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Kamrin Baker
CONTRIBUTOR

Published in 2007, the novel “13 Reasons Why” by Jay Asher found its young adult audience quickly and viscerally. Asher told the story of Hannah Baker, a young woman who died by suicide during high school. Instead of the oh-so-advertised and Hollywood-glamorized suicide note, Hannah left 13 tapes for 13 of her classmates, describing the painful and raw decision to end her own life.

The story switches points of view between Hannah and her classmate and crush, Clay Jensen, who is the current owner of the tapes, and the kindest voice Asher could give to such an unkind story.

After 10 years, the book has been adapted to a Netflix original, produced by Selena Gomez and her mother, Mandy Teefey. Gomez has a history of speaking up about mental illness, and this show is her most actionable headline to date.

Premiering on the streaming site the last day of March, “13 Reasons Why” took over social media—it’s a show that maybe shouldn’t be binged because of its heavy nature—but definitely was.

The show is certainly triggering for people—especially those who have a history with mental illness. Scenes depict rape and sexual assault, depressive episodes, alcohol and drug abuse and suicide itself. In the 13 episodes, three feature trigger warnings prior to the opening credits, and rightfully so. However, individuals should be notified the kind of performances they’re about to see before clicking on the new title.

Criticisms are circling online that the characters in the show are not good examples of what young people should do in the event of a mental health crisis or suicide, but in its defense, the story was never meant to be a PSA. “13 Reasons” is a realistic, ugly, stick-to-your-ribs story about the effects of mental illness. It’s painfully sad, tear inducing and heart-breaking, but shown through the pretty faces of young actors.

The Baker family is where I found the greatest breakout performances; with Kate Walsh nailing the role of a mother whose new sole purpose in life is figuring out why her only child decided to end her life. Walsh as Olivia Baker is poignant and beautifully calamitous, especially in a scene where her husband brings her home a dozen roses. Walsh goes to the kitchen to fill up a vase for the bouquet, and in the middle of the menial task, freezes, as the water pours and pours, the vase overflowing in the sink. While the writing of this one moment so purely depicts grief and depression, Walsh performs with such ease and vulnerability, the audience can’t help but wonder how she will ever find relief.

Newcomer Katherine Langford as Hannah Baker also puts on a wonderful performance. The emotion she provokes in audiences and fellow cast mates is simultaneously thrilling and chilling, as she teeters on the existence of alive and dead. Her voiceovers echo long after the episodes end, and the simplicity and courage in her performance is all I could pay attention to; the perfect emblem of character development—or really, character degeneration.

The innerworkings of the high school where this story takes place is very telling of the climate in which the audience is also living. After Hannah’s death, the student council puts up memorials and informative posters all around the halls, but rather than feel safer and more accepted, students lash out against this. They find it embarrassing, weak and unnecessary, but in reality, young adults silently crying out for and are almost devoid of real, helpful resources in their high schools.

According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, one in six high school students has reported considering suicide, and although “13 Reasons Why” doesn’t necessarily show young people exactly how to avoid these feelings, it shows us exactly why we must teach our children in real life.

All high schools and universities differ in their counseling avenues, but the general resources across the country are undoubtedly lacking. “13 Reasons” is the first successful show on Netflix to break through in its nitty-gritty, uncomfortable, harrowing truth to hold a mirror up to parents and young adults.

The show holds potential to continue with a sequel season but would reach beyond the scope of the novel to achieve this. While I would love to spend more time in Monet’s Café, and my life would be much more fulfilled knowing a certain someone was rotting in ictional prison, what I want to see more than a part two is a change in our own society. “13 Reasons Why” shows us the stories of the stigmas we face everyday, and without fear, stands under a spotlight no one has been willing to turn on before.

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Photo Courtesy of solarmovie.com

Jeff Turner
SENIOR STAFF WRITER

“Santa Clarita Diet” is a great pitch. There are opportunities for clever jabs at suburbia and some atmospheric, memorable moments. Showrunner Victor Fresno must have been proud of the idea.

The show also has some game performances, Timothy Olyphant and Drew Barrymore don’t have the most stellar resumes, but they offer up animated, committed performances. A shame, then, that the writing betrays them. “Santa Clarita Diet” is a sitcom wanting to be something better, but the scripts just aren’t smart enough.

