I’ve been watching: Sierra Burgess is a Loser

I have a secret. Chick flicks are my guilty pleasure. That’s not something a heterosexual male would be advised to admit, for fear of his heterosexual maleness being called into question, but there you go. The Parent Trap is one of my all-time favourite films. I absolutely love The Princess Diaries. One of my favourite TV shows at the moment is Skam, which, while neither a flick nor necessarily for chicks, because of its themes it tends to appeal much more to a young female audience.

So when Netflix periodically releases new teenage rom-coms about boys and girls in love, you can be sure that I’m right there lapping it up. The Christmas PrinceThe Kissing Booth and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before have been some of the recent offerings in that vein. But my favourite so far has been Sierra Burgess is a Loser, which stars everyone’s favourite teenage martyr, Barb from Stranger Things (i.e. Shannon Purser).

Sierra Burgess is a Loser is about a cool, hot football player who falls in love with a not-hot and unpopular dork because he thinks she’s a hot, popular cheerleader, the hot, popular cheerleader having given the football player the dork’s number instead of hers.

Put like that, it’s not a film that strays very far from teenage rom-com tropes. You’re not going to see anything original or novel or challenging. No one’s going to remember Sierra Burgess is a Loser as a timeless classic of its genre. But, to my mind, it doesn’t have to be. It’s just a nice, heartwarming, well-written film, and that should be enough. It has an engaging and ingenious plot. It has wonderful, sympathetic characters — even if Veronica, pre-character development, comes across as the lazy caricature of a teen rom-com “mean girl”. Sierra Burgess is one of the most affection-grabbing female leads of the genre, played superbly by Shannon Purse. And it speaks to its young audience, exploring honestly the anxieties surrounding dating and social inclusion and appearance that so many teenagers face.

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I think my favourite thing about this film was not the unlikely love affair between Sierra and Jamey, but the equally unlikely super-cute friendship between Sierra and Veronica that flowers over the course of the film. Two totally different women, from despising one another initially, through their arrangement of mutual convenience come to develop a close and positively adorable friendship. The scenes of the two hanging out in Sierra’ bedroom, or sharing their glee after successfully tricking Jamey over a video call, are some of the best in the movie. It’s heartwarming stuff that won’t fail to bring a smile to your face. And through her friendship with Sierra, Veronica gets character development in leaps and bounds, transitioning from the resented, pantomime mean girl she was at the beginning of the film to a three-dimensional figure of sympathy and affection by the end of it.

But we have to talk about some of the flak this film’s been getting, because it hasn’t been received without controversy. The usual suspects have slammed Sierra Burgess as a “problematic” character who engages in catfishing, cyber bullying and insensitivity towards deaf people (in the sense of pretending to be one). Yes, she is all that, and none of that is okay. Catfishing ain’t okay. Cyber bullying is bad. But so what? It was a nice film. Sierra Burgess is a great character — not a perfect character, but, frankly, no character should be perfect. Why the insistence that protagonists must be the moral equivalent of Jesus Christ when, truly, no one is perfect? No one is unproblematic. Let he who is unproblematic among you cast the first stone. And aside from anything else, a wholly unproblematic, angelic protagonist would be utterly boring. No thank you.

The problematic behaviours we do see from the characters in the story are rightly called out (through other characters) as not-okay. Isn’t that enough? For me, at least, it is. Sierra Burgess is a Loser is a charming, riveting story and moral tut-tutting over the main character’s behaviour shouldn’t get in the way of telling it.

Pros and Cons of selling Doctor Who to Netflix

Should Doctor Who be sold to Netflix? Why not? Who doesn’t love Netflix? Everyone’s favourite online streaming service makes some great shows. Look me in the eye and tell me Stranger Things isn’t one the best TV shows of our time. Tell me The Crown is rubbish. That’s right, you can’t. So you’d agree that Doctor Who should be sold to Netflix, then?

Okay, maybe not. But it’s an argument worth having, and, even if there are no immediate plans to sell Doctor Who to Netflix, it’s not a completely far-fetched prospect that the BBC might cancel Doctor Who and leave it to be picked up by Netflix or Amazon or Hulu. There’s a volume of precedent for Netflix taking over shows from TV networks that didn’t want them anymore: see Designated Survivor, Lucifer, Black Mirror and Arrested Development. Although Netflix technically didn’t “take it over”, one that I’m particularly anticipating is the upcoming live-action Avatar: The Last Airbender remake announced this week.

So there’s always the possibility that Netflix might pick up the BBC’s flagship sci-fi programme, even if it is a remote possibility (at least from this side of Series 11). For the fun of exploring a hypothetical, though, I thought it might be interesting to examine the pros and cons of a possible future where the BBC has sold Doctor Who to Netflix.

