Mala’s Best of 2018 Pop Culture Round-Up

2018 has felt approximately 224 years long, so I honestly don’t remember a lot of the pop culture I consumed and/or enjoyed. It’s like a blur. And that’s funny, because I feel like I immersed myself in film, TV, and books even more deeply than I did in 2017. It’s probably the most productive thing I did—-if you don’t count moving to an entirely new city.

Favorite Books
Lake Silence by Anne Bishop
The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty
The Belles by Dhonielle Clayton
The Governess Game by Tessa Dare
The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert
Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Tempest by Beverly Jenkins
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse
Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri

Favorite Movies
Black Panther
Creed 2
Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse
The Hate U Give
To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
*Honorable mentions to Venom and The Meg, because they were so goddamn delightful.

Favorite Shows
Black Lightning (The CW)
Descendants of the Sun (Kdrama)
The Good Place (NBC)
Murphy Brown (CBS)
One Day at a Time (Netflix)
Something in the Rain (Kdrama)
Siren (Freeform)
Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access)

Favorite Lead Actress: Constance Wu, Crazy Rich Asians; Eileen Davidson, The Young and the Restless; Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder; Sarayu Blue, I Feel Bad.

Favorite Lead Actor: Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther; Cress Williams, Black Lightning; Drake Hogestyn, Days of our Lives (Don’t even laugh! 2018 was Drake’s year!).

Favorite Supporting Actress: Camryn Grimes, The Young and the Restless; Letitia Wright, Black Panther.

Favorite Supporting Actor: Michael Mealor, The Young and the Restless; Russell Hornsby, The Hate U Give.

Favorite Scene Stealer: Manny Jacinto as Jason on The Good Place; John Aniston as Victor on Days of Our Lives; Rita Moreno as Lydia on One Day at a Time.

Favorite Ensemble: One Day at a Time, The Good Place, Black Lightning, Descendants of the Sun.

Favorite Canon ‘Ships: Eleanor and Chidi, The Good Place; Anissa and Grace, Black Lightning; Ben/Maddie/Ryn, Siren; Michael and Ash, Star Trek: Discovery.

Favorite Non-canon ‘Ships: The MCU’s Bucky and Shuri, Y&R’s Kyle and Mariah, Y&R’s Kyle and Mattie, Solo‘s Han and Lando.

Favorite Piece of Fan Fiction I Wrote This Year: The Shape of You (Kyle/Mattie) and Quality Reassurance (Bucky/Shuri).

Favorite Twitter Account: Chris Evans as Golden Retrievers, @retrievans.


Always and Forever: Why The Originals is Great Vampire Drama

Forever Knight. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Angel. Moonlight. True Blood. The Vampire Diaries. There’s been a lot of beloved vampire content on TV over the years. I’m here to tell you that The CW’s The Originals, which took its final bow on Aug. 1, ranks at the top.

This is actually a bit funny, considering I had little use for this ancient clan of vampires when they were introduced on The Vampire Diaries. Klaus, who was quite the fearsome Big Bad in the books by L.J. Smith was kind of underwhelming. Though actor Joseph Morgan’s theatrical scenery chewing was mesmerizing, as a character Klaus felt like a Napoleonic manbaby whose slaughter of people was rooted in temper tantrums. I did like his stern older brother Elijah (the delicious Daniel Gillies) and his perfect combo of sociopathy + suit porn, and their inexplicably Australian sister Rebekah (Claire Holt), but I really didn’t root for them in any meaningful way. Not with the established core cast of Salvatore brothers, Elena, and Bonnie right there! In fact, my reaction to them getting their own show was, and I quote, “Tell me again why Klaus needs his own spin-off? Isn’t it bad enough that he ate #TheVampireDiaries with a giant, whiny spoon?”

Marcel and Freya each got to shine.

I was soon eating crow with that same spoon. Because remarkably, on their own series—on their own turf of New Orleans—the Mikaelsons blossomed. The one-note vampires stirring up trouble in small-town Virginia turned into a gothic family saga of Shakespearean proportions. Klaus’ temper and constant posturing—baffling on The Vampire Diaries—made so much more sense amidst familial power struggles going back thousands of years! And each of his siblings and loved ones, imbued with their own goals, their own responsibilities to this loose cannon, got a chance to shine. We got to meet Klaus’ adopted son (and Rebekah’s long-time love), Marcel Gerard, played by the staggeringly hot and charismatic Charles Michael Davies. And the eldest Mikaelson sibling, Freya, who was long-thought dead. Awakened from a curse and brought back to her family, Freya (Riley Voelkel) quickly became the fiercest champion of their safety—almost at the cost of herself, until she realized she was allowed to have her own life. Indeed, the Mikaelson family motto— “always and forever”—often proved as dysfunctional as it was devotional…and provided the core thrust of the series. No matter what transpired over the course of five seasons, everything came back to those three little words.

Continue reading

Mala’s Best of 2017 Pop Culture Round-Up

2017 was a year where I really needed the escape into pop culture. I buried myself in books and TV as much as possible (gee, I wonder why?) — but it didn’t always work out! I tried and then tapped out of The CW’s Riverdale. Despite all of the X-Men connections, something about The Gifted on FOX just puts me to sleep. I bailed on Showtime’s highly anticipated revival of Twin Peaks after four episodes. There’s only so much self-indulgence and [ominous whooshing] a gal can take (and I don’t buy the ’18-hour movie’ defense). I changed cable packages and lost access to OWN, so I’m behind on Queen Sugar. Plus, I had to put one of my favorite soaps — The Bold and the Beautiful — on pause because it stopped being fun to watch.

But, thankfully, there was still more than enough media to keep me engaged! Check out my faves and raves.