Sheila and Joel Hammond (Barrymore and Olyphant respectively) are realtors in California. One day, Sheila begins vomiting uncontrollably, pukes out her heart, and “dies.” She wakes up, but as it turns out, she can only eat meat, and as is eventually discovered, human flesh. This eventually leads to the Hammonds having to find ways to track down people and murder them so that Sheila can eat.

It’s a good dynamic, Joel wants to be supportive of his wife who he has been with for over half his life, someone who he sees as his soulmate; and Sheila undergoes a sort of spiritual awakening where she moves from being a little stiff to being more in tune with her id. A critique that could be offered is where does this spiritual awakening tie into her eating people? “Santa Clarita Diet” doesn’t often think about that. This is the problem, the characters felt underdeveloped, and the show isn’t terribly interested in exploring them beyond the initial established traits.

The pilot is a bit of a slog, until Sheila has her incident there really isn’t much to gain or absorb. Afterwards it improves, if only slightly. Nathan Fillion was an interesting choice to play Gary, the primary antagonist of the episode. It doesn’t really get interesting until the end. Episode 2 demonstrates something common in “Santa Clarita Diet,” which is that it gets better when it gets darker. What’s fun is how Barrymore or Olyphant can draw a laugh solely based on giving the right look or saying the right thing at the right time.

Now that the premise is set up, Episode 3 is around where “Santa Clarita Diet” starts to fall apart. Now that we know that Joel is an aimless wuss and that his wife likes to kill and eat people, the writers struggle with where to take them next. The development of the drug dealer is strong, and there are various strong moments sprinkled throughout, but the show is beginning to show its cracks.

Episode 4 follows Sheila’s erratic behavior as the couple’s daughter risks getting suspended. There is a good moment with Joel and his daughter where they wonder whether or not Sheila is truly gone for good. However, for the most part, the traits displayed in the episode are ones that were already established. There’s some good acting on display but the viewer is left not knowing much more than they did before.

“Santa Clarita Diet” is a show with a lot of potential that is marred by lackadaisical writing. It’s easy to bounce back from something like that, however. Worse shows have done it before.

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Photo Courtesy of dailymail.co.uk

Will Patterson
A&E EDITOR

The sudden success of shows exclusively available on Netflix isn’t a surprise in an age where streaming is overtaking nearly all forms of media. Here is a list of some of the must-see productions unfolding on Netflix.

1) BoJack Horseman
This title has done well enough to earn itself a third season. The voice of Will Arnett lends a hilarious element to this absurd comedy. The world in which “BoJack Horseman” takes place is an altered version of our own, where some “people” are upright-walking animals that are casually mixed in with normal human characters. This is true of the show’s main character BoJack Horseman for which the show gets its name.

Despite the light-hearted and goofy humor that makes “BoJack Horseman” hilarious, the real messages of the production are in the characters’ darkest moments.

2) House of Cards
“House of Cards” is fast-paced, high stakes drama that plays off the American’s fears of injustices involved with politics. The plot follows Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey, as he makes his way in the dog-eat-dog world of politics. Underwood is a corrupt, plotting man who will stop at nothing to get what he desires most: power.

Even though the show’s protagonist is an inherently bad guy, the show does a brilliant job of getting viewers to seek Underwood’s success.

3) Black Mirror
“Black Mirror” is one the most unique productions under the category of Netflix Originals. This show has only a few seasons with relatively few episodes in each; however, each episode ranges from 45 to 90 minutes in length and contains a unique story.

While addictive and enticing to watch, “Black Mirror” depicts common fears of what modern and future technology may spell out for humanity. Social, economic and government issues are all up for discussion in these absurdly dark interpretations of the world’s future.

4) A Series of Unfortunate Events
The latest recreation of Lemony Snicket’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” debuted on Netflix as of Jan 13, 2016. Already the show has received high praise from critics and online. This follows more than decade behind the film adaption of the series which was met with mixed reviews from critics and fans of books alike.

In “A Series of Unfortunate Events” the orphaned Baudelaire children continually attempt to thwart the malicious Count Olaf, who seeks to claim their family fortune. Through a variety of disguises, he follows the children as they pass from guardian to guardian. Meanwhile, the Baudelaire children are attempting to uncover the truth behind a secret society that their parents were once members of.

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Photo Courtesy of joe.co.uk
Photo Courtesy of joe.co.uk

Jeff Turner
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

“Black Mirror” is one of the most original television ideas to come out in recent history. It is not quite horror or satire. The average viewer cannot pin it down.

Creator Charlie Brooker describes it as “the area between delight and discomfort” in regards to the evolution of our modern world. Brooker is well known for his snarky, cynical humor.

