Hello, again, all you pop culture nerds! I’m back with my monthly reviews on all things movies and television. Thanks to a lack of open theatres, I relied heavily on streaming services to keep me entertained. Because of this, I was able to fall in love with both old and new characters. Keep scrolling to see some of my favorite titles that I watched during this peculiar summer of 2020.
- Growing Pains
At the start of the summer, I threw it way back to a classic 80s family sitcom. “Growing Pains” follows the Seaver family. Dad Jason Seaver (Alan Thicke), a psychiatrist, moves his practice into his home so that his wife, Maggie (Joanna Kerns), can make the transition back into a working mom at a local paper. This means Jason has to take care of the three Seaver children: Mike (Kirk Cameron), the ladies man and slacker, Carol (Tracey Gold), the smart, studious child and Ben (Jeremy Miller), the youngest and most mischievous child. The children’s three very different personalities and the loving family environment make the show sitcom gold. Thicke and Kerns turn away from the wacky parent tropes that fill many sitcoms and play two parents who may have years of experience but are still trying to figure out parenting. Cameron, the definite star of the show, makes Mike loveable and masterfully plays other emotions when needed. Gold, who plays my favorite character, seems to grow alongside her character and has some great storylines that still affect young women. The show is also a great bit of 80s nostalgia with some “before they were famous” guest spots. Brad Pitt and Hilary Swank make some brief appearances. A teen Leonardo DiCaprio even becomes a part of the Seaver family in season 7. Overall, between the storylines and acting, “Growing Pains” makes you want to be a part of the Seaver family, and should be considered the gold standard for all family sitcoms.
Welcome to Dreamland! In this now crazy world, it’s refreshing to go back to some simpler times. In Ryan Murphy’s “Hollywood,” viewers are taken back to Hollywood’s golden age with a group of young artists trying to catch their big break. The cast includes a diverse group of A+ talent, including Darren Criss (“Glee,” “American Crime Story”), David Corenswet (“The Politician”), Laura Harrier (“Spiderman: Homecoming”), Jeremy Pope and Broadway legend Patti LuPone. “Hollywood” includes all the sparkle and theatricality of every Murphy production, but this one falls flat. The show creates a revisionist history to right the wrongs of individuals who were marginalized in 1940/50s Hollywood. While admirable, Murphy and Co. go about it in the wrong way. In their history, decades of misrepresentation, homophobia and racism are solved with one movie. Yeah, that’s not how it happens in real life. Still, “Hollywood” has a spectacular cast and does provide some truths on diversity and representation in the media that make it worth the watch.
- Never Have I Ever
From the mind of Mindy Kaling, comes another smart, witty, and funny comedy. “Never Have I Ever” is a coming of age drama following a California Indian American teen named Devi (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan). After losing her father, Devi is determined to make the most of her sophomore year of high school. But, she struggles in her relationships with her mother, cousin, friends, crush, and arch-nemesis. The show is narrated by tennis legend John McEnroe, which seems random, but makes for a wonderful nod when you watch the show. The best part about Devi is she doesn’t have it all figured out, and knows it. Devi is just like every teen and makes big mistakes, but she’s willing to learn from them, which many teen sitcoms lack. Kaling’s writing and Ramakrishnan’s performance is what makes “Never Have I Ever” one of the best shows of the year, and I can’t wait for more!
- The Fosters
Keeping with the theme of teen/family-centric shows, “The Fosters” was probably my favorite discovery of the summer. This Freeform/ABC Family drama centers on the Adams-Foster Family, led by matriarchs Stef and Lena, who are raising one biological child and four adopted children in San Diego, California. While most long-running drama shows seem to lose their edge or even the plot of their show, “The Fosters” continues to provide insight into challenging, real-world topics, and intertwine just the right amount of believable drama. But, at the heart of it all is a beautiful family held together with their strong bond.
