Love Kernels & Dream Ghosts: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Top 20 Songs

I’m so glad this weird and wonderful show is a part of my life. If you’re not watching it, you should be – if you’re not hooked, or at least intrigued, by the title, then see how you feel after the final refrain of ‘West Covina, California!’ The bold, bizarre brainchild of Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom (who also stars), Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (hereafter CEXG) revolves around Rebecca Bunch, a successful lawyer who quits her job and uproots her successful but somewhat hollow life to follow her childhood sweetheart Josh Chan (aka the one that got away) to his hometown of West Covina – not that she would ever admit to it.

As season 1’s theme song declared, ‘the situation’s a lot more nuanced than that’, and we watch (sometimes between our fingers) as Rebecca makes new friends, enemies and bad choices; rinse and repeat. However, despite this the characters go on brilliantly complex journeys of personal growth and development, though not in a linear fashion. Their evolution involves as many steps back as leaps forward, just like in real life, and though they can be frustrating they are also deeply relatable and recognisable. Soon, the town of West Covina – once a smokescreen for Rebecca’s delusions, now an unlikely haven, and a home for her and her newfound friends, becomes home for us too.

This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are many wonderful numbers I had to leave out, like Devil Winds, Head in the Clouds and a recent ABBA-inflected ode to first love that is both worryingly catchy AND too explicit to sing in public (or recount here). The top 20 songs listed here are my own personal favourites, but even the ones that didn’t make it on this list are all brilliant in their own way, contributing to the narrative, the character development, or the meta commentary on the human experience in their own unique, unusual way. One of the most amazing things about this show is that different aspects appeal to different people, and that nobody’s favourites list will be the same because of that. Brimming with incredible actors and phenomenal writers, the show is at times relatable, sad, crude, cringe-inducing, heart-warming, funny and profound, and I genuinely cannot think of any other series like it. So without further ado, here are my personal favourites; I’d love to hear yours in the comments below!

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Bad to the Bone: Fiction’s Finest Foes

There’s something beautiful about a truly great villain – not necessarily aesthetically, although that may be a factor; but beautiful in a narrative way. Someone so wretched and wicked, and yet believably or even relatably so, that we find ourselves pitying or even empathising with them, if not agreeing with them. The following isn’t a definitive list of the greatest villains of all time, just a collection of my personal favourites. Some honourable mentions before we begin: Miranda Frost (Die Another Day), Mystique (X-Men 1-3), Sheriff of Nottingham (Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves), Top Dollar (The Crow), and Lady Deathstrike (X2). All of them are either cool and/or complex, but they just got pipped at the post by the ten formidably brilliant characters below. Now, without an ado to be furthered, here’s my top 10 best baddies…

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Kylo Ren as Gothic Double

The Star Wars saga has always been thematically and emotionally rich, but never moreso than in The Last Jedi. Duty, sacrifice, justice, all these things and more hang heavy over the story. Easily the most complex character of the new trilogy is Kylo Ren, played with brittle brutality by the inimitable Adam Driver. Kylo is a magnificent monster, a calibre of villain to rival his revered Darth Vader. Kylo is volatile, mercurial; his temper turns on a dime. And yet we see him struggle with the conflict between the Dark Side and the Light. For me, he ranks alongside Vincent D’Onofrio’s Kingpin and Luke Goss’ Prince Nuada in the upper echelons of brilliant baddies. Most frightening of all, he’s the kind of villain you can both understand and pity. In the same vein as Gothic monsters like Frankenstein’s Creature, Edward Hyde and Dracula, Kylo is the product of tragic miscommunication and his own disastrous life choices. He also functions as his own Dark Doppelgänger, and here’s why….

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Fan-Casting the Fellowship for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings TV Show

Despite being generally cynical about reboots, remakes and revisiting old, successful franchises, I actually have high hopes for Amazon’s upcoming Lord of the Rings TV show. A year ago maybe I wouldn’t have been. But with the success – both critical, commercial, and in terms of the fandoms themselves – of such reboots like Star Trek (2009), and franchise continuations like Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) and Rogue One (2016), my faith in revisiting favourite franchises has been restored.

I don’t know what period or part of Middle Earth this series will focus on, but I do love a good fan-cast. Geeks of Color are the paragons of the fancast (look no further than their superb Atlantis: The Lost Empire live action fancast), and their ever-stellar suggestions have inspired me to put together one myself (though I’m far from reaching their upper echelons of Fancasting Greatness). As much as I love the OG cast, it’s been over a decade and a half since the originals premiered, and so many new faces have joined the pantheon of the big and small screen since then, so let’s give someone else a chance. Crucially, I hope Amazon takes the opportunity to embrace the things that Tolkien’s tomes (and adaptations) have historically lacked: namely, diversity in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation.

It’s with those criticisms in mind that I’ve put together my own dream-cast for the Fellowship & co. I’ve proposed male and female actors for each role, though I wasn’t aiming for two separate male and female-centric adaptations; rather, this new version should try to represent the diverse world we live in, using a fantasy lens, instead of filling the cast with the straight white male mould that historically dominated (and tainted) the fantasy genre. So, without an ado to be furthered, here are my choices for recasting the Lord of the Rings’ pivotal roles.