Brooker himself is quite a guy, his credits include: writing for The Guardian in entertainment journalism (this later evolved into his series “Screen Wipe”), and he eventually jumped into TV, writing a miniseries called “Dead Set,” which is about “Big Brother” contestants who are filming just as a zombie apocalypse is starting to break out.

Another series that got the green-light, a documentary series, was dubbed “How TV Ruined Your Life,” and it highlights Brooker’s voice as a writer, with a cynical, biting, often holier-than-thou approach. It, however, never sacrifices attention to detail, Brooker breaks down his points to succinct, digestible bite sized pieces. The fascinating part about this particular series is the internal contradiction, a TV series dictating how TV ruined your life. It seems arrogant, and is for the most part, intentional by Brooker.

“Black Mirror” has a “Twilight Zone” setup. The episodes tell their own individual stories with nothing connecting them. Each offers dark setups, and often will crescendo with a humorous, provocative payoff. The pilot is amongst the most experimental of all of them. The plot follows a national crisis as the princess of the Royal Family is kidnapped by an unnamed terrorist. The terrorist’s demands are simple: The Prime Minister is required to have sex with a pig on national television.

They go through every scenario, and eventually give up. They have him go on TV, and he eventually does it. It turns out the princess goes free, and the guy was obsessed with proving a point above all else. It feels wild and experimental, as though Brooker wanted to test the waters and see just how far the show could go.

Season 3 focuses more on technology and our evolution towards the future. The first episode, “Downfall” is a great thesis for the season. It is not necessarily an indictment of technology, but rather how we use it. “Downfall” deals with social structures and dissects how we interact with each other. The point of the episode is not necessarily that the evolution of technology has caused the social structure to be eroded, but rather that it has always been like this.

There are a lot of elements to “Downfall”: the use of online ratings to determine a person’s merit along with what privileges that person is allowed access. This is merely a shifting of the gears of the social structures we see now. A person who is not seen as liked or who does not behave in a specific way does not acquire friends, and if they don’t acquire friends they don’t get invited to social events. It doesn’t start to sound that different after a while.

Bryce Dallas Howard is the centerpiece of the action, as simple mishaps result in her overall rating going well beneath what she had been building up. This is all happening as she gets invited to an old friend’s wedding, where she sees a major opportunity to get upvoted. Her friend sees it as the same way. This reminds one of a normal social situation like that, how many people don’t prepare scripts at a wedding for the sake of approval? Howard almost plays this role like a Carrie of sorts, she builds up and up until she inevitably implodes. Howard is a brilliant talent and deserves to be well used like this far more often.

Black Mirror seasons 1-3 are available on Netflix.

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Rob Carraher
CONTRIBUTOR

The uproar surrounding the 2016 Academy Awards was caused by a lack of diversity among the academy’s nominees. That is only part of the problem associated with the way Hollywood portrays race on theater and television screensall across the United States. Too often roles written for persons of color reflect only historically damaging events. It is rare that mainstream film and television series portray black or Latino communities simply as communities of people living their everyday lives. Marvel’s “Luke Cage” does just that.

The significance of “Luke Cage” is that it introduces widespread audiences to a community and culture that is often neglected in the superhero world. Much of New York City is found in other superhero stories, but Harlem is regularly the forgotten borough. Not in “Luke Cage.”

Creator Cheo Hodari Coker takes a common superhero plot and surrounds it with a community rich in culture, keeping the premise fresh and interesting. But what really makes “Luke Cage” different than much of the work coming out of mainstream Hollywood featuring black characters, is that it places the happenings of the series in the same realm as many of Marvel’s other stories such as “Daredevil.” When it comes down to it, Luke Cage is a superhero, he just happens to be from a black community.

The pilot episode entitled “Moment of Truth” introduces us to Luke Cage (Mike Colter), a fugitive with superhuman strength working multiple jobs just to make it by in Harlem. One of Cage’s jobs is working as a dishwater at Harlem’s Paradise, a club owned by crime boss, Cornell “Cottonmouth” Stokes (Mahershala Ali). After one of Stokes’ arms deals goes bad, he is left on a manhunt for the men responsible. Stokes’ cousin, councilwoman Mariah Dillard (Alfre Woodard), is heading a community initiative called “New Harlem Renaissance” and has enlisted Stokes’ men to help her collect funds. Cage is faced with a decision of whether to keep a low profile or use his super powers for the betterment of the community.