Pros


Pro: Selling Doctor Who might save it

Hard as it is to believe, TV networks do actually run out of money sometimes. They sometimes have to cancel big, popular shows because they’re too expensive to make. Most of the time, if a network is making a popular show, it’s making enough revenue from the show to keep it running. But the BBC is in a special position because it’s a public broadcaster which relies on public funding for much of its revenue, and also runs a diverse catalogue of TV and radio channels, a digital operation and worldwide channels, many of which are net revenue-consuming operations (rather than revenue-producing), eating up revenue from projects like Doctor Who that would otherwise keep all, or a good deal of the considerable revenue they produce for themselves.

In addition, in a political environment where the government is cutting funding of public services like the BBC, it would be surprising if the BBC wasn’t finding it increasingly difficult to make Doctor Who to a consistent standard. Sure, if the BBC was looking for fat to trim, Doctor Who definitely wouldn’t be one of the first things to go — but it’s by no means a far-fetched possibility that the BBC would find itself forced to cancel Doctor Who as an unfortunate casualty of public belt-tightening.

There’s also the very real possibility that the BBC would simply can Doctor Who because of ratings under-performance. That’s an even more likely scenario than the BBC cancelling Doctor Who because of financial difficulties. I’ll withhold judgment on exactly how likely a prospect that is until I’ve seen Series 11, but, as I said recently, Series 11 could be the series that makes or breaks Doctor Who for the foreseeable future.

In either case, a Netflix takeover could be the stroke of grace that delivers Doctor Who from being axed for a second time.

Pro: Doctor Who would get a bigger budget

The BBC has a great deal of money, but it’s money that’s spread very thinly over a large number of operations. As a result Doctor Who has never really been funded to the extent a fantastical show of Who’s ambitions demands. Even in the early years of New Who, the Doctor was still pottering around in quarries, running around disused warehouses and fighting toilet-plunger-wielding pepper pots. Doctor Who has looked and felt much more premium in recent seasons, but with more money to splash it could be so much better.

If Netflix were to take over Doctor Who, its budget would immediately increase significantly. Netflix has the money to make Doctor Who as a premium, big-budget sci-fi production on the scale of Stranger Things or The Crown or, apparently, the upcoming Avatar live-action adaptation (which certainly won’t be cheap). If Netflix were to snap up a high-profile, mass cult show like Doctor Who, you can be sure it would give it the lion’s share of its original content funding. Netflix ain’t going to miss the opportunity to milk something with the huge profile of Doctor Who for all it can, or at least make a solid attempt at it.

Pro: Doctor Who would be less preoccupied with politics

I would put this one in the “pro” column, at least. Whenever Doctor Who writers have something to say about their favourite political issue of the day, they never really make much of an effort to restrain themselves. The tendency of Who writers using their commissions as a platform for political commentary has heightened over the Capaldi era in particular. I’m grimly anticipating the inevitable Brexit episode in Series 11 (the long-awaited return of Peladon anyone?).

I’m not saying that Doctor Who should necessarily avoid politics. Doctor Who can, and has done political comment very successfully: Season 7 of the classic series stands out as an exemplar of this. And Who has always dabbled in politics to some extent. But when writers are primarily using their scripts to grandstand very tiresomely about politics rather than make good Doctor Who stories as frequently as they are now, it does just get a bit boring.

There’s no guarantee that if Netflix were to take over Doctor Who it would be any less tiresomely political than it is under the BBC, but I think, as the BBC is a public broadcaster that reports on politics as a news outlet, is affected by political decisions, and receives tax revenue, it feels that it has more freedom and obligation to comment on politics than would a private undertaking that has to keep a much closer eye on its profit margin.

There’s also the fact that Netflix would be seen to be a trustee of Doctor Who, a long-running show which is considered a British national institution, rather than its proprietor. In these circumstances Netflix is always going to be more closely scrutinised than the BBC for its running of Who, and would probably be accused of hijacking Doctor Who for its own agenda if it were to air excessively political episodes.

Pro: New ideas, new style

And, of course, selling Doctor Who to a completely different platform would inevitably inject the much-needed dose of freshness I’ve been saying it desperately needs. Different writers and producers means fresh ideas, fresh styles and a fresh creative vision. Can you imagine Peter Morgan, creator of The Crown, showrunning Doctor Who? Admittedly, it might be terrible, but in any event it would be unique and very different from the Doctor Who we’re used to (and — admit it — a bit bored with).

