Kenny Ortega on his latest movie, Disney′s Descendants 2

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I love the singing. I love the dancing. I love the good humour. I love the production value and all of that is great, and clearly I want to entertain, but I also have the opportunity to inspire, to get people to have conversations, and the beautiful thing is that my life has been filled with so many thank yous.

And perhaps it’s not me that should be getting all these thanks, but kids have said to me for years and years and years and years ‘thank you. You are such an enormous part of my childhood, and you really helped. These movies really guided me. They gave me courage. They gave me confidence. They made me take chances that otherwise I might now have. They made me see the world differently. They made me question myself.’

This is a version of my interview with Kenny Ortega about Descendants 2; we spoke only very briefly about High School Musical, but the main thrust – and most important part – of the interview is Descendants 2. Fun fact: Descendants 2 is the biggest Disney Channel Original Movie ever, and features several up-and-coming actors who are already stars in their own right, with huge fanbases. Hmmph.

Hopefully, the original interview – fully intact and uncompromised – will be made available at some stage. (To be honest, I’ll probably just put it online myself eventually.)

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Riverdale Season 2: Who is Hiram Lodge, and what does his return mean?

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The first episode of Riverdale’s second series saw the much-discussed return of Veronica’s father, Hiram Lodge. Hiram Lodge haunted the narrative of the first season, heavily impacting the lives of several characters but never showing up – until now. 

But just who is Hiram Lodge? What does his return mean for Riverdale? How will it impact Archie and the gang? And what will he do next?

An article on Hiram Lodge…

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Liar’s depiction of rape isn’t just insensitive, it’s reckless

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Viewers were invited to doubt Laura’s testimony – drawing focus to her drinking, suggesting that she had past form for false rape accusations. It’s interesting to note, in fact, that in Metro’s review of the first episode, the majority of the comments were in support of Andrew. It wasn’t until the end of the third episode that Liar unequivocally revealed that Andrew had spiked Laura’s drink; that’s half the length of the series predicated on doubting a woman’s account of sexual assault.

Rather than examining the attitudes that lead to people doubting women when they speak out about sexual assault, Liar was advancing them – perpetuating a stereotype that is in many ways genuinely quite harmful. Across recent weeks, the revelation about Harvey Weinstein’s actions has been followed by many women speaking out about their own experiences with sexual assault, and the doubts they faced afterwards. A popular television programmes that invites its five million viewers to think a woman is lying about being raped feeds into the same culture that lets that happen.

A piece about a series that made me quite angry, given that it dealt so poorly with its subject matter.

This article got a lot of traction, actually; it was cited by the BBC in this piece about the series. I don’t think there was enough writing done about Liar that held it account for this, so I’m glad I wrote this piece.

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Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Episode 5 Review – Choose Your Pain

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How much continuity is too much? The answer, of course, is the point at which it becomes alienating to new viewers – the point at which it’s so suffocating and self-reflexive that it’s offputting. That’s not to say there isn’t a value in developing a mythos, or a certain glee to alluding to wider continuity, but there’s a need to make sure it’s not overpowering. Star Trek: Discovery is managing to stay on the right side of the line – for now – but it’d perhaps do well to ask itself this question more often. At the moment, it’s got it just about right; those who know will enjoy the nods to Matthew Decker or Christopher Pike, while those who don’t won’t be confused or taken out of it by reference to the Daystrom Institute. (Indeed, it’s often the more dedicated fans who do understand these allusions that are more likely to get tied into knots about it!)

There’s an addendum to the above, though, which Discovery is running risk of falling foul of: Just what does the continuity add? Choose Your Pain is an episode worth interrogating on this note, given the inclusion of Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Mudd is a fan favourite character, albeit one I’ve never really understood the appeal of – he’s a human trafficker played for laughs, from some particularly poor episodes of The Original Series. Was he a necessary inclusion? Was there anything about his plot function that demanded he be Harry Mudd, rather than an original character in a similar vein? Admittedly, it might be too early to say; we know that Mudd is set to return later in the series, so it’s possible that in hindsight this appearance will prove to be important set up for a story that does demand his inclusion. Otherwise? I’m less than convinced.

I am very much not a fan of Harry Mudd, as you’ll no doubt remember from previous reviews, but he was… alright, I suppose, in Discovery.

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Designated Survivor has been left behind by reality, and doesn’t know what it wants to be anymore

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Of course, not long after Designated Survivor’s premiere, there was a huge political upheaval in the real world too – the election of Donald Trump as President. While both events left a relatively inexperienced political outsider in the highest political office in America, the similarities largely end there; nonetheless, though, the ABC show has scrambled to engage with the real world, often with difficulty.

The most recent episode is particularly interesting in this regard; Outbreak deals with attempts by a civil rights group to have a Confederate statue removed, a story directly ripped from the headlines. Designated Survivor walks a delicate tightrope, an attempt to find the middle ground without committing to any one side in particular – in the end, the solution is to move the statue out of sight, rather than take it down.

It’s an interesting stance to take, and one that’s perhaps revelatory about just what the show is trying to be now – safe. 

An article about Designated Survivor. I really enjoyed the show when it first began; the premise was quite compelling, it had a couple of actors I liked (Kal Penn!) and it was something I watched with my friends each week and we all discussed it together, which was nice to have. Sadly, though I’ve been considerably less enamoured with it since the beginning of season 2 – admittedly the cracks had been starting to show since much earlier, but it really felt like stopped working entirely with the second season.

I ended up giving up on the show – so did my friends, actually, with the exception of Mevrick – and eventually Designated Survivor was cancelled at the end of season 2. Didn’t come as a surprise especially; really, the most shocking thing was the reminder that Designated Survivor was an ABC drama, not a CW show. (That’s unfair on the CW, but still.) For my part, admittedly, I suspect part of the reason I grew less enamoured with the show was that I watched The West Wing across the summer; when Designated Survivor returned in the autumn and tried to posit itself as more of a West Wing equivalent, it was kinda obvious the emperor had no clothes.