In the opening episode, “Luke Cage” lays the groundwork for potentially interesting characters by providing a likable hero with apparent motivations. Although it isn’t exactly clear what those motivations are, up to this point, they clearly exist.

Whereas superhero plots rely on their hero in order to work, they rely on their villains to succeed. Stokes is the kind of villain that has potential to be a really great baddie. But after one episode, the mystery surrounding his character makes such a claim a little premature. At the very least, the Cage/ Stokes dynamic is intriguing, and demands further investigation upon its viewers.

Something that “Luke Cage” does very well is immerse it’s viewers in music. At times, the pilot episode could have easily been confused for something out of the pages of a Brett Easton Ellis novel. The music references and purpose are riddled throughout the episode’s scenes. Over and over, the face of The Notorious B.I.G. appears of the wall of Stokes’ living quarters, just begging viewers to take note.

The soundtrack is the kind of contribution that is worth listening to on its own. Just as is the case in one of Ellis’ novels, music and culture play a main role in the storytelling element of the series. That alone is enough to make audiences return for following episodes.

As is the case in “Daredevil,” another Marvel/Netflix collaboration, “Luke Cage” is quite gritty. It spares no sight of violence. There is a sense in this universe that certain people are very bad, and they must be feared. This easily makes a compelling argument for why these tortured superheroes are necessary. In the pilot episode, Cage barely gets his feet wet, but if some of the scenes displayed are any indication, he is in for some extreme encounters as the season unfolds.

Although it is likely this story could be copied from Harlem and placed in a completely different community, “Luke Cage” doesn’t ignore its setting. The opening episode references current social issues with being black in the United States. It doesn’t ignore what is happening as part of a greater social landscape. That is what makes the show so important.

In a time where there is clearly racial tension, it is imperative to create strong black characters that are reflective of the people in real communities all across this country. “Luke Cage” helps close the gap that mainstream Hollywood often perpetuates. At its core, the series gives audiences of many different backgrounds an opportunity to enjoy the kind of thrilling story Marvel produces on a regular basis, while treating them to a unique cultural experience not usually represented in such platforms.

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Photo Courtesy of latimes.com
Photo Courtesy of latimes.com

Zane Fletcher
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Finding a Mexican drug lord, the journey of a California rock band from Chicago and the story of how one Inuit man revolutionized cinema – these are just a few of the mock documentaries presented in the recently released Lorne Michaels produced Netflix sketch-comedy show “Documentary Now!”

Starring Fred Armisen and Bill Hader, both of former Saturday Night Live fame, “Documentary Now!” flawlessly satirizes contemporary documentary culture through a variety of genres. Similar to fellow Independent Film Channel (IFC) program “Portlandia” (of which Armisen is a co-creator and star), “Documentary Now!” also features writing from SNL alumnus Seth Meyers, who stuns with his clean storyline and dialogue.

The PBS style documentaries, hosted by none other than Academy Award-winning actress Helen Mirren, lend the perfect format the series, allowing it to explore a va-riety of topics while maintaining cohesion as a unit.

The writing is both nuanced and creative, spoofing famous documentaries including Grey Gardens, Nanook Revisited and a “Vice”-like episode. Even without prior knowledge of the originals the jokes land, however, showcasing the writers’ unique abilities in parody.

Those fans of “Portlandia” and “SNL” will not be disappointed – Armisen and Hader are their vintage selves, and they understandably drive each episode. Guest appearances from such stars as Jack Black, rapper Ty Dolla Sign and others give each installment hidden treats, and there is not a single notable disappointment in the entire series.

Perhaps my personal favorite episode was the two part ending, “Gentle and Soft: The Story of the Blue Jean Committee”. Modeled after “The History of the Eagles,” “Gentle and Soft” follows the Blue Jean Committee’s rise to stardom and the subsequent descent. A two-part episode, the piece is full of wit and non-sequiturs, as is the rest of the series.

All in all, “Documentary Now!” was captivating enough to elicit two viewings within a week, and has been my recommended Netflix watch ever since. For fans of documentaries and those less interested.

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Photo Courtesy of E! Online
Photo Courtesy of E! Online

Kelly Langin
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR

Netflix recently released Black Mirror’s seventh episode, a Christmas special with three intertwining stories in one episode. Released in England in December 2014, the episode stars Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”) as Matt, and Rafe Spall (“Prometheus”) as Potter. The two are stuck together in an abandoned cabin, and only Matt knows why he and Potter are there.

