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)

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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.

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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!

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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.”

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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.

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Are Jon Snow and Daenerys Endgame on Game of Thrones?

-HBO

The seventh — and penultimate — season of Game of Thrones premieres July 16, and I’m telling you right now that the most important seats at this show’s table belong to Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Actually, scratch the plural on those seats. It’s one big ol’ chair with Jon in Dany’s lap (or the other way around, if you prefer). Because everything in this series has been leading up to the inevitable team-up of these two characters — both on the throne and in a bed!

I know what you’re thinking: “But he’s her nephew!” Dude, Dany breastfed three dragons. I’m not all that concerned about whether her hooking up with a relative she’s never met is inappropriate. See also: Jaime and Cersei Lannister. Jon turning out to be a lost Targaryen (child of Dany’s brother Rhaegar and Ned Stark’s sister Lyanna) is nowhere near as creepy as the incestuous bone-town that is King’s Landing.

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The Power of Fictional Female Friendships

Book boyfriends are great and all, but it’s galpals who’ll help you kill three bottles of wine and then bury some bodies! So move over, Valentine’s Day: Let’s pull a Leslie Knope and talk Galentine’s Day, celebrating some of fiction’s fun female friendships!

Too often in romance ― and, really, fiction in general ― we see the “not like other girls” trope, where the heroine is a special sparkly unicorn, full of virtue and made of sugar cookie batter, and all other women are sluts and bitches. Frankly, that’s sexist, regressive, awful and not all that entertaining. That’s why, as a reader, I find myself drawn to series where women have each other’s backs no matter what. Take Lisa Kleypas’ Wallflower series. It’s probably the first time, at least in historical romance, that I can recall encountering a group of women who stuck together. Before that, I kept stumbling upon these poor loner heroines who’d end up running around a dreary estate with an alpha hero and his nefarious staff and relatives ― and nary a friend to go, “Oh, girl, no. GTFO!” That’s not the case with Annabelle, Lillian, Evie and Daisy. Sure, they’re drawn together by their common goal of getting off the wall and landing a husband, but from Secrets of a Summer Night all the way to Scandal in Spring, you know that they’d cut someone for messing with one of them! And I mean literally. Not a cut direct.

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