Posted in Pop culture

Podcasts

Today’s blog post talks about my current favourite podcasts – a couple that I’ve listened to for a while, and a few that are new discoveries for me.  Qualities I like in podcasts:

  • Funny (they don’t have to be side-splittingly hilarious, but I appreciate some wit)
  • More than one presenter (solo-presenter podcasts don’t do it for me – I like the dynamic of two or more witty people interacting with each other)
  • Smart (even if they’re mostly just being funny)

Fletch, Vaughan, and Megan

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I like Fletch, Vaughan, and Megan because they manage to be very funny, but without resorting to cheap shots or being mean-spirited. And because they’re on mainstream radio (with the podcast being a daily ‘best of’ summary of their morning show), their podcasts are G-rated and can be played in the car without your young children picking up any phrases you’d rather they didn’t hear. I’ve loved this podcast for years – it’s reliably excellent, and I make sure we’ve downloaded a good stock of episodes before embarking on long car journeys. I’d rate them as the funniest media personalities in New Zealand, by quite some margin. And they often help to restore my faith in my fellow Kiwis: Megan is actually a pretty serious feminist, once you listen to her attitudes on a few issues, and Vaughan is a really enlightened character.

My Dad Wrote a Porno

My older sister, Pip, suggested this podcast to me a couple of months ago, and I am so grateful – it’s bloody hilarious. The premise is brilliant: if your father decides to write a truly dreadful erotic novel, what better thing to do than grab a couple of your friends and read it aloud? This stuff is not for the faint-hearted, because the erotic novels they’re critiquing are disturbingly bad, filled with the kind of sex scenes that could send you fleeing to a nunnery. And it’s definitely not child-friendly, obviously. But all that aside, I thoroughly recommend this one. It routinely causes me to snort-laugh while travelling on my morning bus.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy Gretchen Rubin’s work, and her podcast presents bite-sized morsels of the messages in her books. She delivers it with her sister, Liz Craft, and together they make helpful suggestions of small changes that might improve their listeners’ general happiness levels. They are also very frank about they ways in which they inadvertently sabotage their own happiness. I like how honest they are, and I appreciate the thoughtfulness of their approach. They also have a really nice sibling relationship, which is something I always appreciate.

Happier in Hollywood

This podcast is a spin-off of Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and stars Liz Craft and Sarah Fain, her long-term writing partner. This is a very new podcast – only seven or eight episodes in – and I really enjoy it. It’s a more casual version of the original Happier podcast, and Liz and Sarah are witty and irreverent. It’s also entertaining because it’s set in the context of Hollywood and the world of TV production, which sounds bonkers.

The Other F Word

This podcast was on my list of things to check out for ages, primarily because one of its hosts is Sara Singer Schiff, a friend and ex-colleague from my time working for a US-owned internet company in London, in 2000 and 2001. Sara was such a lovely woman, and when I saw on Facebook that she’s started a podcast I knew it would be good. I wasn’t wrong – I’m only two episodes in, but I really love it. The Other F Word is all about embracing failure: about how the times when we don’t succeed actually make us human, and should be accepted and celebrated, not hidden away. I like the dynamic between the hosts, and I love the whole premise of this podcast – plus, it’s great to hear about Sara’s life, given that we live thousands of miles away and have only seen each other once in the past 15 years.

The Guilty Feminist

This is a brand new discovery for me – literally (I’m only one episode in) – but it’s very funny, and also successfully manages to make me think about how women of my generation are navigating feminism. I really like it so far, and I’m looking forward to to listening more.


Do you know a great podcast that you think I’d enjoy? Please let me know!

 

Posted in Pop culture

Pretty in Pink

Yesterday I shared my current obsession with rediscovering Beverly Hills 90210. Today, I thought that I’d up the ante by resurrecting a post I wrote five years ago, about one of my favourite 1980s films. If you haven’t seen Pretty in Pink since you were young, I urge you to seek it out immediately. It distills perfectly all of the crucial elements of fine teen film-making in that tragic decade and it has the most important thing to any 1980s teen film’s success: Molly Ringwald. Molly Ringwald was the pinnacle of 1980s girlhood: there was none cooler. She was Kelly Taylor before Kelly Taylor even existed. She was the Taylor Swift of her day.

You all know the story, right? Molly Ringwald plays Andie, a girl from the poor side of town who remains relentlessly chirpy in the face of her father’s ongoing unemployment. Andie makes her own clothes or customises charity shop bargains and her ‘thing’ is that she always wears something pink. Andie’s really clever and attends a very good high school by way of a scholarship. We know about her cleverness early on because she wears glasses: always a sure sign of being smart in Movieland.

