to fill out a “consent form” if the two people plan to engage in any physical activity during a romantic relationship.

On Rotten Tomatoes, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” is a superstar show, pulling in a total freshness score of 96%. That’s just unprecedented, and it really shows how much fans loved Season 3 of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” The show has so much going for it – the unique comedic talents of Ellie Kemper and Tituss Burgess, the diverse cast of wacky stars (including Laura Dern, Kane Krakowski and Jon Hamm), and, of course, the continued creative direction of superstar comedian Tina Fey. Fans just can’t wait for Netflix to greenlight Season 4 now.

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What Fans Think of Marvel’s “Iron Fist”

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When it comes to their opinions about Marvel’s latest creation for Netflix – “Iron Fist” – there’s a sharp divide between fans and critics. Whereas critics offered a mostly negative take on the show, fans were much more accepting. You can see that divide on many movie rating sites, where the ratings can differ markedly.

This is now the fourth Marvel series for Netflix – following “Daredevil,” “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage” – so much of the split between fans and critics was mostly based on how they viewed the entire Marvel universe of characters. This show is obviously the setup for “The Defenders” (which features the stars of each of the four Marvel shows on Netflix) so most fans were willing to give this series a pass, as long as it helped to interconnect all the relevant Marvel plotlines.

#1: Finn Jones as Danny Rand/Iron Fist

It’s impossible to talk about the new Marvel series without talking about the main hero, Danny Rand/Iron Fist (as played by Finn Jones). In this role, Jones must play a billionaire Buddhist monk and kung fu expert who has come back to New York City to reclaim his business empire (Rand Enterprises) after being absent for close to 15 years. For those years, he has been training to become a warrior with amazing kung fu skills.

The problem is not so much with Jones the actor, as with his martial arts skills. As in, he’s not a big kung fu expert. Although he trained extensively before the series began, and has been practicing Buddhist meditation principles in order to immerse himself in the role, he still falls a bit short of what people were expecting.

Making things worse, this is one of the few Marvel superheroes who can’t hide behind a mask and a cape. That means you can’t have stunt doubles coming in and taking over your scenes. That has led to some pretty tough criticism of Jones, with one  reviewer calling him “a befuddled surfer who wandered into the middle of a kung fu movie.”

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#2: The second-rate fight scenes

If you’re making a movie about a martial arts expert, then you have to have some exciting martial arts action. The only problem is, there’s not a single memorable fight scene in any of the 13 episodes. When you look at the original Marvel comics, you can see the problem: the original comics had Iron Fist plowing through group of enemies and assailants at a single time.

In contrast, the fight action in “Iron Fist” often seems like it’s been slowed down so that Finn Jones can catch up. Reviewers have suggested that Finn Jones is holding back the manic pace of fighting that they were expecting. As a result, you don’t have any of the over-the-top choreographed scenes that we saw even in “Daredevil.” Every scene seems heavily edited, to the point it’s not even possible to focus precisely on the action. It’s like one giant aggressive cut, all mixed together to create the appearance of action.

#3: Too much dialogue

Another fan concern was the proper balance between action and dialogue. While there has to be some dialogue and exposition to explain who Danny Rand is, and why he was training with Buddhist warrior monks (his family died in a plane crash over the Himalayas), the common consensus is that the series just gets bogged down in way too much dialogue.

There are 13 episodes in this series, and the common consensus is that it could have been told in just six! That gives you an idea of just how much extra dialogue there is in this series. There’s a serious issue with the pacing and storytelling.

#4: An underwhelming villain

The centerpiece of every great Marvel comic is the arch-villain. Just consider the Marvel shows for Netflix: some of the great villains have included Killgrave and Cottonmouth. In “Iron Fist,” however, the main enemy is a shadowy organization known as The Hand. There are some ninja enemies, and a lot of talk about how they are preying on people in New York, but we never really get a sense that Iron Fist is facing an arch-rival or arch-fiend. That just brings down the whole series. We wanted super-villains, and they just gave us a bunch of bad ninjas.

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#5: Questions about racial and ethnic identity

One problem cited by both fans and critics is how the series treats the martial arts, as well as how non-white characters fit into the Marvel universe. In this case, it seems like all the good guys are white, and all the bad guys are people of color. Moreover, some fans have accused the series of “Orientalism,” or the desire to characterize and stereotype an entire race with a few simple tropes. In the case of “Iron Fist,” the martial arts are just one more way for white people to triumph over evil, and it’s felt that the Asian characters are never fully developed.

#6: Mad props for Jessica Fenwick

If there’s one character who gets a lot of love from Marvel fans, it’s Jessica Fenwick, who plays Colleen Wing. She’s a sharp, tough martial arts expert who owns a NYC dojo. Fans like the fact that she seems like a no-nonsense New Yorker and someone who makes a worthy sidekick for Iron Fist.

#7: The weakest link in the Marvel chain

The problem, quite simply, is that Marvel shows like “Daredevil” spoiled fans. It featured great fight scenes, a tight script, great pacing and some amazing action. In comparison, “Iron Fist” is commonly considered by fans to be the weakest of all the Marvel series on Netflix, trailing not only “Iron Fist,” but also “Jessica Jones” and “Luke Cage.”

