I Need More Stuff to Review

I’ve been struggling to find stuff to review every week, partly because I haven’t always had time to read new books, watch new shows, or play new games, but also partly because so much of the stuff I find these days has been out for so long it isn’t super relevant anymore. In terms of games and shows or movies, a couple of years old is enough to fade into irrelevance online. Books often have a long lifespan in the public eye, but not always, and a lot of the books I’ve picked up have tended to fall into the “cult following” area and I haven’t been able to find them online. I still review stuff I enjoy, of course, but don’t always write about it when I feel like I’ve got nothing to add to what is already online.

Which is why I’ve started asking for recommendations of books, comics, games, movies, TV shows, and media in any form. I posted on Twitter today (and have been getting so many responses it gets difficult to keep up with them all now that everyone is home from their day jobs and checking their notifications) and have gotten a lot of links to books, a couple graphic novels, some story or poetry collections, and one webcomic. I’ve gotten so many things I might need to start doing reviews more than once a week if I seriously plan to review everything. I don’t even know if that’s going to be possible, given the sheer number of responses over the last couple of hours alone.

I’m looking forward to it, though. It feels nice to be able to help out people who are launching their careers or trying to make a name for themselves on the self-publishing market. One day, I’ll likely be right there with them, trying to get exposure and reviews for my book so other people will become more interested in reading it. I hope someone else is willing to review my books then. Additionally, it’ll maybe get exposure for the other stuff I offer on my blog, the various poems and bits of fiction I post fairly regularly (still trying to get back on the “poem a week” horse and my crazy work schedule still hasn’t let up so it’s not happening), and I would love that. I love it when people read my stuff, so I can understand the excitement people feel when they see someone actually asking for books to review.

All that being said, I’d love if you recommended some things to me! Anything is fair game, at this point. As long as it is published and available for me to obtain, I will review it. Got an indie game you’re working on? Send it along! I can’t promise I’ll review it immediately, but I am happy to buy a copy and put it on my list. Know someone who is trying to launch a book series or a webcomic? Comment or email a link and I’ll check them out! All of us creative people are in this together and it never hurts to help someone out as long as you’re not putting yourself out too much. We both have something to gain from this and there’s no losers in this scenario. Except people who don’t like it when people share things they like, I guess. They lose out big time.

I don’t know if it’ll generate sales for these people, I don’t know if it’s going to get them a lot of exposure considering the relatively small number of views I get in a given month, but it’ll be a good project and it most-certainly can’t hurt.

My Favorite Cop Show

One of the first shows I ever watched on streaming Netflix was Psych. I’d just gotten my own account, since I had gone to college and my parents didn’t approve of me wanting to use their account to watch TV shows from HBO that involved the occasional bit of nudity and tons of murder (Dexter), so I got my own account. Around the same time, I became friends with a fellow English Major who works mostly on comics and she started what would eventually become a pattern of recommending TV shows I’d love by insisting that I watch Psych.

I did and I loved it. The casual humor that each character engages in feels so incredibly human and you can really see the bonds between the characters as they grow and change over the course of the show. The action is fairly low-key, always play third-fiddle to the mystery nature of the show and the comedy that keeps the whole things from getting too serious until the third season. There is danger involved in some of the episodes, but the plucky cheerfulness of the protagonist, Shawn Spencer, keeps it light until he admits that he needs to stop goofing around to focus on a case.

Shawn isn’t your typical detective, to be fair. He pretends to be a psychic detective in order to avoid getting in trouble with the police for always calling in spot-on tips for cases he sees on the news. In reality, he is using an extreme attention to detail, what appears to be a photographic memory, and amazing deductive reasoning skills to solve cases that are troubling even the head detective of the local (Santa Barbara) police force, Carlton Lassiter (which is probably my favorite name ever). Shawn shows up on the scene, makes a few while claims based on what he’s observed, and gets hired to help Lassiter and his partner solve a disappearance.