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Andie’s best friend is Duckie, an unorthodox young man who worships her and who dresses in a beatnik, ‘alternative’ type of way, with many outfits looking like he’s donned every item in his wardrobe. He seems to be a slacker when it comes to academic work, so I’m not sure how he’s wound up at the posh school – a scholarship seems unlikely in his case.

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The school is the backdrop for an ongoing war between the rich kids (or ‘Richies’) and the poor kids. Of course, the actors playing the rich kids all look like they’re pushing 35. For example, this is Steff, the baddie of the film:

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He wears a light-coloured suit like that every single day. He looks and talks like a jaded Miami divorcee. It’s brilliant. Steff should be the star of a follow-up film. Anyway, early on Steff tries to hit on Andie and we learn that he’s been asking her out on a regular basis, only to be denied at every turn. Steff isn’t a guy to take rejection lightly – we know this because he calls her a ‘bitch’.

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I really like Andie’s car. How does a poor girl afford such a cool car?

A couple of other things happen early in the film: Andie gets hassled by rich girls (with awesome, back-combed hairdos) for her dorky clothes; and Andie sneaks a peek or two at Blaine, the resident sensitive rich boy heart-throb. This is Blaine:

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What a drip! I don’t see what Andie sees in him. We know that he’s less of a cool dude than Steff because he doesn’t wear a white suit to school; he wears light-coloured linen separates and pale blue shirts, instead. You know, like all the boys that you and I went to school with, back in the day.

And I’ve got to say that I think the rich girls might have a point vis-a-vis Andie and her unfortunate clothes:

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The film goes on. We get the idea that Andie takes Duckie and his devotion for granted. She’s a bit of a cow towards him, actually: she deliberately goes to a club that she knows won’t let him in; and she looks at him with a ‘smelling a fart’ face when he performs a fantastic lip-synching performance of ‘Try a Little Tenderness’ for her amusement.

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OK, Andie, we know that you don’t want to snog him, but you don’t have to be a dick about it.

Duckie’s performance is appreciated more by Iona, Andie’s record shop co-worker. Iona is what is best described as ‘kooky’, demonstrated by the wide range of looks that she sports throughout the film. Andie treats Iona like a replacement mother (because we later learn that her real mother just up and left her and her feckless father one day, when she was 14).

Andie and Blaine get together in what might be the earliest recorded example of cyber-dating. This is what Andie wears on their first date:

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If you were in your late 60s and going out on a first date with some dashing chap that you met at lawn bowls, this is the perfect outfit. Hilariously, Blaine asks her if she needs to go home and change first. *high fives Blaine*

And I’m sorry – but WTF, Iona?

The date is a bit of a disaster. For one thing, Duckie is horrified that Andie would date ‘the enemy’ – a rich kid – and acts like a toddler who has been denied a lollipop. And then Blaine decides to take Andie to a party at Steff’s house, even though she tells him that it’s a bad idea.

The party is full of rich kids having what looks to be a perfectly good time: drinking alcohol, dancing around in their underwear, hooking up. Andie parades through the place as though there’s some debauched orgy going on and doesn’t really make any effort. It’s at this point that I think I would have had serious reservations, had I been Blaine. They end up hanging out in a bedroom (as you do), and have a run-in with Steff and one of the bitchy rich girls, both of whom make it clear that Andie isn’t welcome.

The star-crossed lovers then try to spend the evening in Andie’s world, at the club where Duckie’s never allowed in (although the doorman makes an exception when Iona pretends that Duckie’s her son. Ew.) But that doesn’t go well either; Duckie is really rude to poor, hard-done-by Blaine. So the date ends up being a bit of a flop and, to top off the evening, Andie throws a wobbly when Blaine wants to take her home – she’s embarrassed about him seeing where she lives (a perfectly normal house, not a shack or anything). But Blaine has his manly way and drops her off, and asks her to the prom. This prompts Andie to just about snog his face off. Turns out that she did want to go to the prom, after all.

We see one subsequent date, which is spent in the stable of a country club. What’s with these two? Why can’t they just go to a diner, or catch a movie or something? The whole ‘Romeo and Juliet’ thing is a little over the top. Andie needed to just unwind a bit, have a vodka and tonic, and head back to Steff’s party. That looked like a good night.

Next up, we have a nice daughter/substitute mother scene with Andie and Iona, where they talk about proms and Iona gets out her awesome 1960s prom dress and puts it on (and puts her hair into a massive beehive, in case we’d forgotten about her kookiness).

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At this point in the film you remember Andie’s track record of cutting up clothes and start to fear for that cute dress. Andie then goes prom dress window-shopping (and even the woman working at the dress shop treats her like she’s an unwashed peasant and clutches her pearls at Andie’s weird outfit). Andie overhears one of the bitchy rich girls trying on a frock and looks all wistful and self-pitying.