And, most disturbingly, some fans have basically suggested that Marvel is only using “Iron Fist” to set up its next show, “The Defenders.” In order to do that, it had to set up the whole back story of Danny Rand, and explain the powers of his glowing Iron Fist.

At the end of the day, it’s easy to see why fans and critics diverged in their assessment of “Iron Fist.” Critics tended to judge it primarily on its merits, in terms of acting and pacing and storytelling. Marvel fans took a bigger picture view, and evaluated the series as part of the Marvel universe. And there were more willing to overlook the shortcomings of Finn Jones as Danny Rand. Whatever the case, all eyes are now squarely on “The Defenders,” which is coming to Netflix in August 2017.

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What “Dear White People” Teaches About Racism

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The latest Netflix original series, “Dear White People,” has already caused a firestorm of controversy, with people debating whether or not the show is meant to unite or divide people. Even before the first 10 episodes dropped on April 28, there was controversy brewing with the teaser trailer, which led to some people accusing the show of being anti-white and guilty of white racism. Some people even called for a boycott of Netflix. So what exactly does “Dear White People” teach us about racism?

The show explores the various forms of racism through a number of difficult social situations, with many of them exploring ideas like black-white relationships, or whether or not white people can use certain words (like the “N” word) in casual conversation. The show also examines various stereotypes about black people by showing them in uncomfortable situations that challenge conventions.

The goal of the show, according to director Justin Simien, is to show that “there are a plethora of ways of being black.” Thus, for example, there is the star of the show, Logan Browning, who plays Samantha (“Sam”) White, the host of a controversial campus radio show called “Dear White People.” If that sounds somehow familiar, it’s because there was a 2014 movie of the same name by the same director. Through Sam, we see a lot of questions at the heart of what some would call racism.

Take, for example, one of the scenes from Episode 1, where Sam’s white boyfriend posts a photo on Instagram, saying that they are “hooking up.” That raises a lot of uncomfortable questions: Is it possible to have a white-black romantic relationship where people won’t judge you? What type of emotional baggage do people bring into these relationships. So, the show is not really so much about racism, as about exploring the issues of identity and relationships through the eyes of white and black characters.

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Or, take the main plotline of Episode 1, in which a group of white boys plan to throw a “black face” party to protest Sam White’s campus radio show. The boys claim that the radio show is racist, and are taking advantage of this party to make a loud social protest. Only, of course, this is 2017 and you can’t do that kind of stuff anymore. That raises a lot of fascinating questions about racism, as well. For example, is it really possible to have racism against white people?

The people who were calling for a boycott of the show certainly think so. The YouTube trailer received a huge number of dislikes, and the goal was to punish Netflix for even thinking of streaming this show. But isn’t that a form of racism as well – saying that blacks aren’t allowed to tell their stories and share their experiences, for fear of alienating whites?

Yes, things are quite complicated, and that’s something that we see again and again in “Dear White People.” One of the discussions that takes place in Episode 1 is about the types of jokes that black people and white people can make. The common consensus is that jokes about white people (e.g. white people can’t dance) don’t lead to oppression by the police or incarceration, while jokes about black people can. Thus, jokes about black people and white people are not inherently the same.

The Netflix original series also looks at the topic of “subtle racism.” This is not the overt racism of a black face party, but the type of racism that black people experience every day in normal society. There’s one scene in “Dear White People” that especially stands out – a group of white people and black people get into a fight, and the campus police is called to break it up. The police then asks one of the black students for his ID, to prove that he’s really a student at the university (the fictional Ivy League university Winchester University). That’s something that would never happen to a white student – the police would just assume that the white guy was enrolled there.

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And the storytelling about racism also looks at friendship between whites and blacks. At what point can a black friend forgive a white friend for a remark or action that’s perhaps unknowingly racist? And is there any way to eliminate racism entirely from a friendship?

One of the role models for the show is Samantha White. Her campus radio show might be highly controversial, but it’s only intended to get people talking about issues that have been hidden for too long. And, in fact, she’s the type of person who wants to be friends with everybody, no matter if they are white or black. She even has a white boyfriend.

As Justin Simien said after all the controversy surrounding his new Netflix show, “Glad you’ve woken up.” If you listen to interviews with the cast members, that’s also a theme that gets picked up a lot – the idea of being “woke.”

It’s not just students at prestigious universities like Winchester who need to be “woke” – it’s everybody in society who lives inside a little bubble, not aware of how racism can manifest itself on an everyday basis. And all of that pent-up emotion can sometimes explode, like we’ve seen in Ferguson and the whole #BlackLivesMatter movement.

So the final takeaway of “Dear White People” might just be that white people and black people need to meet halfway in the middle. Black people can’t just use “slavery” as an excuse to hate the system, and white people can’t ignore the fact that “acting black” (especially if it involves using the “N” word) can be hurtful and offensive to some black people.

It’s a very complex issue, and “Dear White People” is just trying to make sense of it all. The very fact of calling the show “racist” is, in fact, definitely racist. Wrap your head around that for a second. Clearly, more has to be done with race relations in this country, and “Dear White People” is a good step in the right direction.