Matt tells Potter secrets of his past careers, though Potter and the audience are not sure why he’s telling a stranger these accounts. Matt first begins telling Potter about his service for shy, young men learning how to talk to women. A special camera is placed in the subject’s eye for Matt to see through the subject’s eyes, and is able to direct the sub-ject through an earpiece.

At the subject’s holiday party, Matt successfully aids the subject in going home with the object of his affection, but in a strange mix of suicide and homicide, Matt is forced to shut down the service before the authorities can find out his involvement in the matter.

Following the downfall of his career and a divorce, Matt turns to working for a service that surgically removes a part of the brain and copies it, creating a perfect slave that lives its existence independently in a small, egg-shaped device.

“White Christmas” shows Matt introducing a specific copy to her surroundings following the original woman’s surgery. The copy, unable to believe she is a microscopic duplicate designed to be a slave, initially refuses to play into Matt’s instructions.

As punishment for in-compliance, Matt changes the time so that it feels like she spends years doing absolutely nothing, with nowhere to go and no one to talk to. In real time, Matt just spends a few minutes watching the years go by on the clone’s clock.

The original human feels nothing her copy feels; her life is made more convenient, with classical music playing in the morning and getting the right crispiness of toast that she likes because her exact brain copy is making it for her. The slave, however, is manifested with the same feelings and memories as if she actually were the original copy. The copy is forced to spend the rest of her existence watching the original live in the real world and serving her needs.

Potter interjects, telling Matt he is terrible for contributing to a legal form of slavery. Matt explains there is evil in all of us, that he is ashamed of his career, and encourages Potter to tell a story.

Telling Potter the honest accounts of his sketchy past convince Potter to open up about his past life. He admits he was “blocked” by his girlfriend, Bethany, after an argument about her pregnancy. In the “Black Mirror” version of the future, humans can block each other from their lives, creating a gray, voiceless blob in place of the actual person.

Potter stalks the gray outline of his former lover, eventually learning that she kept the child and continually refuses to unblock him. The block extends to offspring, so Potter is also unable to see or be seen by his daughter. The block is finally removed when Bethany dies in an accident, so Potter goes to stalk his daughter. The rest of story follows Potter into a dark headspace of murder and revenge, and his ultimate confession leads to his arrest, orchestrated by Matt himself.

It’s almost too similar to Season 2’s “White Bear”, the episode where the main character wakes up in an unfamiliar house, unsure of how she got there, with men chasing her and others refusing their help and instead following her around taking videos with their cell phones. We find out at the end that the woman is being held hostage to pay for her crimes as an accomplice to a murder.

“Black Mirror” is a sort of modern “Twilight Zone” with humanity’s relationship with technology as the cause for most of the problems. Each hour-long episode in the anthology series tells a separate fictional story in either the close or distant future.

The series is shocking. Within the first five minutes of the first episode of the first season, we’re launched into a show that gambles with having sex with a pig on live television to save a princess. Using the idea of that sort of content as a standard, the rest of the series’ main conflicts – like TV-watching slavery issued by marketing hounds and bringing a deceased person back to life via artificial intelligence – are equally as morally inept and begs the question of the downfall of humanity via technology.

In September, Netflix commissioned a 12-episode third season of “Black Mirror” with an unknown release date. Charlie Brooker, the show’s creator, called it “exciting” for the show to be on the “most fitting platform imaginable,” according to Crave.

But the potential problem with letting Netflix take over the series is there is the possibility of the British show not being able to bend its boundaries or be as dark once being handed over to an American company.

Think of UK’s “Skins” versus MTV’s “Skins.” Although Netflix did not produce America’s version, it was a sordid reminder that in the United States, we can’t have teens squawking cuss words or having sex while overdosing on prescription pills every episode. The MTV version of “Skins” received backlash from parents and critics about its content, cancelling the recreation after only one season.

On the other hand, Netflix’s release of “Degrassi: Next Class” seemed to create a near-perfect sequel to Epitome Pictures’ “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” the long-running Canadian teen drama. Netflix kept the same actors, characters, and stories, incorporating a new show seamlessly into the “Degrassi” lineup.

Using the “Degrassi” situation as a bar, this brings high hopes that Netflix can acknowledge the success of “Black Mirror” and recreate its darkness accordingly.

In a teaser video, it appears the Netflix /”Black Mirror” partnership will keep the same title sequence and the same creators as the original show.

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