Now it all gets very teenaged and angst-ridden. Andie has a big fight with her father, who admits that he’d lied to her about getting a job – it’s then that we hear all of the mother-related drama. She pretty much ruins a happy moment because her father has just bought her a really grim-looking pink frock to turn into her prom dress and she goes off at him about how he might of paid for it (and we never do find out, so he might be a drug runner). But her high emotion is understandable because Blaine’s gone cold on her and – get this – doesn’t call her back one night, even though she has left three messages! The cheek of him! She’s a bit stalker-y, I reckon. Of course, we know that Blaine’s got cold feet because Steff has stuck the boot in and asked him what in tarnation he’s doing, ‘dating trash’. And Blaine doesn’t actually defend Andie’s honour when she’s called ‘trash’, which is dodgy. Remember that at the end of the film, when he tries to brush off his behaviour.

So Andie deals with this challenging issue by stalking Blaine at his locker the following day, wearing this outfit and looking like an abandoned puppy:

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She has an all-out screaming fight with him (she’s the only one screaming, mind), and Blaine does the dirty by claiming that he’d forgotten about already inviting somebody to the prom. Cue a lot of tears and heartache for poor Andie.

Duckie later overhears Steff being horrible about Andie in a conversation with Blaine and tries to defend her honour, but he’s a bit of a weakling, so it doesn’t go well. And to be fair, Steff’s main issue was that Blaine might want to reconsider spending any time with a girl who will shriek at him like a harridan in the middle of a crowded school corridor. I fear that Steff may have a valid point here.

A few days pass and Andie cries on Iona’s shoulder. At this point, Iona has started a serious relationship with a pet shop owner and has started dressing like a normal person in a red shirt, white jacket and knotted pearls. She’s even rocking a curly mullet. All a woman needs is the love of a good man to save her from kookiness and fashion mayhem, it seems.

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Iona really doesn’t offer any words of wisdom, which makes her a pretty poor substitute mother. But Andie pulled herself together and asks to borrow that cute 1960s prom dress: she’s going to go to the prom on her own, goddamnit! She’s not letting those rich scoundrels keep her down! I have no idea why she doesn’t just call Duckie at this stage.

And seriously, WHY does Iona lend Andie the dress? It’s pure madness.

Brace yourself, kids – this is the unbelievably hideous and unflattering frock that Andie makes for the prom:

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In the history of prom dresses in films there has never been a more hideous prom dress, in any film. Of course, everybody asks as if Andie’s dress is the last word in chic and looks much better than the dresses that the other girls are wearing. That is a classic 1980s teen film trope.

The film ends predictably: Andie sees Duckie just as she’s mustering up the courage to go in to the prom and – of course – all is forgiven. Duckie’s wearing reasonably normal clothes, but reminds us of his ‘duckman’ status by drawing Andie’s attention to his filthy and inappropriate footwear.

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Meanwhile, the rich kids are having a typically world-weary time: Blaine’s rocked up alone and is drinking some cola-like beverage and Steff is bored rigid and is trying to tempt his slutty rich girlfriend out of the room for a bit of slap and tickle. But then Andie walks in and jaws drop (in a good way, despite the dress). And Andie and Blaine have A Moment, where he tells her that he never stopped believing in her; he just didn’t believe in himself. And that he loves her and always will.

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What bullshit is that? He dropped her like a hot coal after the slightest pressure from his friends.

So Andie doesn’t know what to do, but Duckie urges her to go after Blaine and they have a big snog in the parking lot. And they live happily ever after, supposedly – although I don’t buy the idea that Blaine has grown a pair and will be prepared to defend is relationship with Andie in the face of disapproval from his rich parents and friends. I give the whole thing six months, unless Andie gets knocked up and he makes an honest woman of her.

Things end well for Duckie – some rich-looking chick eyes him up on the dance floor and beckons him over, making a travesty of the idea that these poor kids are all honourable and above peer pressure: the moment a ‘Richie’ shows them any attention, they cave. So that’s the message to take away, party people: be yourself and be unique, until somebody richer or more stereotypically normal than you pays you attention. When they do, abandon your personal style and blend in. Awesome! And if your best friend falls in love with you, just ignore it and it will sort itself out.

Posted in Pop culture

Beverly Hills 90210

Surely there can’t be a person alive in the developed world who didn’t watch at least one episode of this stellar show in the early 1990s? You could ask any woman of my vintage who Brenda and Brandon are, or the significance of the phrase ‘Donna Martin graduates’, and I almost guarantee a spark of recognition.