How can one even begin to describe one of the greatest musicals of this generation? “Hamilton” made a splash on Broadway back in 2015 thanks to its rapping founding fathers and its unique storytelling of the guy on the ten-dollar bill. Thankfully, the show was filmed with its original cast, and Disney decided to release it early to their streaming service. From the creative mind of Lin Manuel Miranda, “Hamilton” tells the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton, a young, scrappy, and hungry immigrant from the Carribbean. Over the years, Hamilton becomes an invaluable aid to General George Washington, constantly outshines Aaron Burr, battles Thomas Jefferson’s political ideas and becomes the center of what is probably our nation’s first sex scandal. I had the pleasure of seeing this show on tour, so I went into this viewing with a pretty good knowledge of this show. But, even on my second viewing, this show still left me in awe. I started to find tiny details in the show that made me realize how much of a genius Miranda is. From the cast’s performances and music to the staging and small details, this filmed version of “Hamilton” proves just how powerful this show is and explains why it swept award shows and had people lining up for blocks. Even if you are skeptical about it, I recommend watching it one time so that you may at least understand why the world is enraptured with this great American musical.
- The Kissing Booth 2
Another streaming service that came to the rescue this summer was Netflix and all its original content. A definite highlight from their summer line-up was the follow up to 2017’s runaway teen rom-com “The Kissing Booth.” Set shortly after the original, “KB2” follows Elle (Joey King) and her best friend Lee (Joel Courtney) into their senior year of high school. On top of college applications, Elle is trying to have a successful long-distance relationship with Harvard student and former bad boy, Noah (Jacob Elordi). Elle starts to question her future and her relationship with Noah thanks to Noah’s seemingly flirtatious relationship with a new girl and the lovable, charismatic, and handsome Marco (Taylor Zakhar Perez) doesn’t help her either. The original “Kissing Booth” was cringy and problematic, but it was still a fun movie. Its sequel, however, was a major let-down. The writing was even sloppier than the first and included even more cringy scenes and nonsensical character developments. Poor Elordi acted like he didn’t want to be there, which isn’t entirely his fault because Noah Flynn was SOOOOOO BORING! Unfortunately, I felt like I wasted almost two and a half hours of my night. But, because I am trash for a teen rom-com, you can still catch me watching its unnecessary threequel.
- The Color Purple
While we have been going through a world-wide pandemic, police-involved shootings have created a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement. Many people took to the streets to protest for change. Others have also been looking for Black-created or Black-centric stories to read and watch. May I suggest this classic? Based on the novel by Alice Walker and directed by movie legend Stephen Spielberg, “The Color Purple” tells the story of Celie (Whoopi Goldberg), a young African American woman in the early 20th century who is given away by her abusive father, who has two children by him, to another abusive man, Mister (Danny Glover). Left without her sister and children, the only individuals who seem to care for her, Celie learns to read and becomes a quiet, submissive woman. Enter Shug Avery (Margaret Avery), Mister’s singer mistress. She shows her more love and compassion and helps give her the strength to become the strong woman she was meant to be. “The Color Purple” features strong storytelling and powerful performances from its female-centric cast, including Oprah Winfrey, who plays the headstrong Sofia. No matter the circumstances, “The Color Purple” is a masterclass in telling a character-centric story and plucks at the audience’s heartstrings.
- The Bodyguard
Another film with an iconic Black woman at its core is 1992’s “The Bodyguard.” This classic Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner team-up was revolutionary when it first came out. I mean it gave us Houston’s iconic cover of “I Will Always Love You!” . Costner plays an ex-Secret Service Agent who now moonlights as a private bodyguard. After being sent several death threats, Academy Award-nominated actress and musician Rachel Marron’s (Houston) manager hires him to protect her. After butting heads on how to stay safe, the two come to an understanding and eventually fall in love. Okay, so the writing isn’t great, Houston’s acting was sometimes stiff, and Costner and Houston didn’t always hit it on the head when it came to chemistry, but “The Bodyguard” is still an enjoyable thriller that keeps your attention. Not to mention, the soundtrack is killer and features some of Houston’s best songs and vocal performances.