Sunday, July 2, 2017

Ranking The Wrestling Gimmicks and Characters of Netflix's Original Series, GLOW

My roommate and I planned on watching only the pilot of the new Netflix series, a fictionalized account of a televised wrestling promotion that aired episodes in the mid 80s called GLOW. The pilot was so unexpectedly good, we ended up watching through to the halfway point of the debut season together before he had to leave. I ended up finishing the remainder of the series the same evening.

Besides the series relating to entertainment that I have always been fascinated by and loved, the acting and writing on the show made for an enthralling viewing experience. Not every character gets a huge moment unfortunately, but you can see threads that they are setting up for a returning season.

And the performances that do get to shine truly do. Especially revelatory to me was Marc Maron as Sam Sylvia, the director of the series. I also found a lot of clever subversions for character types: Gayle Rankin's Sheila is committed 24/7 to the she-wolf gimmick and the reasoning behind it took a more mature tone than I was expecting. Britney Young's Carmen (whom I know from Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) plays the gentle giant, Machu Picchu and rather than a size issue, her central conflict is with her father and their wrestling legacy. She comes from a famous wrestling family (The LumberJacksons) and her father is against her wrestling because she's a woman. Even Alison Brie, the main character Ruth, gets an unexpected arc as she develops into the show's heel (the bad guy).

There's still some issues of underdeveloped characters or wholly offensive gimmicks but the 80s wrestling scene was awash with racial stereotypes among other things. And there are a couple moments where those issues are addressed head on. Kia Stevens, who is one of the few professional wrestlers in the main women's cast and plays one of my favorite lady wrestlers ever, Awesome Kong, is saddled with a gimmick known as The Welfare Queen. At first, she is getting a kick out of it, but soon worries about her, a black woman, portraying a negative stereotype associated with poor, black people. Sam brings her aside to talk it out and explains that it's a commentary and criticism of the stereotype: that her arc is going to involve her confronting this stereotype and overcoming it. It's a great scene (with solid acting from Stevens) and I don't believe Sam's character is feeding her bullshit, but we don't see a whole lot of payoff for it in these episodes.

Similarly, her tag team partner for their first show is Sydelle Noel's Cherry Bang. Her gimmick is Junkchain, the name of which alone reeks of blaxploitation. Fortunately, she quickly turns makes it into a Pam Grier ass-kicker. Cherry also becomes responsible for training the other girls to get them into fighting shape. I really like Cherry and there are a lot of threads of interesting stories brought up throughout the initial ten episodes, but none of them feel wrapped up satisfyingly by the end of the series. That said, she's an amazing actor, and she needs a more prominent role for second series.

But overall, the pacing of the show is well thought out, and it never feels slow. It all keeps growing perfectly and climaxes with their big live show that really does come together. And as an ensemble, I love the dynamic. At any given moment, I am despising a character I am rooting for and then loving a character I was previously wanting to see get their ass kicked. It's dynamic, it's complicated, but presented broadly and cleverly. Sounds like wrestling to me.

So I thought I'd speak to the aspect of the show that I understand the most, and that I'm most used to deconstructing. Here's my ranking of all the ladies' gimmicks and characters they portrayed for the series:

13.) Scab
Real Name: Justine Biagi
Played by: Britt Baron
The Girl: Justine is the most mysterious and keeps to herself a lot. She ends up offering the biggest twist of this first season, but in terms of the wrestling she comes up on the bottom of the list. She's working with Britannica at one point, and they have potential for a feud later on, but other than that, we don't know too much else.
The Gimmick: Seems to be a punk rocker/anarchy hybrid. Rebel youth.
The Good: The outfit was super simple and the gimmick itself has a lot of room for growth in a lot of different directions.
The Bad: I'm just not a fan of generic rocker gimmicks. This one seemed to have an edge to it, but it's that fake edge, you know, "I'm so against the mainstream! Bleh!" sort of thing. Also, we never see her take a match so it's truly hard to judge.

12.) Vicky The Viking
Real Name: Reggie Walsh
Played by: Marianna Palka
The Girl: An interesting thread is that Reggie originally has the Liberty Belle gimmick, because she's a competitive wrestler with gold medals. It gets taken unceremoniously to be bestowed on Debbie and is never really brought up again. Reggie herself kind of gets lost in the shuffle.
The Gimmick: At one point, Maron's Sylvia tells another wrestler, "I don't want you to just become a prop." And this is exactly the fate of Reggie's Vicky The Viking. Outside of her horned hat, not much memorable here.
The Good: That said, I love a Viking gimmick. It's ancient history enough that it can be played with and embellished. Walsh is a larger girl so it's a good fit for the role, and she could be a destroyer in upcoming seasons.
The Bad: Now that being said, I know a Viking gimmick is just a step above a Pirate gimmick. It's just so obvious. So hopefully they can add another layer to it. Like The Berserker. Oh, please, look up The Berserker. I think that was just a legit crazy person.

11.) The She-Wolf
Real Name: Sheila
Played by: Gayle Rankin
The Girl: Sheila's gimmick is one that she had already committed to prior to the series. It starts as that weird archetype of a character who always wears the same thing everyday or is antisocial and eats the exact same thing from home every single day. In a particularly sweet scene, Ruth reveals that she sympathizes with what motivates Sheila to commit to the gimmick 24/7. She has a subtly beautiful arc going on in the background of much of the season.
The Gimmick: That said, there isn't much to the gimmick. I do admire the idea of her wanting to avoid being reductive. She doesn't want to add explicit wolf ears (her hairdo, later revealed to be a wig, imply wolf ears), or claws. She also doesn't want to do promos about being afraid of the full moon, because that's makes her a werewolf, and "those aren't real." But we also don't see her act very wolf-like, except in the final show where she becomes a rabid and feral version of her character.
The Good: I love full commitment gimmicks. Reminds me of Undertaker and Mankind, gimmicks of that nature. She's got a very clear internal logic to her character.
The Bad: Again, a lot of this logic is not external, and so we're left feeling a little detached from the She-Wolf. Maybe she's a wolf raised by humans, and so feels confused about her identity in that regard? She just needs another wrinkle like that to connect us.