To be sure, there’s no guarantee that Doctor Who would necessarily get a fresh lick of paint if it were picked up by Netflix. Netflix might prefer to bring over the incumbent team of writers and producers rather than hire an all-new staff, especially as Doctor Who is a show that — I would guess — is very difficult to step into and start making unless you’ve had experience making it before. But at the same time, if Netflix is picking Doctor Who up after it was cancelled, it’s not likely going to want to keep employing the people responsible for getting it cancelled.

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What happened the last time Americans got involved in making Doctor Who

Cons


Con: Doctor Who would get a bigger budget

As much as a generous budget upsizing might make for a more premium, more polished and cinematic Doctor Who, I can also see a scenario where all of that might actually make for an inferior Who. That’s something that can be said about almost no other show, for the reason that Doctor Who has always been more than a bit naff, a bit camp, a bit self-consciously silly, and has always revelled in its conspicuous lack of budget. Toilet plunger wielding pepper pots, tinfoil Cybermen who like to croon “Excellent…”, robot dogs, Abzorbaloffs, bug-eyed Raxacoricofallapatorians: it’s all part of what makes Doctor Who what it is. Fans are unanimous that Abzorbaloff was an all-time nadir for Doctor Who, but I think we all, actually, quite like that Doctor Who is a show where something as utterly ridiculous as Abzorbaloff can run. There’s a good case for saying that something would be lost from Doctor Who if that wasn’t the case anymore.

Con: It would be Americanised

Arguably one of the biggest fears among Who fans about selling Doctor Who to Netflix or another (American) streaming service is that the show would lose something of its characteristic Britishness under the production of an American company. Remember the last time Americans made Doctor Who? It was really rubbish, and really American. Even if production of Doctor Who stays in Britain under an all-British team, there’s no saying that the American influence won’t work its way into the show to some extent. And there’s no saying that Who’s traditional bellicose cultural Britishness won’t be dialled back even by British writers and producers conscious that their paycheck comes from an American company and that the American share of the audience of a Netflix-made Doctor Who is inevitably going to enlarge significantly.

It’s hard to anticipate how far, exactly, Doctor Who’s Britishness would be compromised under Netflix, but I think it’s unavoidable to some extent. There are also some who would insist, on principle, that Doctor Who is a British national institution and therefore cannot be made by anyone other than the BBC. Doctor Who would not be Doctor Who if it were made by anyone other than the BBC, they say. I’m less convinced by this point of view, even if I agree that Who is a cultural icon that should stay British in character. But certainly, for many fans, Doctor Who being made by Americans would be a bad thing in principle.

Con: Netflix wouldn’t understand Doctor Who

There’s a degree of overlap between this point and the last, but they’re not quite the same. Because even if Doctor Who’s Britishness was preserved under Netflix production, Netflix could still just get Doctor Who wrong. This is where Netflix trying to make Doctor Who as a premium, cinematic, serious sci-fi show might fail (as much as I’d like to see someone try that). Netflix might try to make a big-budget, premium Doctor Who in the same vein as Star Trek or Battlestar Galactica, but in the process of doing so might lose sight of the fact that Doctor Who is, at heart, very much not a serious show, but, reflecting its intrinsic Britishness, a very self-consciously un-serious one.

There are other ways Netflix could misfire by making a version of Doctor Who that fundamentally misunderstands the show. It could, at the other extreme, make a Doctor Who that’s too soap operatic and humany-wumany. It could get the Doctor-Companion dynamic wrong. It could misconstrue the central themes of the show. It could pitch the show too aggressively at one sector of the audience (children, teenage fangirls, grown-up male Gallifrey Base-lurking über-fans) and neglect the others. All ways in which Netflix could cook up something that most fans would fail to recognise as the same show as the Doctor Who they know.

In conclusion

At present, the prospect of Doctor Who being sold to Netflix is pretty remote. There’s no immediate danger of the BBC cancelling Who or selling it off. If the remote became real, though, and Doctor Who did become the next Netflix Original™, there are clearly advantages and disadvantages to how that would play out. For my part, I want Doctor Who to stay in the BBC’s hands, where it belongs. But, at the same time, I think I’d be comfortable with the BBC selling Doctor Who to Netflix if it was forced to. Let me put it this way: I don’t want Doctor Who to be sold to Netflix if it can be avoided, but I’d be interested in watching a Netflix-made Who, and I recognise that Netflix proprietorship of the show might improve it in certain ways — most importantly, Netflix can give Doctor Who a much bigger budget than the BBC can.


What do you think? Is a Netflix-made Doctor Who heresy? Or do you want Doctor Who out of the BBC’s hands as fast as possible? What other pros and cons are there to Netflix taking over Doctor Who?