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A League of Their Own: Defending Justice League (2017)

Though I don’t deny Marvel’s unparalleled skill in multi-verse building, or the (critical and commercial) success of the films themselves, I personally don’t want them to have a monopoly over the entire comic book movie genre.  Yes, the DCEU has made myriad mistakes in its four-year tenure thus far – I despised Man of Steel’s maudlin self-importance, I avoided B v S at all costs, Suicide Squad is my personal problematic fave, and Wonder Woman is one of the best superhero films ever made (despite a troublesome, though triumphant, third act). And now Justice League, my new favourite superhero team-up movie. Yes, it’s not as structurally sound as Avengers Assemble, nor is it as plodding as Age of Ultron, and it never quite reaches the emotional heights of Civil War. But I loved it, and here’s why.

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‘What are we, some kind of Loser’s Club?’ Dream Duos & Squad Goals in Stranger Things Season 3

Stranger Things season 2 hit the dream duo jackpot with the unlikely team-up of Steve and Dustin. Now I have grand ideas for who should buddy up with who, but I know that there’s barely enough time to properly develop even one or two of these duos. If any of these come true, I will be a very happy fan – even if not, I’m happy with developing the pairs we already love. But, for what it’s worth, here’s my Season 3 Team-Up Wishlist (spoilers for Stranger Things season 1-2 ahead):

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‘Why can’t there be two Venkmans?’: Doubles in Netflix’s Stranger Things (Part 2)

In Part 1 of my examination of doubles in Stranger Things, I focused mainly on the character of Chief Jim Hopper, a multi-layered, magnificent, mess of a human being who is simultaneously the heart of the show in season 1, and the one responsible for breaking the audience’s hearts in season 2. In this post, I’ll be concentrating on themes of duality within the AV Club, as well as in the characters and interrelationships of Steve, Nancy, Jonathan and Billy; in tomorrow’s third and final part of this blog series, I’ll be looking at the sinister side of the show – the Upside Down and its monsters, as well as its remarkable framing of redemption.

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‘You are like Papa!’: Doubles in Netflix’s Stranger Things (Part 1)

Netflix’s Stranger Things has taken over my life, as Netflix shows are wont to do (for further examples, see Daredevil and Jessica Jones). It’s brimming with 80s nostalgia in the best way possible, and juggles three distinct storylines with a seamlessly natural ease that I haven’t seen since Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy (I can give no higher accolade). As I basked in the jaw-dropping, #Jopper-shipping joy of the first two seasons, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of doubles – literal, metaphorical, analogical – running through the show, which enables me to categorise binge-watching it as ‘research’. Bigotry, prejudice and bullying are (justly) framed as being monstrous in much the same way as the deadly Demogorgons (the vicious, viscous villains of the series). Like Game of Thrones, it’s not the mythical undead horde, but rather humanity itself, that’s the true threat – ‘man’s inhumanity to man’ etc. In addition, the cast boasts 80s MVPs Winona Ryder, Sean Astin, Paul Reiser and Matthew Modine – doubled, as they inhabit a fictional small screen reworking of the era in which they existed on the big screen.  If the Upside Down is the Dark Doppelgänger of the ‘real world’, then the Stranger Things universe is the double of Stephens’ Spielberg & King’s 1980s.

As demonstrated in previous blog posts, one of the delights of doing a PhD on doubles fiction is connecting it to my latest pop culture obsession, and since Stranger Things is the only (non-officially-PhD-related) thing on my mind at the moment, we’ll be delving into the faux fathers, doubled daughters and floppy-haired foils from Netflix’s nostalgic magnum opus – part 2 will be up tomorrow.

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JD Estrada’s Hurricane Maria Tag

Over the last few weeks, many countries have been devastated by disasters. Puerto Rico has been decimated by Hurricane Maria, with many left without basic necessities like food, water, and shelter. It will take months to properly restore electricity, years to repair the damage, and longer still for those affected to recover both physically and emotionally. The reach of these natural disasters spread further, affecting the Caribbean, Mexico, Oregon and Canada. However, news coverage – and the response from the US government in particular – had at first been severely lacking to say the least. Thankfully, support has rallied around the affected countries and help is at hand, though the lives of those affected remain in a perilous state of uncertainty.

Among the impassioned voices urging people to support relief efforts is JD Estrada. JD is a writer from Puerto Rico, whose literary talents are matched only by his kindness. He is someone I am honoured to call a friend. His tireless efforts to increase the presence of affected countries has been inspiring and deeply affecting. If you want to keep updated with the situation in Puerto Rico and other affected countries, I would strongly advise following JD on twitter via @JDEstradaWriter, or keep the conversation going by using such hashtags as #Puerto Rico #HurricaneMaria and #PuertoRicoSeLevanta. JD is offering free ebooks in exchange for tweeting about the affected countries, and using the following hashtags: Humans4PuertoRico #Humans4Mexico #Humans4TheCaribbean #Humans4OregonAndCanada.

I cannot claim to be a book-tuber, but I do want to help in any way that I can – from donating to relief efforts to keeping these calamities in conversation on social media. Today, this takes the form of JD’s Hurricane Maria Tag, meant for BookTube (the YouTube community in which literature thrives) but which (thankfully for me) focuses more on the meaning behind the content as opposed to the medium in which it is published.

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