10.) Beirut The Mad Bomber
Real Name: Arthie Premkumar
Played by: Sunita Mani
The Girl: Arthie is the quiet one, who gets low-key excited when action starts in the ring, or drama gets stirred. You can also see her studying, taking notes, while she's living at the Dusty Spur. These two things suggest a deeper character than we are shown. I also love that her grandmother loves wrestling, we see her watching some at one point.
The Gimmick: Unfortunately, the gimmick is the hardest for me to stomach of the offensive racial stereotypes in the show. It also feels like it's the least confronted of that lot. Beirut the Mad Bomber is nothing but a villain an amalgam of derogatory racial stereotypes.
The Good: Arthie has a commitment to the character, even though we clearly see she's uncomfortable with it. Perhaps we get to see a better thought-out evolution of her character that's a little more progressive.
The Bad: I mean, watch her match in the final episode. It's cringeworthy. The primitive scream, the evil make-up... It's the worst of wrestling, but I rank it higher because of Arthie's commitment to the gimmick.

9.) Fortune Cookie
Real Name: Jenny Chey
Played by: Ellen Wong
The Girl: Jenny's quiet, and we don't get to see much of a personality until it's Sheila's birthday late in the season. Then we get to see how she's a bit of a perfectionist and a very enthusiastic and loyal friend. Similar to Arthie, she has some misgivings about her eventual gimmick, but there's fortunately more redeeming qualities to it than Mad Bomber.
The Gimmick: Fortune Cookie is a mix of two stereotypes: the innocent Asian flower and the naturally expert Asian fighter. She carries a sword. She wears a rice paddy hat. She teams up with the Russian in the finale for a Red Scare team. It's ridiculous, but somehow slightly less offensive than the previous.
The Good: At least this gimmick proves to be a capable fighter. And she is someone to be feared because her skills are formidable.
The Bad: It's too bad they're such stereotypical characteristics given to the Asian girl. Although during the scene where everyone's picking their own outfits in Bash's wardrobe she picks the furry outfit. So maybe she shouldn't be left to her own devices?

8.) Machu Picchu
Real Name: Carmen Wade
Played by: Britney Young
The Girl: Carmen is easily my favorite of the girls on the roster. She's sweet without being overly saccharine, and she's earnest without ever being grating. She also feels the most relateable, with her struggles: going against her family's wishes, trying to make a name for herself without the shadow of her legacy, and getting stage fright because she's never taken such strides for herself before. Again, I also loved that her central conflict was not her size. Of course, in wrestling size is an advantage, but I was worried about the show recycling this age-old obstacle for the "big girl." Carmen's struggle with her wrestling family legacy makes for some good moments in the mid-season.
The Gimmick: So since we're ranking the gimmicks, Machu Picchu falls toward the bottom half of the list because there isn't much else to it. Other than the wonderful nickname "The Gentle Giant," I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to root here for. That said, I love the moment where she thinks she's gonna be a villain, because children will be scared of her, and Bash tells her, "What? Kids will love you." And I agree. It's got room to become a great babyface.
The Good: Like I said, it's a great babyface idea. I think one possible layer to add is a bit like Mice and Men. She just doesn't realize her own strength. So she's friendly and fun when she comes out, and is an absolute killer in the ring, and is actually holding back for fear of truly, badly hurting her opponents.
The Bad: Again, at the moment, she doesn't have a whole lot to the character. I don't remember any promos she did, and her match didn't have much story to it, it was really just Bash (as the announcer) turning her stage fright into "mountain fever" and making the story of the match about her overcoming that.

7.) Melrose
Real Name: Melanie Rosen
Played by: Jackie Tohn
The Girl: Mel is one of the characters that I would go from hating to loving and hating and loving again all in one episode. She's the party girl, out late, not really committed, playing pranks, alienating herself among the girls. But she becomes very spirited, unifying the girls several times, and being a blunt voice of reason when things go off the rails.
The Gimmick: I honestly really love the Melanie Rosen > Melrose morph. The other characters constantly hate it in the show, but I love it. And it gives her a perfect gimmick to follow, the Hollywood starlet, the party girl. Her entrance carried by the guys is great, and even though it's whispered, it's the epitome of the character when she tells them, "Better not fucking drop me."
The Good: The best gimmicks are close to the real person. It has to be something they're able to turn on and turn off. Mel already is Melrose. When Cherry rips her down for not really being all that interesting and only pretending to lead a wild and crazy lifestyle, she's right. But it also makes her perfect at pretending to be something more than she is.
The Bad: I'll say the only bad part of it is that Bash and her seem to land on a more dominatrix style gimmick while in the wardrobe. Considering a dominatrix has pretty much never worked in wrestling, I would've loved to see them try.

6.) Junkchain
Real Name: Cherry Bang
Played by: Sydelle Noel
The Girl: Cherry is a fighter, a stuntwoman, and an out of work aspiring actor. She's tough, impersonal, and no-nonsense. When she's with her husband, we get to see her softer side which is nice. She's a natural leader of the team, and gets very invested in the girls' well-being and futures.
The Gimmick: Bad-ass Pam Grier ass-kicker? Hell yes. There's not too much else to it. The jumpsuit is cool, she owns the role well, and there's certainly a sense of justice that she carries with her.
The Good: Cherry is believable in the role. I love that she bends the world to her will. Initially, she and Welfare Queen fight the Rosenblatts and refuses to take shit for being two black women beating up two white old ladies. And she makes them wear KKK robes? So she can kick their racist asses? I love it.
The Bad: A dangerous line this walks is one that a lot of black wrestlers were saddled with in the 80s and early 90s: there is no gimmick, your gimmick is that you're black. Again, Cherry's character name is Junkchain. It's dicey. But since Cherry has so much control over how her character is presented and doesn't take backtalk from anyone, I think it's very cool.

5.) Ethel and Edna Rosenblatt (The Beatdown Bitties)
Real Name: Kimmy Gatewood and Rebekka Johnson
Played by: Stacey Beswick and Dawn Rivecca
The Girl(s): They become the pranksters once everyone moves into the complex, and we know they're hairstylists and always together. Other than that, they're mostly background comic relief moments and they have one solid moment before going out in the KKK robes where they show their own misgivings of the gimmick.
The Gimmick: Ethel and Edna is a really funny tag team idea. They are a great comic act. Some of the lines they have in the finale as they walk out had me laughing. And it's just so absurd. Two old ladies are gonna wrestle? Awesome.
The Good: Again, they're fantastic at their parts. They'll be great for comedy sketches and promos down the line.
The Bad: I don't know much else that you can do with this gimmick. It's a bit one-note, but fortunately there's a lot of mileage in the idea.