I’ve been watching: Riverdale

  • For those who haven’t been keeping up with the newest hit show to come out of Netflix, Riverdale is a teen drama based on the characters of the Archie comic books. As far as I can tell (having not read the Archie comics), Riverdale is only very loosely based on the comics, and the characters bear only nominal relation to their comic book counterparts. Still, I think Riverdale is a fantastic show in its own right, perhaps because it uses the source material as a springboard rather than a script—you don’t have to have read the comics (as I haven’t) to love it, and the fundamentals of the characters and the setting are used to create what is practically an original and interesting story.
  • I would describe Riverdale as high school teen drama meets 1950s/grunge aesthetic meets Pretty Little Liars style murder mystery. It’s an interesting combination, but it makes for really addicting viewing. It’s a good thing Netflix is releasing the episodes week-to-week rather than all at once (as it typically does), because otherwise I’d probably have binge-watched the whole thing in one or two days.
  • The murder mystery aspect of the story—the mysterious death of Jason Blossom—is obviously the focus of the plot, and intriguing mystery it certainly is, but the show would be so much less interesting if not for the absorbing characters and the character dynamics. Riverdale has a cast of fantastically interesting characters, particularly the eminently ship-worthy main group of Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead and Cheryl. As a teen drama, obviously the character dynamics and the relationships and possible relationships between the characters is a huge part of the show, which has already cycled through more ships than I can count, and with such engaging main characters it’s difficult not to be swept up in the character drama and shipping fever.
  • The show explores some interesting themes, albeit themes typical of teen dramas (or at least the more intelligent ones, which I’m gratified to say includes Riverdale): most notably the extent to which children reaching maturity are defined by their parents or their families and the expectations of their families. Most of the main characters—Betty, Archie, Veronica, Cheryl, Josie, even Veronica’s mother Hermione—have to deal in some way with a conflict between what they want for themselves or who they want to be, and what their elders want for them/who their elders want them to be. It’s a common teen drama trope, but it’s a good one, and Riverdale explores it through its characters well.

I’ve been watching: A Series of Unfortunate Events (Netflix)

  • Like any good Millennial who remembers reading Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events as a child, I was thrilled when I found out that Netflix were going to make the novels into a TV series. I mean, who wouldn’t be super excited if they found out that one of their favourite childhood book series was going to be made into a multi-season TV show? The 2004 film was good, but it was just one 2-hour film and it only covered the first three books. A long-form TV series (it looks like it’s going to be about three seasons, given the current rate of 4 books per season) covering the whole book series is much better.
  • I have to say, though, while I like and appreciate that a TV adaption has given the writers room to develop each of the stories, I feel slightly underwhelmed by the result. I’m not sure precisely what it is, but one thing I can identify that I didn’t like was that the mood was all wrong. It was all a bit too flippant and whimsical for a series about tragedy and misfortune. Disconcertingly, all the characters apart from the Baudelaire children themselves were written like they were in a comedy—the Baudelaires were the only characters played straight, and it produced the jarring impression that everyone was in on a mean joke on the Baudelaires.
  • I mean, I get that this kind of dark humour was part of the novels, but I feel that the tone was still taken too far in the direction of comedy, which I felt trivialised the dangers and tragedies that befell the Baudelaires. I watched the 2004 film after I watched the Netflix series, too, and I thought the film got the tone much better. It still had comedy, but it felt darker and more somber, as it should. The constant cameos of the Baudelaires’ parents, frequent reminders that the Baudelaire orphans aren’t actually orphans and that their parents are coming for them, also detracted from what was supposed to be a tone of bleakness and misery.
  • I also thought—and I’m surprised to find myself saying this—that it was almost too faithful to the novels. Usually I’m one of the bothersome people who criticise screen adaptions of books for not being faithful enough to the text, but here I think it stifled the making of artistic decisions that might have allowed the stories to translate better onto screen, ultimately at the expense of the show’s pacing and writing. Again, I feel like the film, which took more creative liberties, succeeded better in this respect, despite cramming three books into two hours.
  • All that said, I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t like the show. I did like it, on balance. I watched it all the way to the end and I’m looking forward to the next season. I guess it’s just easier to talk about the things that annoyed you than to give praise. But one thing I will definitely praise is the acting of the three Baudelaire children (well, two, since one was a baby and wasn’t really acting). Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes were as good as Violet and Klaus Baudelaire as you could have asked for, and definitely two more young stars to watch out for brought into the limelight by Netflix, along with the Stranger Things kids. Neil Patrick Harris was also very entertaining as Count Olaf, but I do think he could have been much better if the writers allowed him to pull back on the self-conscious comedy.