Shawn, excited for the new opportunity to goof around and get paid for the crazy antics he claims are his psychic powers manifesting, brings in his best friend, Burton Guster, who is a rather ordinary pharmaceutical sales representative. Gus, as he’s called whenever Shawn isn’t introducing him to someone new, is pragmatic, realistic, sensible, and cautious. He is the opposite of Shawn and keeps him grounded whenever he gets too caught up in his antics to focus on what is going on. Despite their clear personality conflicts, you can easily see how close the two friends are because Gus not only puts up with Shawn’s games, but leans into them with an ease that can only result from experience. Gus never misses a beat and is always ready to back up whatever hair-brained scheme Shawn is trying to pull as long it won’t get either of them killed, break too many laws, or result in Gus losing his job.

The two of them eventually open their own psychic detective agency, with Shawn doing most of the detecting and Gus managing the business side of things, even if he only does it reluctantly at first because Shawn forged his signature on a lease for their rental space. Throughout the series, Gus keeps their business running and Shawn grounded, while Shawn gets them cases and keeps their lives from stagnating or ever being boring. They make an excellent pair and the chemistry between the actors is amazing. Unlike most other characters who had to struggle through an awkward introductory phase before you could really feel their comfort around each other, Shawn and Gus felt like best friends from the very beginning, with all of the petty arguments, unconditional support, and touching moments of true friendship you’d expect of people who have been close friends for over two decades.

Unlike a lot of TV shows I’ve watched that were produced during the same period, the characters in Psych never stop feeling like people. Even my second favorite Cop Show, Castle, starts to lose that as the seasons go on and the characters just seem to be able to endlessly go on despite everything that happens. Gus gets pissed at Shawn and his behavior changes for a while. Shawn and Juliet, the detective junior partner to Lassiter, have a complicated relationship as they flirt with each other, that changes based on their development and other relationships. The chief of the police goes from being a grumpy woman attempting to do her best at her job and find a way to turn it from an interim position into a full one to being a warm but still very cross woman who won’t take any shit from her subordinates or contractors. Even Shawn’s dad goes from being an angry father with unreasonably high expectations of his son to being an important part of Shawn’s support network who just wants to make sure his son is doing well.

Now, even though it isn’t available on Netflix anymore, I recommend watching it. Buy the seasons or watch it on Amazon’s streaming service. I recommend buying it if you’ve got the money, since there are some weird audio/video sync issues with the Amazon episodes I’ve been watching that have taken almost an entire season to get used to (or have mostly vanished. It is hard to tell, sometimes). The eight seasons are worth your time and you will be laughing your way through way more episodes than you planned.

 

Steven Universe is the Best

Where do I even begin.

I’ve watched the series all the way through four times since this summer. First time through was in “streaming” order, the default order available on Amazon’s video streaming service (you’ve gotta buy the “seasons,” but they’re worth it). The second time was in the correct order, based on continuity. The third time was with my roommates. The fourth time was because I was impatient, unable to calmly wait for new episodes to come out. Every time I watched it, I felt like there was more to unpack. After four times, I can definitely say there’s more to this show than I can comfortably cover in a blog post, so I’m going to apologize up front for what a mess this might be.

I love the music. I first became familiar with Rebecca Sugar (the show’s creator) through her work on Adventure Time and, when I found out she was the person behind the song from the “Stakes” mini-series, “Everything Stays,” I bought all of Steven Universe from amazon and started watching it as soon as I’d stopped crying. Music is such an integral part of this show, that I’m not sure any review or discussion of the show can even half-assedly cover the show without going into it. The theme song is catchy and the scenes appearing on the screen throughout it are heart-warming and colorful. In the very first episode, the protagonist, a young human child (Steven), unabashedly signs the commercial jingle for his favorite ice cream treat. The episode ends with a portion of a bright, yet rather sad song whose entirety we do not get until the second season (or until you went ahead and bought the soundtrack or looked it up on Spotify). The second episode begins and ends the same way, but we discover that Steven’s love of music came from his father who was in a band before he met Steven’s mother.