4.) Britannica
Real Name: Rhonda Richardson
Played by: Kate Nash
The Girl: Australian, sweet, and very capable at her character. She really likes Sam and they're seeing each other for a while until she realizes he's just not that into her. I'm glad she gets to walk away from the relationship before he has a chance to nuke it. She also comes up with the GLOW rap, and it's an interesting feel-good moment, but I like that it hints at something more to her character that maybe we'll see.
The Gimmick: Britannica is the smartest girl in the world, complete with suspenders, bow-tie, and book. But the double entendres abound, because she's also showing off her physical assets way more than her smarts.
The Good: I love clever gimmicks like this. She fronts as a genius, but the real story is her sexuality, which she plays to her advantage. All of her promos include some sort of innuendo.
The Bad: Not much here, except I do have this theory of Rhonda taking on a different gimmick (an Olivia Newton-John "Let's Get Physical" character) and Arthie, who is actually smart, takes over the Britannica character to morph it into something more legit.

3.) The Welfare Queen
Real Name: Tamme Dawson
Played by: Kia Stevens
The Girl: Tamme is great, and owns her character. We don't get to see too much of her story, save for one scene where she points out that her son will be watching and doesn't want to come off as a stereotype to him. I'd like to see more of her personal life in another season. Kia is an unexpectedly great actor.
The Gimmick: The Welfare Queen is freeloading off government money. She throws foodstamps, she buys expensive products like a fur coat that she doesn't need, and she flaunts it in front of the fiscally conservative for heat.
The Good: Again, Kia has great commitment and color to the character. It should be a villain, but it's so endearing.
The Bad: It's another black racial stereotype, and we never see this progression and evolution of it that Sam alludes to that eventually convinces Tamme to maintain the character. Maybe it'll happen next season.

2.) Liberty Belle 
Real Name: Debbie Eagan
Played by: Betty Gilpin
The Girl: Debbie is an out of work soap star who was very popular when she was a household name. She leaves to have a baby, and her husband never seems all that supportive of her career choices anyhow. I love when Carmen takes her to a match and she finally gets it, she finally gets wrestling. It's the moment I truly get behind her and become invested in her success. Before then, she's playing the entitled star, the ringer brought in who doesn't have a knack for the biz, and also steals a gimmick which doesn't endear her to the others.
The Gimmick: Liberty is the all-American vanilla hero. But I do love the bit of an edge that Debbie gives it, calling out Communists, talking about our superior weapons, and talking up our intense sense of patriotism.
The Good: It could be an incredibly broad and safe patriot gimmick, like Lex Luger but Debbie adds good color to it. The added layer of her coming from the audience, pretending to be a typical housewife is even better, giving her this down-home American suburban air.
The Bad: Not much here. Besides the fact that I think All-American gimmicks are boring. Debbie (and Betty playing her) though, makes her far more interesting than that.

1.) Zoya The Destroya
Real Name: Ruth Wilder
Played by: Alison Brie
The Girl: Ruth is by all intents and purposes our protagonist for the show. We are rooting for her the most. There's a lot of depth to her character, and her relationship with Debbie is great. I love that it's not fully resolved by the end. And I love that Ruth has to deal with becoming a role she does not want, before eventually coming to own it fully.
The Gimmick: Zoya is a proud Russian patriot, the perfect villain for the all-American housewife.
The Good: She makes anti-American jokes, she talks about the struggles in Russia that her make her a tougher, smarter, superior opponent, and her outfits are amazing.
The Bad: It's a character, so eventually it may have to evolve and become more than just a broad stereotype for the American hero to beat up. But for now, Ruth's commitment to the gimmick is great, and more than sufficient to put her at the top of the rankings.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

I Want To Talk About The Voice For A Sec...

Come on Alicia, you can do a better M for YMCA than that.
Something really quite beautiful is happening on the eleventh season of the singing competition, The Voice.

Well, first, my minor gripe out of the way: I wish NBC called them ‘Series’. Season for me, and pretty much for television audiences in America, means a year. Season 11 means a show has been on for 11 years. But no, NBC does two different “seasons” a year, one toward the beginning and the other near the end. Just something to differentiate them would be marvelous.

But enough of that. Following American Idol, a bevy of reality singing competitions flooded the market and oversaturated the genre. Every age group, every genre, every possible incarnation of a singing competition was on nearly any channel. Every single one had a gimmick, so when NBC decided it was time to add one to theirs, they pilfered the Dutch.

NBC already was doing the acapella group competition, The Sing-Off, which never secured much of a following, even though it featured the most qualified judging panel for any reality competition show ever: Ben Folds and Shawn Stockman with either Sara Bareilles, Nicole Scherzinger, or Jewel filling the third spot. Accomplished musicians and talented vocalists, the competition showcased the best judges’ critiques anywhere.

But taking the format from The Voice Of Holland, NBC secured another incredibly credible panel to helm the show: Maroon 5’s frontman Adam Levine, country music star Blake Shelton, the incomparable voice of Christina Aguilera, and the ever charismatic CeeLo Green of Gnarls Barkley. Despite being yet another reality show singing competition in a market shitty with the same tired format, The Voice managed to distinguish itself. The blind auditions were enough of a hook to secure an audience. Even though the judges were high profile, they proved to be invested in the contestants, and eager to share the expertise with their respective teams.

Fast forward 11 years, and we’ve seen people rotate in and out of the middle two chairs: Christina to Shakira, to Gwen Stefani; CeeLo to Usher, to Pharrell. This season marks the first with two women joining regulars Adam and Blake. And what a powerhouse two women they are. Pianist and singer-songwriter R&B extraordinaire Alicia Keys, and one of the new princesses of pop, Miley Cyrus. Taking a page from Madonna, Cyrus courts controversy with many of her performances.
And these are the two women I want to talk about.

I watched the abysmal 12th season (actual season) of American Idol, where much of the air time was devoted to the two feuding judges, Mariah Carey and Nicki Minaj. Don’t worry if you can’t remember the winner, I don’t even remember if there was a competition that year, or if it was just a dozen plus episodes of Mariah and Nicki sitting at a table arguing with Keith Urban inexplicably placed awkwardly between them wishing he could go back to Australia to be as far away from them as possible. (Because Australia is the furthest thing away from everything.) Nicki and Mariah are both amazing, accomplished artists. Mariah was one of those foundation voices of the 90s, with Celine and Whitney, who brought dozens of artists to the table of music; Nicki captured attention and hearts with a string of unforgettable hits that feature eclectic music and her stellar rap skills.