5 exciting new shows I’m excited about

There are a lot of upcoming new shows I’m excited about and I’m going to fanboy about all of them and you can’t stop me.


Class

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Obviously. Naturally, with the extended wait between Doctor Who series, I need some new Who-related content to tide me over until Series 10. I’m genuinely excited about Class. I love the concept and, being a new fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m really encouraged by the constant comparisons between the concept for Class and Buffy. And, frankly, it’s about time the BBC produced another Doctor Who spinoff. Torchwood was great, but it’s been off the air since 2012 and left a big, gaping Who-spinoff-shaped hole in its place. While we don’t know much about Class yet apart from the bare skeleton of a concept, and the cast, it does look like it’s going to be a show that appeals to grown-ups as well as a younger demographic, much like Buffy did. In that sense it’s sort of midway between Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures in terms of the audience it’s pitched at. I have very high hopes for it, and I’m excited to see where it will go.

Class is being produced by the BBC and will air in October.

Victoria

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Because I need more Jenna Coleman in my life. I’m so excited to see Jenna Coleman in the starring role in a TV drama as high-profile and ambitious as Victoria. There’s no doubt Jenna deserves it. She acquitted herself with high distinction during her run on Doctor Who, visibly maturing into an exceptional actress over her three years’ playing Clara, and I’m really excited to see how she holds herself in what is no doubt the very challenging role of Queen Victoria. The production itself looks amazing, with (if you’ve seen the publicity shots and the trailers) very lavish period detail. Jenna stars alongside a star-studded cast including Tom Hughes, Eve Myles, Rufus Sewell and Tommy Knight. There are a lot of Who alumni involved in this production, too: Jenna is joined by Eve Myles (of Torchwood) and Tommy Knight (of The Sarah Jane Adventures), so there’s plenty for Whovians to enjoy.

Victoria begins this Sunday, 28th August, on ITV.

The Crown

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Another exciting new period drama about a great Queen of England—this one about our own Elizabeth II, which follows the Queen’s life from her wedding in 1947 to the present day. The main reason I’m excited about The Crown is that it features two of my favourite contemporary actors, not only my favourite Doctor, Matt Smith, as Prince Philip, but also Claire Foy in the starring role of Elizabeth II. For those unfamiliar with Claire Foy, I can confirm she’s a brilliant actress who played played a number of minor roles in various series and films before coming to much greater prominence as Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall and now in this series. I’m incredibly excited to see her in The Crown, maybe even more so than I am to see Matt! Look forward to it. It should be great.

The Crown will air on Netflix beginning 4th November 2016.

A Series of Unfortunate Events

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I loved Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events books when I was a kid, and I’m so excited that the books are being made into a TV adaptation. I mean the 2004 film was good BUT THERE ARE 13 BOOKS DAMNIT DON’T START A JOB YOU’RE NOT GOING TO FINISH. In contrast, a whole TV series adapting the whole series of books has the capacity to really do justice to the stories (I’m a huge advocate for the adaptation of book series into TV series for this reason). Apart from the fact that it’s being produced by Paramount for Netflix, we don’t know a great deal about the series yet, although apparently filming has finished, so it should be released fairly soon. It stars Neil Patrick Harris as Count Olaf, and child actors Malina Weissman and Louis Hynes as Violet and Klaus Baudelaire. I can’t wait to see it. If you haven’t, I’d definitely recommend reading the books first if you’re going to watch it, not only because the books are amazing, but also because, as with any screen adaptation of a novel, you get so much more out of the screen adaptation if you’ve read the book first.

A Series of Unfortunate Events will air on Netflix.

His Dark Materials

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Another one of my all-time favourite novel series, His Dark Materials, is being made into a TV drama by the BBC, and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m thrilled that Philip Pullman’s wonderful trilogy is being made into a long-form TV drama, because, you know, the last time the trilogy was adapted onto screen, in the 2007 film The Golden Compass, it was kind of rubbish. Very rubbish, actually. Philip Pullman’s stories really demand the long-form TV format, so it’s gratifying and exciting to see that they’re finally going to get the treatment they deserve. There are some very impressive names involved in the production, too: it’s being written by Jack Thorne (who wrote the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child) and produced by Julie Gardner and Jane Trantor (who both oversaw Doctor Who’s return to screen in 2005), which should reassure us that the stories are in very capable hands. Apart from that, though, we actually don’t know much at all about the series. It was commissioned late last year by the BBC, but as far as I know no casting or writing has been done, let alone filming. It may be a while before we see it on our screens.

His Dark Materials is being produced by the BBC.


Which of these upcoming shows are you excited for? Feel free to fangirl/boy in the comments!