More to the point, though, I think the difficulty with Designated Survivor – other than the very high turnover of behind the scenes creative talent it had – was that it never quite worked out how to use its premise. Rebuilding America after an attack of that scale, with all the domestic and international implications that would have, while the office of the President is held by a nobody and his staff are made up of the B team? That’s potentially quite brilliant. To just sort of do a normal politics show in the wake of that, with episodes about statues and presidential pets? It’s a waste. Perhaps, admittedly, something that was prompted by the high turnover of showrunners. Equally, perhaps, I imagine Trump taking office did do a lot to take the wind out of Designated Survivor’s sails – if nothing else, I imagine it prompted a lot of the empty centrism that I complained about above, but I suspect it also contributed to a general lethargy to shows like this from audiences.

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Why you should be watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

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That premise, combined with that title? You can perhaps understand why people might get the impression it’s a little simplistic. But, of course, as any fan of the show would attest – it’s a lot more nuanced than that. 

Across the course of its first two series, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has examined and deconstructed all those old romantic tropes – a clever consideration of just what makes the genre tick, and how a lot of those time-worn ideas are more than a little bit problematic. It does so through a whole cast of vivid and vibrant characters who are practically jumping off the screen – if nothing else, the show is never anything less than wonderfully entertaining.

A piece I wrote a while back, before Crazy Ex-Girlfriend season 3 started; it went out under a different title to how I pitched it (which is above), which I think compromised the piece a little, but still.

I’m a huge, huge fan of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Rachel Bloom, and it’s been a real pleasure to see both the show and her gain such high levels of acclaim recently. I do genuinely believe that, in the years to come, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend will go down as one of the best television shows ever. Ever!

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Riverdale Season 2: Who is the Angel of Death, AKA the Black Hood?

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It’s the biggest question posed by Riverdale’s season opener – just who is the Angel of Death? Last year, Riverdale ended on a cliffhanger – showing us that the death of Jason Blossom was just the beginning, and that so much more danger was still to come to this sleepy town.

In what appeared to be a robbery gone wrong at Pop’s Diner, Fred Andrews was shot, and lay bleeding on the ground. Thankfully, he survived – but curiously, it became clear that this wasn’t a robbery attempt. Or at least, not an attempt to rob the diner. The so-called Angel of Death stole Fred’s wallet – which, according to Archie, contained everything important to him. 

So, who was it? While it’s difficult to say exactly who it is just yet, here are a few theories that start to make sense of what we know so far…

Here’s my piece with a few theories on Riverdale’s Angel of Death… who they shortly renamed the Black Hood. I’m not sure which name I prefer really; the Angel of Death feels Extremely Extra in the appropriate Riverdale way, so that fits better, but the Black Hood was easier to type each week. So, swings and roundabouts.

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Everything you need to know about Riverdale Season 2

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It’s a Twin Peaks-inspired gothic retelling of the classic Archie comics; the first season captured the hearts and minds of audiences with its dark aesthetic – and this second promises to escalate things even further.

The first of several Riverdale pieces from me, the official Riverdale correspondent for Metro.

(What a great title, right? I made it up myself.)

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Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 Episode 4 Review – The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry

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There’s an obvious parallel – obvious to the point of being heavy-handed, really – being drawn between the tardigrade and Michael Burnham in this episode.

The tardigrade is misunderstood; it’s believed to be dangerous, a predator, something to be feared. It’s responsible for the deaths of Starfleet officers, and it’s being drafted into the war – a weapon to be used rather than an individual to be understood. Burnham, of course, is much the same; when she comments that the creature “can only be what it is, not what you want it to be”, it’s an implicit rebuke of the prevailing perception of her. As she notes that the Discovery crew “judge the creature by its appearance and one single event from its past”, it’s a comment that is fundamentally about herself, and the way she’s now perceived.

Of course, it transpires in the end that the creature isn’t a weapon – it’s docile in its own right, and in fact its primary use to the Discovery ship is a scientific one. As the creature proves its worth, so does Burnham; it’s the same moment of triumph and of success for them both, allowing them to find a place on the ship. One can take it as something of a microcosm for Starfleet, really; an indicator of how, in the context of this war, they’re losing sight of what exactly they’re meant to be. When confronted with a new life, the response must be curiosity, rather than an intent to militarise; no doubt this is a thread that will continue across the rest of the series, grappling with the dichotomy between Starfleet’s true mission and the role it’s thrown into.

The excerpt from this review is a bit of Discovery analysis that, while I thought it was pretty obvious, I’ve not actually seen picked up on anywhere. Odd that.

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What is the place of a Punisher TV show in 2017?

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This discussion has started because of the Las Vegas shooting – the deadliest shooting in modern American history, coming just 476 days after the previous deadliest shooting in modern American history – but it’d be one worth having regardless. On average, there’s a mass shooting every nine out of ten days in America; Punisher exists in a cultural context that makes the character, if nothing else, an uncomfortable reflection of a very real and very present problem.

All of that said: What’s the place of a Punisher TV show in 2017? From the optics to the thematic content – how is a lone-wolf vigilante, taking the law into his own hands to murder those he deems guilty, a straightforward protagonist?

An article I wrote a while back about The Punisher, and just what the place of such a programme is in an era of mass shootings. When it came to actually reviewing the show, I think I was a little too kind to it – surprised, mainly, that it wasn’t worse, I mostly let it off easy. But I still think, though, that The Punisher show was misconceived on pretty much every level, and the lack of nuance inherent to its treatment of an increasingly murky premise is little more than an ethical lapse, frankly.

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