There are stories that have followed Mariah throughout her career about how she can be difficult to share a stage with. There are stories of Nicki being incredibly outspoken. It’s likely both have strong egos and definitely have very strong personalities. I take nothing away from their immense talents, and I also serve no judgment on how they choose to carry themselves. If they have egos, they have no reason to be ashamed of them. So my criticism is not that they did fight while on the show, it’s that the show itself chose to showcase so much of it, and likely even provoke it. It plays into the stereotype that if we feature two women, there will be a catfight.

I’m not a fan of that narrative, nor am I particularly interested in society constantly pitting women against each other. In the run-up to The Voice’s new season, a lot of press and marketing was interested in how Alicia and Miley were going to get along on the show. It’s as if it’s pre-ordained that having two big female personalities, two strong women sharing the spotlight, will inevitably not end well. And it was incredibly refreshing to hear both of them doing their best to quash those speculations. They claim to be more interested in the bigger picture: in representing female artists, in empowering all artists to find their voices. And from just the auditions so far, you see it. And it’s wonderful to see.

It’s what women and girls should be seeing on television and in our society. The toxic combination of elements in our world: capitalist marketing, consumerist thinking, aggressive competitiveness, constant reminders of various inadequacies particularly for women, and the false dichotomy that only one person can do well, has instead contributed to seemingly innocuous but seriously harmful biases, such as: women will always be catty with each other.

You see it all over the internet. Our only means of comparison is to hold one person up in shining example by putting down another. I remember a meme that made the rounds months ago contrasting Malala Yousafzai and Kylie Jenner. Ultimately, it’s a problem of the media, but it highlights a false dichotomy. It is not Kylie’s fault that the media chooses to cover the Kardashians much more than the accomplishments of Malala. Yet she is now made the face of that problem. She is not the cause. Her lifestyle and life choices may be a result, but we’re not here to judge those things. Nothing is inherently wrong with Kylie, even in the light of Malala. They are each living their lives the way they choose. One does not inform the other. If Kylie’s values do not match yours, do not use her as a role model. It’s as simple as that. But to tell others, to insist to young women around the world who are watching them, “This woman is good, this woman is bad,” you’re placing value judgments on things that simply aren’t there. Kylie’s not a humanitarian, she’d have no business in diplomacy. Why would she? Malala is different, look at the insanity and conflict she has weathered. They are simply individuals, but society’s insistence on the binary has forced us to codify one as bad and the other as good. There are plenty of girls who look up to someone like Kylie who don’t share her exact values and priorities. Personally, I think Kylie’s welcome to do what she likes. The people criticizing her for not contributing to more meaningful efforts are most likely not doing their part on that front either anyway. We all could be doing more, and if that was the ultimate message then I’d be behind that, but it’s not. And it’s not fair to place a face of blame on it when that person is ultimately just living their life.

It’s why it’s so astounding and rather heartwarming to watch Alicia and Miley as they are on the show. The two women are not eye candy. They are not second fiddle. They are not stunts, they are here because of who they are and what they have done. Two women who could not be any more different, two women who are immensely talented, two women who are looking to make an impact. And even though they ultimately are in competition against each other, as well as Adam and Blake, they are showing incredible sportsmanship thus far. Wins for their respective teams are celebrated by the other. They advocate for each other, even when they’re the only two who turn for a contestant. One such head-to-head prompts Adam to comment, “Let me get the popcorn!” (It’s the default setting. We’re about to see the two ladies go at it.) Instead, Miley advocates for Alicia, then talks about her own qualities. Alicia does the same. The contestant picks Alicia, Miley high fives her. Obviously, Miley’s disappointed at losing out on a recruit for her team, but she’s forward-sighted enough to know it’s ultimately just a win for everyone. It’s girl power, it’s empowering. And that’s important. Because there’s girls watching.

Individually, I also love how the two acquit themselves on the show. What’s amazing about Alicia Keys, is similar to what I mentioned about Mariah earlier. Keys is a foundational voice of the 00’s, and her soulful voice and her talent at the piano has inspired a generation to music. Many of the contestants cite Alicia as an influence when the judges interview them. No one else, as good as they are, carries quite that same legacy. I love when Alicia embraces that. “You came here to meet me,” she proclaims confidently as the other judges laugh, because they know it’s true. The chance to be mentored by the artist who first influenced you is incredibly enticing. But more than that, Alicia Keys as an artist is undeniable. I love that she almost doesn’t have to say anything. She doesn’t need to sell herself on a contestant. She’s Alicia Keys. You’re probably here because of her.

Miley on the other hand comes in with a deficiency. It’s the elephant in the room. People don’t like her. She’s polarizing. She stirs controversy. She’s provocative. But she needn’t worry (and obviously she doesn’t) because they said similar things about Britney and Christina (two other foundation influencers) but ultimately those talents likewise cannot be denied. Go to any comments section about The Voice, it’s countless comments of: “Big fan of the show, will not be watching because of Miley. Sad to see a judging chair go to someone so untalented.” Really?

Pulling back from this specifically for a moment, I’m weary of people calling things guilty pleasures. First of all, you either like something or you don’t. If you like it because it’s train-wreckingly bad, that’s not a guilty pleasure, that’s the reason you like it. But guilty pleasures do not extend simply to things we’re pretty sure are bad but we like them anyway. There are also guilty pleasures that are good but the majority has chosen to write them off. In this similar situation, much like Miley, is Ke$ha.

I love Ke$ha. I think she’s fucking talented, and a good songwriter, and when given the chance, a marvelous singer. I also happen to think the same thing of Miley. If you don’t like her music, if you don’t like her performances, then she’s simply not your taste. But that doesn’t automatically make her a terrible artist. She has an amazing ear for musicality, and she’s a damn good singer. I also think she’s going to be a great producer of music one day if she ever decides to perform less. But she’s not a guilty pleasure. I unabashedly listen to both of them because I legitimately enjoy them. Look up Miley singing "Jolene." Right now. Do it.

I’ll do it for you.