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While it’s a programme that screened in my formative teenaged years, and was certainly what might be termed ‘must-see TV’ in its heyday, it isn’t something to which I’d given much thought in my adult life, beyond wondering whether the newfangled ‘90210’ was any good (I’ve never watched it, so I still don’t know). But I obviously had a latent Beverly Hills 90210 fetish buried deep in my sub-conscious, because it only took one chance exposure to it for me to become obsessed once again.

I have the retro Sky NZ channel ‘Jones’ to thank: I was at home one kindy day, idly scrolling through the channels in the manner of one who is rarely afforded such a luxury without small people hanging around, cramping one’s style and bellowing for another episode of Paw Patrol. I stumbled across an episode of Beverly Hills 90210 and – recognising gold when I see it – immediately series-linked it. Not only is it still in the golden high school era (at the time of writing the gang are Seniors at West Beverly High), but it’s also ad-free, AND on Monday to Friday!

This programme was always the perfect mix of Serious Learning Moments, hideous fashion, over-wrought love affairs, and actors playing people who are obviously anything up to half their actual age – it’s a heady mix. Here’s what’s happened in the past fortnight alone:

  • Dylan’s been forced to choose between Kelly and Brenda (spoiler alert: “It’s you, Kel – it’s always been you”). Brenda didn’t take it well, but she seems to have chilled out for now, and is starting to talk about the friends she misses from Minnesota, nicely setting up the time when Brenda will in fact leave Beverly Hills for college back home. But don’t be fooled: there is more Brenda/Dylan/Kelly drama to come…
  • David Silver (currently a Junior who is apparently doing twice the normal class load in order to graduate with the rest of the gang (has been signed to a record label and then lost the deal when a slimy producer forced him to sing a slow jam (and you’ve never heard anybody sing more out of tune, I swear to God – I actually feel bad about linking to that clip), rather than the rap and hiphop that this skinny white boy prefers (this was filmed in the era of Vanilla Ice and Colour Me Badd – who appear on a future show, when Peach Pit After Dark is a thing – after all).
  • Donna Martin has been an angel on earth, apparently. And she can conquer radio stage fright like *that*! (insert finger snap here) and be an amazing DJ on West Beverly High’s radio station. There was clearly an editorial decision in the Writers’ room to ensure that nobody had a bad word to say about the daughter of producer Aaron Spelling. However, she may have made enemies in the Wardrobe team:

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  • Guardian angels saved the gang from dying in a head-on collision with a truck driven by an old drunk. That was a Very Special Episode, obviously.
  • Steve Sanders, who dresses like a used car salesman in his mid-forties, has been dumped as David’s agent, expelled and then reinstated at West Beverly High, and named as “the only person around here I can trust right now” by Kelly. He also won the hand of a girl on a dodgy dating show, beating Brandon.
  • Kelly has won Dylan’s heart, but a chance remark by a spa employee (who would surely get fired) regarding working on Kel’s ‘problem areas’ has sent our blonde goddess into a frenzy of body obsession and diet pill addiction, which landed her in hospital after collapsing on the night of her eighteenth birthday party. She refuses to acknowledge that she’s got a problem, however, so it seems clear that the ‘Kelly has an eating disorder’ plot is only just beginning.
  • Brandon has been shown to have a serious gambling addiction. Apparently it’s all sorted after a stern word from Peach Pit owner Nat… OR IS IT?! (Genuine question – I can’t remember whether this comes up again in a later episode).
  • Dylan’s father has been released from prison, shown to be super-shady as he tried to steal his son’s huge trust fund, and then blown up by (we will later discover) mob bosses.
  • Dylan’s mourned his father for an episode or two – including one memorable forty-minute block where he played himself having an out-of-body experience. It was special (actually, it’s quite moving at the end, when he gives his inner child a cuddle).
  • ON-drea has been accepted into Yale. She’s also worked hard to try to behave like a carefree teenager around the rest of the cast, despite looking old enough to be Donna’s mother. She rarely seems to go to class, preferring to tackle the job of editing the West Beverly Blaze as if she’s actually editing the New York Times.
  • Jim and Cindy have done what Jim and Cindy do: hang around, making food and giving out benign advice.

If you’re in New Zealand and have Sky, I urge you to series-link this programme as soon as possible. You’re not too late to miss out on so much good stuff! Yes, we’ve all missed the ‘Brenda loses her virginity’ episode, but the iconic DONNA MARTIN GRADUATES episode is still to come, and the superb drunk Donna at the prom episode that causes it. And once the gang get to college it’s all on like Donkey Kong from what I remember: bad girl Claire will join the crew; bad girl Valerie will also join the crew; Kelly will join a cult; the Peach Pit After Dark will open; people will continue to regard David as a musical genius; Donna will meet evil Ray; Kelly will marry Brandon one day; Brenda will disappear entirely, and ON-drea will get knocked up. And that’s just the stuff I can remember! I can’t wait.