Favorite Books
White Hot by Ilona Andrews
Etched in Bone by Anne Bishop
Stillhouse Lake and Killman Creek by Rachel Caine
An Unnatural Vice by KJ Charles
An Extraordinary Union and A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole
Take the Lead by Alexis Daria
Girl on the Verge by Pintip Dunn
When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
You Bring the Distant Near by Mitali Perkins
Hate To Want You by Alisha Rai
The Red by Tiffany Reisz
American Prince by Sierra Simone
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Favorite Shows
Days of our Lives (NBC)
The Exorcist (FOX)
The Get Down (canceled by Netflix)
Good Behavior (TNT)
The Good Place (NBC)
The Originals (The CW)
The Punisher (Netflix)
Underground (canceled by those assholes at WGN)
Wynonna Earp (SyFy)

Continue reading

Netflix’s The Punisher is a Goddamn Romantic Lead

I know. It’s a weird and bold statement to make. And it might remind some people of all those ridiculous post-Fifty Shades of Grey debates about the unhealthiness of women getting off on violence. (Knock that shit off. Liking kink does not mean we want people to abuse us, folks.) But work with me here. I’m going to try to articulate why Frank Castle, the long-running Marvel Comics vigilante, is — in the capable hands of showrunner Steve Lightfoot and portrayer Jon Bernthal — the hero of a romance. It has nothing do with his capacity to hurt other people. It has everything to do with the hurt he carries within.

Let’s get the shallow part out of the way first: Jon Bernthal is ridiculously attractive. Not in that conventional Hollywood pretty-boy sense, but in a much more earthy and primal way. To paraphrase my friend Charlotte Stein, it’s like all of his features got in a fight and he came out the winner. I don’t want this devolve into X-rated musings on his nose and his ears, so let’s just say that the man radiates charisma and, in the guise of the Punisher, it’s ratcheted up to an alarming degree. The harshness of his face, the angles and curves of his body…the camera lingers on all of it lovingly and obsessively. He’s a brutally beautiful man. And his voice…? Good lord. They could bottle that rasp and sell it as an exfoliant at Sephora for $50 an ounce.

Continue reading

Will Game of Thrones Season 8 Sink the Jon and Daenerys Ship?

With season seven of HBO’s Game of Thrones wrapped and season eight denied us until 2019, I would just like to say one thing: I told you so! Sort of. Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) took their fraught political alliance to a very naked level in the season finale — but a romantic endgame isn’t necessarily in the cards! And despite the giant relationship anvils dropped over the course of a few frenetically paced episodes — with advisors Tyrion and Davos basically dragging out their ‘shipper pom-poms — many viewers are still reeling from Jon and Dany taking this highly incesty step. There’s a lot to process!

First, there’s the storyline implications of the Mother of Dragons and the King in the North doing the Westerosi Watusi. Neither has any idea they’re related, and their seafaring sexcapade was set, ominously and ickily, to Bran Stark and Samwell Tarly talking about their shared DNA. Ew. Jon, the guys revealed, is actually Aegon Targaryen, rightful heir to the Iron Throne. Yes, that throne that Dany has had her eye on for years. You think she’s going to let some cute curly-haired upstart steal that throne just because he bent the knee to her and then rocked her boat? These two can’t possibly have much of a honeymoon phase in their relationship with that truth-bomb ticking away — and their allies and enemies are going to be rocked to the core as well. (Except the Whitewalkers. I’m pretty sure they have no horse in this race.) Tyrion, who had the misfortune to overhear Jon and Dany’s game of moans, certainly didn’t look thrilled. Despite all of his teasing from the weeks before, he’s no doubt worried about what the hookup means for his beloved queen and the Iron Throne — and that’s without knowing that Jon Snow is Rhaegar Targaryen’s heir!

Continue reading

Sestras Before Misters: Orphan Black’s Rah-Rah Sisterhood

Sarah. Helena. Cosima. Alison. Krystal. Rachel. MK. Beth Childs, whose death set a stunning chain of events in motion. Any devout member of Orphan Black’s “Clone Club” knows those names by heart. For those new to the show, which is airing its fifth and final reason right now, here’s a revelation: All of those characters are played by the same person, the jaw-droppingly talented Tatiana Maslany. While they are technically genetic clones, the brilliant and mind-bending BBC America series boils the relationship down to a level more spiritual than cellular. They’re sisters. No matter what.

It’s not easy to find a show where a romantic ‘ship isn’t somehow the driving force, but Orphan Black is sublime when it comes to prioritizing family over flings. There have been memorable relationships — the scorching chemistry between Paul (Dylan Bruce) and Sarah will never be forgotten — but even if we appreciate Alison and Donnie’s quirky and steadfast marriage or Cosima and Delphine’s beautiful love story, it’s the sisters who matter the most. It’s the sisters we want to see “end up together.”

Continue reading

If Game of Thrones’ Grey Worm & Missandei Die, We Riot!

Missandei-and-Grey-Worm-460There are more dragons than there are black people in the core cast of HBO’s Game of Thrones — a show on which at least six people die before breakfast every day. So, you might understand why I’m petrified that the achingly beautiful Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) will bite the dust sometime between the current season 7 and the final season 8. If they do…? I say we riot!

On a show that prides itself on over-the-top violence, over-the-top sex, and over-the-top sexual violence, the gentle, quiet, love story of Daenerys Targaryen’s two trusted companions has been a welcome balm. Grey Worm, forcibly castrated and enslaved as a young boy, now serves as the commander of Dany’s army. Missandei, also a survivor of enslavement, is Dany’s translator and general bestie (as much as someone can be pals with the Mother of Dragons). And, frankly, most of the time I like them better than anybody in that particular story arc.

Continue reading