That husky country twang, the phrasing, the accompaniment… she’s a good artist. And it’s a damn shame that people fail to see that. Behind all the crazy outfits, the outlandish live stunts, is a mature artist. Just because this “out there” type of performance and expression is what she chooses to do with her talents instead of more subdued fare doesn’t automatically discount her as a contributor.
But what’s interesting, and in many ways empowering, is that Miley is all too aware of the predicament. When Miley advocates for herself to contestants, she extolls primarily her virtues as a very expressive performer, as someone who knows music having grown up with it, and as a performer looking to pay it forward. She downplays herself a little, except to the performers who come off as more shy, she reminds them that she’s very good at expressing herself (while in a denim jacket covered in absurdly large flowers). She encourages contestants to “go with something different.”

She knows that there are people going into this writing her off, but she’s not afraid. And it seems to be working. After the first three audition episodes, Alicia has the most recruits, with 6. Right behind her is Miley. She is technically tied with Blake for recruits, but in reality, one of Blake’s he gained outright since no other judge turned. All of Miley’s recruits she had to fight for. (Incidentally, with the exception of Blake’s aforementioned team member, every audition has been a contention.) So she is winning people over, and I hope this show manages to put her over with more people than previously, because she’ll get to show off traits that are not immediately noticeable when she’s on tour or on television: her musicality, her knack for thinking through performances, etc. She was great as a guest mentor in previous seasons, I have every confidence she’s going to be great here.

But like I said, it’s the magic of seeing the two ladies be there for the contestants and command such presence in the room. They’re both smart and sassy (Miley calling out Adam for winning only three out of the ten times he’s been a judge) and it’s very refreshing to have such outspoken, approachable, and charismatic personalities on the show. Pharrell was good, but quiet. Shakira was a bit hit-and-miss for me. I loved Gwen. I loved Usher. I love Christina but not so much on the show. And these two right now tend to bring the best of all their predecessors to the table, while being notable in their own right.

You get to watch dignity and class, with two female artists who will not resort to leaning into the hype, and instead stand on their own reputations and their accomplishments. They are assertive and articulate, they have been fittingly competitive with each other as well as the other two judges on the panel, but they haven't resorted to anything underhanded, anything personal, they have taken no potshots at each other. TV can be compelling without setting women against each other. Competition can be competitive without resorting to resentment. Both women's success is undeniable.

And the contestants are taking that seriously. They are noticing. We should too.

And to sweeten the deal, we still get a catfight every episode. The bromance and rivalry of Adam Levine and Blake Shelton is great TV. It also subtly reminds everyone that cattiness is not an inherently female trait. 

Saturday, August 27, 2016

My Level-Headed Attempt At Explaining Why Harry Potter And The Cursed Child Is More Disappointing Than Any Of My Own Cursed Children I May Have Complicated, Distant Familial Relationships With In The Future

By now, those who have long awaited its release have likely read Cursed Child. And by now, overwhelming disappointment has clouded those people’s judgment of a beloved book series and movie franchise. And by now, the apologists have also come to the fore, attempting to defend it, either on the grounds that a play is meant to be seen and not read (much like children themselves, I think), or that it’s really not as bad as people think and to give it a chance.

It sucks that the first piece of theatre I’ve gotten to write about in a while is such a drag-fest, and not a fabulous drag-fest like at LIPS or something, but instead a total drag of a time. But like my title notes, I am attempting to explain this reasonably. I don’t think the negative feedback from those who have read it is entirely misdirected or misguided. I also don’t take anything from those who have found enjoyment in it. For some, simply getting to be back in the world of Harry Potter is enough, and revisiting the characters in some way and form is magic sufficient. But I do think those who were expecting more, who had higher expectations for the result are justified in their disappointment. I agree that something with the depth of Potter should have received a higher threshold of standards.

Three main things work against Harry Potter And The Cursed Child:

- The scenes are short, lack progression, and don’t accumulate value. 
                   Something I find most unfortunate is that I see a lot of criticism leveled at Cursed Child and even some defending it are arguing, “It’s a play!” and this is completely inaccurate. If a story, even in script-form, seems thin and stagnant, that’s not a criticism of plays as opposed to novels. Certainly, a script is far stripped down from the robustness of a novel, but the dynamics of scenes should never be sacrificed. In fact, they should be even more substantial, because that’s all a play has. Those passages in between lines of dialogue in a novel, where we are privy to the inner thoughts of a character, that all has to be conveyed in only dialogue and the abilities of the actor on stage. A script needs to convey as much of that as possible to the actor. Certainly, there is always room for interpretation, but a scene always has a point, and the characters in the scene are supposed to be looking to gain something. So again, reading it may not fully immerse you while reading it as a book would, but don’t mistake that for playwriting. That’s still bad playwriting. That’s poor scene-building.
                     The basis of drama is a two-person scene. It’s the most straightforward setup in the world. In Cursed Child specifically, the scenes are practically designed to keep our two main characters in conflict, Harry and his son Albus, apart. The two characters don’t grow and change in relation to each other. One could argue that the distance of the relationship is reflected in the make-up of the scenes, which would be fine, but it does nothing to inform their relationship: Albus learns nothing of his father, Harry gains no insight in how to reach his son, nor do the secondary interactions sow mistrust of each other, Albus simply begins to resent his father more, Harry simply begins to distrust his son. But we’ll come back to characters.
                    As a result of the brevity of these scenes, it makes sense that nothing progresses throughout them. No character “wins” the scene, no characters leave a scene better or worse off because of the action or dialogue that took place during the scene. Now, short scenes are not inherently a problem. The problem here is that in addition to the scenes being short, they also achieve nothing for the characters within. They seem to cut off before deeper conversations emerge, before moments of revelation happen to our characters. Very symptomatic of that therefore, is the scenes should accumulate value but they don’t. Things that happen in previous scenes do not directly have bearing on later scenes. Harry and Albus do not eventually mend their relationships directly from the events of the play. If they did, the pivotal emotional breakthrough would have happened during the gang’s final confrontation with the main villain. Instead, it happens in a wrap-up scene post adventure. Harry and Voldemort apparently cannot kill each other with their given wands because of twin wand cores. Even if you take this as complete bullshit, it at least gives a reason to the proceedings. It also inherently ties Harry and Voldemort to this plot specifically. It can be nobody else because they alone share wand twins. Albus ends up coming in a clutch during the final battle because... he's the smallest and could fit in a grate? So. Nothing to inform us of the relationship, nothing to tie them to the proceedings of the plot around them. So again, I just have to reiterate that plays are not inherently thin in immersion. The problem here is the problem with any story that disappoints: it is still simply bad writing.