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What To Expect From “The Handmaid’s Tale”

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The new Hulu series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which premiered on April 26, is already generating a lot of buzz from critics and advance acclaim from fans. The series, based on the popular 1985 book of the same name by Canadian author Margaret Atwood, is sure to draw its share of fans who are eager to check out how faithful the film adaptation is to the dystopian, totalitarian world of Gilead portrayed in the novel.

So just how faithful is the adaptation?

That is bound to be the first question that many people ask, especially those who remember the dystopian world laid out in such stunning detail by Atwood nearly a generation ago. The novel, set in near-future New England, examined what a totalitarian, post-America world might look like, where a woman’s sole focus in the world is to bear offspring for the elite members of society. That society had a language and vocabulary all its own, including terms like “Unwomen.”

A lot has changed between now and then. In the Western industrialized world, women have largely attained full equality and so the feminist message may seem a bit dated. However, that’s not necessarily the case in the rest of the world. Everyday, we hear of the Taliban and how they have created their own totalitarian, religious society where women have no rights. Or we hear of ISIS and their religious campaigns against anyone – and especially women – who dare to go against their distorted version of religious law.

Elisabeth Moss as the lead protagonist

The star of this series will be Elisabeth Moss, who plays Offred (“Of Fred”), a handmaid who has been assigned to Commander Fred Waterford (played by Joseph Fiennes). We’ll see how she silently struggles in her new role, and how she attempts to break free of the subservient life.

There are a lot of different storylines that are going to intersect here, especially the relationship between Offred and her fellow handmaids, and the relationship between Offred and the Commander’s wife. No matter what happens, though, the star of this show is Elisabeth Moss, so expect a brilliant performance from her. Alexis Bledel (from “Gilmore Girls“) also appears in the show, so “Gilmore” fans will definitely tune in.

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The visual language of Gilead

From everything we’ve seen and heard so far, the show is “visually stunning.” There are close-ups of life in Gilead, and then there’s also the scenes that appear almost as if they were filmed by low-flying drones. We see exactly what the society looks like from a bird’s eye view – the handmaids walking in perfect lockstep, the rows of handmaids in scarlet capes and white bonnets, and the nearly mechanical way every aspect of the society is governed.

And there are plenty of visual elements from the Atwood book that people are looking forward to seeing. This includes the many references to flowers within the book, and how Atwood uses the flower as a metaphorical description of the women. The role of women is to look pretty, give birth to new babies who will form the next generation, and then passively disappear from the scene. They are like flowers that bloom, and then wilt away when the seasons turn colder. As one reviewer has noted, it’s all “horrifyingly beautiful.”

We can also expect to see lots of women engaged in busywork like needlework. That, too, was one of the big motifs of the book. Women were not supposed to think or act for themselves, and so every spare moment has them engaged in either drudgery (as in the case of the infertile Marthas) or in mind-numbing busywork. This is an oppressive, patriarchal system, and needlework is a way to have the women seen, but not heard.

Socio-political implications of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

Let’s face it, we live in strange political times. So there’s bound to be critics (both professional and amateur) who are going to compare the dystopian, post-apocalyptic New England of “The Handmaid’s Tale” with the current situation in America. Just as Gilead was the post-American republic that emerged in the wake of a great dystopian event, half of American society now views the current U.S. as a dystopian world where everything appears to be upside down.

At the very least, there is bound to be some discussion of how far women have come in the 30+ years since the publication of Atwood’s novel. In the 1985 book, feminism was perhaps at its peak as a sociopolitical worldview. Since then, a lot has gone on with gender equality and gender identity, but some aspects of that earlier era have now been replaced by concerns about equal pay in the workplace, sexual assault on college campuses, sexual harassment in the workplace (just think of the recent examples of Fox News and Uber), and women’s right to an abortion. So this TV show is going to be very relevant.

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Constant suspense

From what we know from the Hulu trailer (which dropped on YouTube on March 23), and from advance critical acclaim, this show is going to have suspense from beginning to end. Surely, the fact that “eyes” (i.e. spies) are watching the women every minute of the day is going to be part of the thriller-like atmosphere. Who can we really trust in this new world? And will the handmaid Offred ever be able to reclaim her past life from “the time before”?

A hybrid release schedule

If you’re used to Netflix and every episode of a series dropping on the same day, then you’re going to have to get used to the Hulu system. It’s really a hybrid system, in which the first 3 episodes will drop on April 26, and the next 7 episodes will be rolled out on a weekly basis (much as you’d expect with a new series on cable or broadcast TV).

Putting it all together, this looks a new mega-hit for Hulu. The advance ratings for “The Handmaid’s Tale” are off the charts: it has a score of 97/100 on Metacritic, a 98% score on Rotten Tomatoes, and plenty of critical acclaim from the mainstream media. Hollywood Reporter has even called this “probably the spring’s best new show and certainly its most important.” If you’re looking for the next big show that everyone’s talking about, “The Handmaid’s Tale” certainly makes for compelling viewing.

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