Throughout the entire series, music comes in at critical junctures, giving us a window into the interior lives of the characters or communicating something they’ve been struggling to verbalize. We see one of the Crystal Gems named Amethyst–an alien race that are nigh-immortal but came to Earth long ago–sing a song with Steven about leaving home because they don’t feel like they belong. We eventually see Garnet sing a song about the strength of working together. Pearl sings several songs, many of them focusing on relaying information or expressing an emotion she’s been hiding for a long time following the passing of Steven’s Mother (who gave up her corporeal form in order to give birth to Steven). Steven sings songs for every possible reason from communication to encouragement to the simple joy of singing with someone. Steven’s dad, Greg (my personal favorite character and someone I aspire to be), sings songs to his son whenever he tells him about the past. Music touches every part of this show and really captures the heart and soul of the characters. Everyone I know who has gotten into this show has subsequently looked up the music on their own. I am not joking when I say I got Spotify just to have access to the album everywhere I wanted to listen to it. I also literally just bought it right before writing this sentence because I realized I couldn’t listen to it in the car because I’m super frugal when it comes to using cellular data. There’s so much amazing music, but I can’t really go into specifics without risking spoilers because it is so tied to each episode. The music alone is reason enough to check the show out.

The characters are so incredibly real and Steven redeems every character from a show you watched growing up whose power was hokey sentimentalism. He is sentimental, kind, incredibly sweet, unbelievably caring, and one of the most emotionally mature characters I’ve ever seen in a TV show, at least at the end. He still messes up, of course, but watching him grow throughout the series is incredibly rewarding and good inspiration for learning to work through your own problems. I won’t share any of the other characters’ growth because watching them change over the course of the series is a huge part of the show. Just as they grow in strength, they develop emotionally. The plot is just as much about emotional growth and learning to deal with your emotional troubles as it is about Steven Universe learning to become a Crystal Gem and what happens between the Crystal Gems and their estranged homeworld.

The supporting characters don’t feel like supporting characters because they’re just as three-dimensional and vibrant as the main characters. They even manage to make a pink lion with no speaking lines a fully fledged character with a detailed emotional life. The world is full and unique to the story. There’s a wonderful number of references to things that match our world despite there being a huge number of things that also separate it from our world. The stories are touching and deal with real conflict, and not just the violent kind. Sure, there are monsters they beat down, but the more difficult conflicts for Steven to handle are people who refuse his help due to their own pride or the people he wants to rescue but cannot. The most heart-wrenching episodes include an episode where the conflict Steven faces is when he has to decide to not save someone in order to take care of himself. Every villain has their reasons and even the worst of them eventually earns a measure of sympathy. You eventually get a sense that there’s something bigger going on, something beyond the characters you’ve seen. That there’s someone else out there who made the decisions that eventually created the bitter hatred and sadness you see playing out in these episodes.

As much as I love the show, I feel I should caution you. Since the show hasn’t finished yet, and the recent episode releases have been rather inconsistent and random, don’t dive right into it if you’re struggling with some unresolved emotional burdens or something big and sad has gone on. While this show can be incredibly cathartic, there are a lot of emotional issues that haven’t been resolved yet and basically leave you feeling sad and somewhat mournful. The tone is melancholic and, despite the fact that many of the sad moments end happily, not all of them have been resolved yet. Still, though, I suggest watching it. Definitely cautiously, and definitely a bit more slowly, but the catharsis and the wonderful feelings you get from watching something amazingly well made are worth it.

There’s so much more I want to say, but I think I’ve said everything that’s important. Watch this show. Take the time to make sure you’re watching it in order (which has been much easier now that you can buy actual DVDs of Season 1 and it is Season 1 that is out of order on all streaming services) and don’t watch more than a few episodes in a sitting. Let the show digest a bit between sittings and you’ll enjoy it even more.