- The characters lack motivation or intention for anything they do.
                    So now we have to address the deeper problem than things not happening, because those “things” are perpetrated by characters who don’t know what they’re doing. I think this could easily be the main issue of the play. A character has to be sympathetic, we have to at least be understanding of the decisions they are making, even if we don’t necessarily agree with them. The problem with so many characters in this piece is that they are doing things for absolutely no reason. Albus’s plan to avoid going to Hogwarts comes completely out of nowhere. From one conversation he overhears he latches on to a very specific event from his father’s past and decides that can fix everything. At this point, we’re still unclear just what he’s trying to prove. I think it’s that he thinks fixing a mistake made by his father will somehow distinguish him from the famous Potter, except that it’s 1) a plan that further intertwines him to his father’s legacy rather than distinguishing him from it, 2) the death of Cedric Diggory was not Harry’s fault, and 3) it’s overall a piss-poor plan full of too many variables that they cannot account for. Even if you buy into the idea that Delphi manipulates the entire thing, it is then her plan that makes absolutely no sense.
                      I am absolutely willing to believe in large, complicated plans coming together in film or any medium simply because the group is that good and their timing is impeccable. But the work has to be there. There is no reason that Delphi decides to target Amos Diggory. There is no reason that Amos yelling at Harry should be enough to motivate Albus to fix his father’s mistake. Delphi would also have to have known that Albus felt this way about his father, despite only meeting him briefly the very night she accompanies Amos to the Potter house, presumably to carry out this plan in the first place. And this is all the characters. Albus doesn’t give me enough reason to be behind him for his plan. I don’t understand why Harry flies off the rails about a curse, as if he’s the only one in this world who believes in curses. I don’t understand why McGonagall bends to Harry’s irrational wishes under threat of… what, exactly, I don’t know. Malfoy doesn’t give me a reason that he’s chumming around with the trio, and similarly Ron remains largely absent from the proceedings for no real reason.
                        Aristotle’s elements of tragedy, which get extended to all drama, has a loose hierarchy, listing plot at the top, character second. But honestly, character is tops for me. As long as the characters are characters I care about or are at the very least interesting. Characters doing nothing but talking, as long as they have opinions informed by their background and mutual histories is more interesting to me than boring, uninteresting characters doing something, because that makes me not care about what they’re doing. So a bad plot can easily be saved by good characters, but bad characters will make the plot bad, regardless of how good it was in theory. Cursed Child suffers already from a convoluted, bad plot. But the characters, with motivations unclear or nonexistent, make it infinitely worse. All of them are plot devices moving from one required beat to another simply to fulfill the requirements of a plot that feels predetermined, separate from the characters.
I think that’s one of the effective things that sets apart the Harry Potter books. The plots aren’t simply happening to the characters. They are as much intrinsic to the plot as the plot is to them. If you took out these characters from the play and just replaced them with generic names, it doesn’t change anything. The plot operates independently of the characters and that’s not good, because again, what the characters do and why they do it makes us care about their progress.
                        What would a real story about Harry Potter and his friends be about 19 years later? I don’t know for sure, but what about Harry’s struggles of remaining relevant, or living up to the reputation he possessed at half his age? What about the progression of the marriage of Ron and Hermione, two characters who seem to have so little in common except that they care deeply for each other? Potter’s relationship to his child is not an inherently bad idea, nor are the specifics of this plot, but it feels forced upon these characters, without getting at the heart of what makes it unique. Why is Harry finding himself unable to relate to Albus? Why does Albus resent Harry so much, despite the fact that it seems Harry has sunken into irrelevance long before Albus came around? What more reason is there for Delphi to try and meet her father, and why does she believe this is the best plan of action? Again, the characters move as dictated by the plot points set before them, not the other way around, which makes for flat, undefined at best, and inconsistent at worst characters.
                  And speaking of the characters, who are some of these people?
                  I would say almost everyone is hilariously out of character in this story. What makes it especially sad is that it’s arguably the strongest selling point for a follow-up story based on a beloved franchise. We’d like to see where these characters have developed and grown in the past 19 years since we last saw them. And the answers are disappointing. Harry, despite already having raised two children, is impossibly incapable as a father to his third child. Ginny does no better, offering no help or insight. Ron is reduced to comic relief, it seems they took a cue from movie Ron rather than book Ron. The strong women of the books are similarly reduced to piles of irrationality, with Hermione ineffective as Minister, and McGonagall bending to Harry’s will as Headmistress. Draco sulks with guilt instead of grief over his wife’s death and similar to Harry has no parenting skills. He also shortsells his two schoolyears friends Crabbe and Goyle in an offhanded comment where he confesses he would have much preferred being friends with the power trio of Hogwarts. Dumbledore has an extremely puzzling cameo that’s completely out of line with his character from the books and even the movies. This could perhaps be explained away by a line McGonagall says to Harry, that paintings are not the full person, they are memories and fragments. But even then, a character that was constantly a voice of reason offers wild and unfounded advice to a still-influential Harry, who even after having had 19 years of reflection on how Dumbledore acted, still holds him in as high regard. Even Cedric Diggory, who only appears for a scene, has his memory tainted with a weird exchange between him and Albus and Scorpius.
                     It’s less indicative of growth and transformation and rings more like a sitcom that has persisted too long, and the characters have become exaggerated, broad caricatures of themselves, shells and shreds of what they used to be. Ron was always a little dopey, here he’s the clown. Hermione could get frazzled, so she’s a shipwreck here, and Harry seems solely based on his most hormonal self from Order Of The Phoenix. And personally, I find Dumbledore and McGonagall to just be straight character assassinations.

 - And finally, the plot is messy and convoluted.
                       And of course, even despite truncated scenes of no substance and paper thin characters, the plot we’re left with is still not anything to write home about. I know other people have said it, but it does read a lot like fan fiction, and fan fiction has its place, certainly. Revisiting existing plot points with a twist can be a fun what-if exercise. That’s the basis of the story here. Albus and Scorpius venture through the Triwizard Tournament events of Goblet Of Fire to keep Cedric Diggory alive. To what end? They set about their plan through the use of a bootleg Time Turner. Let’s put aside the fact that right at the end of the story, Draco Malfoy reveals he had a fully functional Time Turner all along. Put that aside. We know how messy time travel plots can be and how quickly they can unravel. There’s a reason Prisoner of Azkaban is the only time travel story of the original seven books and a reasoning behind Rowling then retroactively destroying every Time Turner in existence to avoid the mess of implications their existence entails. The issue I have with this particular time travel plot is that it prevents any character growth for almost everyone involved. They’re simply playing parts at different points in time, and in some cases, in different timelines. So the interesting implications of Scorpius’ character in the darkest timeline, where he is heralded as a hero of purebloods, is never explored and this character development is irrelevant anyway because it’s in a timeline that doesn’t count. It also alters nothing inherently about the “real” Scorpius, the one we’ve been following throughout the play thus far. With the way the scenes move and end, insightful conversations and meaningful moments are taken away from us because the scene is over. We have to get to the next part.
                    The inability of the plot to exhibit character growth is exacerbated by the fact that the play still strictly adheres to the timeline of a Hogwarts school year. So our two biggest characters and our main conflict, Harry and Albus, are separated except for sporadic scenes, often taking place the night before Albus goes off for another year to school. Was there are any attempt between the two to mend things during the three months of summer? Apparently not. Something cannot be designated a plothole simply because it happens offstage or offscreen. But a huge problem is that according to the action of the play, nothing happens offstage. The characters exist only in their scenes and remain in stasis while off. There’s nothing wrong with things happening offstage that the audience doesn’t see. It implies that there is life happening in the world of the play outside of what we can see, that there is a larger world outside of the confines of the story. But each scene only builds from the previous scene, which in some cases take place a year apart. That’s incredibly poor planning on the plot. And to reiterate the motivations of the characters, because they seem to lack consistent motivations, the plot itself lacks coherent momentum. Suddenly, we are in the past, and Delphi decides to simply abandon Albus and Scorpius, I guess believing that since they have no clue as to where they are or what Delphi’s intentions are, there is nothing they can do. I still think it’s a hilarious oversight for the daughter of the Dark Lord, who also managed to flawlessly bring this harebrained plan together, anticipating every single choice and idiocy along the way.

Are there good things in the play? The biggest redeeming quality is Scorpius Malfoy. About a quarter of the way in, he gets older and suddenly becomes this excellent, fully realized character. Besides being literally the only one of those in the play, he is a genuinely good character: smart, insecure, funny, and loyal. He’s a little bit uncool, but also quietly confident. I found myself loving Scorpius like I did characters in the original books. Other than that, there is one moment of drama I also was genuinely moved by. During the aforementioned scene where Malfoy confesses to not liking Crabbe and Goyle much, and being jealous of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Ginny lets the fa├žade fall and confesses the same. Harry is taken aback by this, but Ginny admits that she was also constantly jealous of the close-knit bond of the trio, and it’s a marvelous bit of character development, arguably the most she’s had in eight stories she’s been a part of. That’s wonderful, and should be what the play is serving in general: insight into more sidelined characters, opportunity to develop character dynamics further. What’s so disappointing mostly is that there is so much opportunity squandered and with source material as strong as the seven Harry Potter novels, there really is no reason to come up with such a lackluster plot helmed by poorly written characters.

Obviously, simply reading a script is not a full experience of the play. It has to be seen to be fully enjoyed and critiqued. But that doesn’t mean analysis and criticism of a script by itself is without warrant. I went to school for theatre, we took classes where we analyzed many scripts without ever seeing them. The script can still be judged on the merits of clarity of story, conveyance of character motivation, and quality of lines. Again, not everything can be fully judged, because sometimes things depend on how actors portray characters and deliver lines, or things can be interpreted differently based on staging or a more realized context. Cursed Child lacks these things, the qualities that make a script good. A script that forces those reading it to ask the questions, “What is my character doing?” “Why is my character doing these things?” “How am I supposed to make this moment work as an actor?” but not in an exploratory ‘getting into character’ kind of way, rather in a “Please someone explain to me what’s going on” kind of way, then the scriptwriter has failed to properly convey intentions of the story.

At the conclusion of the story, we’re left with Harry and Albus, their conflict resolved, their relationship on the mend, Harry revises a line he had once said to Albus in the epilogue. “You’re named after two very great men, with very big flaws. And those flaws made them better men.” Really, Harry? Dumbledore’s arrogance and disregard for life and safety and Snape’s unrequited pining and love for a woman that did not love him made them better? No, Harry. It is how Dumbledore continuously sought to be better and threw himself into the fray first to overcome his arrogance, and how Snape chose to protect the one remaining thing on Earth that reminded him of her despite also being reminded by that thing of his childhood tormentors and even going undercover to deceived the most powerful Dark Wizard of all time, for love. Simply, it is not their flaws that made them great. It is how those men chose to confront their flaws and not allow them to define their characters that made them great. Essentially, they are great men despite those flaws. This sums up Cursed Child for me: continuously missing the point.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Only 7 Christmas Songs I Can Stand Anymore

As I've gotten older, I've had to face one inevitable fact: I've grown less and less warm to Christmas music. It's not that I hate it, I don't have that strong of a feeling toward it, but I've just found that years removed from being a kid, I've found less and less Christmas music to be excited about.

I love really alternative stuff, that's always fun. Punk Rock Christmas, James Brown's, Elvis', and Motown's Christmas Albums are all really awesome. And who doesn't love Feliz Navidad? Once? (Not more than once.)

But the majority of the time, I just haven't bothered putting Christmas music back on my iPod at this time of year (I didn't do it all this year) and I've managed to avoid any stores or areas where they're blasting carols.

I still find a lot of the religious music moving, surprisingly. But it has to be done especially well. Too often, I find singers emoting way too much on a song as simple as Little Drummer Boy or The First Noel. Just sing the song. I'm sure the Lord would've preferred to sleep anyway.
(But if you want to hear a really good religious song done well, find Whitney Houston's Go Tell It On the Mountain. And then go tell it on a mountain how much you love it.)

Here's The Only 7 Christmas Songs I Can Stand Anymore (Even Though I Cheated a Bit)

1.) All I Want for Christmas Is You - Love Actually
Move aside Mariah Carey, because I prefer Olivia Olson's joyous, more innocent version of the song. The fact that the scene is one of many great scenes in this ridiculous movie makes it even more special.
This song actually leads me to talk about the entire soundtrack, which is awesome. It's not a traditional "Christmas" album, but it's romantic, it's uplifting, and it's upbeat. What more do you want from a Christmas album?
I do make a couple replacements... "Christmas is All Around" is kind of an annoying song, so I replaced it with the audio of the opening scene I lifted straight from the movie, complete with my favorite Billy Mack (played by Bill Nighy) quote: "Oh! Fuck wank bugger shitting arse head and hole!" And I replace the heartbreaking track of Joni Mitchell singing "Both Sides Now" with a live version of the same song. It's amazing. And on the song Hugh Grant dances to ("Jump" by the Pointer Sisters) I add in the radio DJ's message before the post, and I splice in the bit of dialogue he has with his assistant, before the music cuts back in (which doesn't happen in the movie, but I thought was funny).
And if a guy ever says he hates Love Actually, it's because he has no soul. 

2.) Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree - Home Alone
It's a pretty definitive Christmas album if ever there was one, composed by one of the masters of cinematic scores, John Williams.
Now, there are three albums to be aware of: the first movie's soundtrack, the second movie's, and a Home Alone Christmas album combining highlight holiday songs from both movies. More of my favorites exist on the first movie's soundtrack though, but incidentally, Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" is only an in-movie sound cue and not included on the soundtrack, so I added it in, because out of everything, that's actually my favorite song in this whole movie.
There is admittedly one other change I make to the soundtrack on my iPod, and it's "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas", because I just love Judy Garland's version and prefer it to Mel Torme's, used in the movie.
I would've changed "Carol of the Bells" too, but this is a really great version, and I have a separate version that also makes this list.
Other than that, enjoy Williams' awesome score!

3.) O Tannenbaum - A Charlie Brown Christmas
There's three things I can't imagine a Christmas without: the Coca Cola Bears, the Christmas Story marathon, and Charlie Brown. The Vince Guaraldi Trio capture perfectly not only Christmas joy, but the spirit of the Peanuts perfectly.
You can hear hints of Charlie Brown sound cues throughout, and there's a lot of great tracks, but this one that opens the Christmas special, is absolutely my favorite. Anytime a classic get remixed tastefully, I'm always in favor of.
Anytime I hear this soundtrack though, I can immediately see every scene from the Charlie Brown Christmas special crystal clear. It's a testament to how good the Trio is.
People also point to Linus as the most inoffensive evangelist of all time, with his retelling of the Christmas story, and even though he points to Jesus as the reason for the season, we can all take from that what Jesus really stood for: kindness, peace, and love.
I do make one change to the soundtrack though: I substitute the instrumental "Christmas Song" for Nat King Cole's version. Because you also can't have Christmas without Nat King Cole's "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." (So that's four things. Whoops.)

4.) Don't Save It All For Christmas Day - Clay Aiken
The schlockiest holiday song I have on my list is this cover of Celine Dion's Christmas song by American Idol season 2 runner-up Clay Aiken.
Like any Christmas song, the message is incredibly simple, and it's not overdone here. Sung live, Aiken really powers out the key change note and it's awe-inspiring. On the recording, it's a little more subdued, but by no means less impressive.
The thing that separates Aiken from Celine for me too is that I believe Aiken when he sings it. I believe him when he sings anything. There's an inherent sincerity to his voice that Celine, for all her power and bravado, often misses for me.
I can forgive the corny lyrics and sappy, saccharine ideology if only because Clay's voice carries absolute conviction that almost makes me say, "Oh, of course, why didn't I think of doing this sooner!?"

5.) Christmas Eve / Sarajevo 12/24 - Trans-Siberian Orchestra
When I talk about remixing old songs into something new and awesome, this is the end all, be all. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra's medley is an epic version of "Carol of the Bells." Mixed in is "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen", and it's entirely instrumental. There's mostly no bells though, because it's taken over by an impressive string section (electric guitars, violins, and the like) and drums and if you see it live, an amazing light disply.
I like my Christmases cozy and intimate too, but every once in a while, you just need a truly epic and bombastic anthem to get behind and this is it right here. I've heard other attempts to modernize other songs and they're mostly hit or miss, but this one is right on the mark.

6.) Batman Returns Soundtrack
Now, this one is a bit more of a personal call for me, your mileage may very.
I love Nightmare Before Christmas, but it makes far more sense to listen to that at Halloween for me. There's just not enough of it that's Christmas enough for me, with the exception of "Making Christmas" (of which, I really love the Rise Against cover for the Nightmare Revisited soundtrack. Marilyn Manson sings "This Is Halloween" so, that should be enough argument for you to download it already).
But Danny Elfman still gets representation on the list here, because much like how the Vince Guaraldi Trio found the intersection of Christmas and the Peanuts, Elfman finds a way to combine Gotham's most ruthless vigilante with a bright and shiny holiday. Of course, there's nothing shiny and happy about a Batman-based Christmas soundtrack, but like I said, this is a pretty personal call for me.
When I was a kid, Batman Returns was the predominant version of Batman I had (The Animated Series was just starting to make a name for itself) and I had already seen the original Batman movie. But this one, set at Christmas, and with a really excellent SNES game to accompany it, immediately sends me back to childhood.
I can clearly feel the carpet beneath my numb feet as I knelt in front of the glow of the television, playing through Batman Returns which had much of the same soundtrack as the movie.
In particular, the "Fight Against the Circus" and "Wild Ride / Rooftops" evokes enough Christmas spirit to me, along with a sense of Batman adventure, and is completely Elfman-esque, reminding me of both Beetlejuice and Nightmare.  
Again, your mileage may vary, but if you're looking for an interesting, off-beat Christmas album, I think you won't be disappointed with the greatness of this instrumental.

7.) Joy to the World - Glenn Close, Placido Domingo
And finally, a little old-school traditional Christmas song of the religious nature never hurt anyone.
Especially if it's one of the Three Tenors and frikkin' Glenn Close knockin' the roof off the joint.
I don't enjoy many of the religious songs anymore, like I said, but other than "Whitney's Go Tell It On the Mountain" (and also Julie Andrews' "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear", if you like), this is probably all you need.
Domingo sings the first verse, Close plays it close to the vest in the second, and then they both just let it rip on the final verse. There's back-phrasing, belting, and bravado like you've never heard. Backed by the London Symphony Orchestra, the result is astronomical.

Happy Holidays, everyone!