Our resident Potterhead breaks down Hogwarts: Tournament of Houses and why fans love it

Well, your resident Potterhead is back! The new game show on TBS called Hogwarts: Tournament of Houses has wrapped up a 4-episode first season, and you know I have to dive into it! 

The series is here to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of the first movie of the franchise, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. (I’m sorry, did you say 20 years?) When I first saw the trailer for this, I was naturally SO PUMPED. Then I started thinking about it: "How has no one done this before?! This game show literally writes itself!" 

SPOILERS AHEAD: If you would like to watch the show without knowing who wins, go to it now, then come back to finish reading!  

Catch the first episode for free at TBS.com.

To really get into what I love about this series, let’s walk through the structure of the episodes. The magic for HP fans is in how they put everything together.

The premise of the show is that 3-person teams representing Hogwarts houses face off in each episode with Dame Helen Mirren being the magical host. The fact that Helen Mirren is the host is one of the best things about it precisely because she was not in the films. Here's what I mean: The show opens with her walking towards the camera with a briefcase, setting it down, and declaring, "Well, finally, I have arrived. Tonight, I take my rightful place in the world of Harry Potter." her tone has just the slightest hint of sarcasm. Just twist the knife in deeper, Dame Helen! This pettiness is on a level I strive for! She keeps it going through the episodes, making continuous jabs at the fact that she was not in the movies, and it makes it so fun.

Dame Helen Mirren preparing for the evening of jabs and snark!

Here's how the tournament was set up:

The studio is decked out in all things Harry Potter, including the podium Dame Helen is hosting from. There is a small studio audience that she proclaims are the "world's biggest Harry Potter fans," but I need to interrupt right there and say, of course, that since I am not in the audience, that is not possible. Moving on... 

The studio audience is only fans rooting for the houses who are playing that night. So, for Episode 1, the audience was Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs. This in-person audience is significant because the show chooses the contestants from the audience. And how else would they do this but by sending an onslaught of envelopes cascading from a fireplace that Dame Helen must catch, of course! It’s a fun intro, but the best part is the child-like glee on Dame Helen’s face and giggles the entire time she is trying to catch 6 envelopes. Then, after reading out the names, beautiful show editing has the contestants step out of the fireplace as if they have traveled by Floo Powder. Naturally, the HP geek in me is LOVING THIS. I'm sold, wine poured and ready, let's get this game started!

After Dame Helen asks questions to get to know a couple of the contestants, we dive right into Round 1: The World of Harry Potter. Each team is shown a scene from one of the films. The first question based on that scene is worth 10 points, the second is 20 points, and the third is 30 points. The first question is based on observations of the scene, and the ones that follow challenge the players' knowledge about that film. 

Seriously? What is there to debate?
Of course it was a light fixture!

Here's where I found one thing that irked me about the show: in this part, when the teams get their question, they then deliberate and explain why they are coming to the conclusion they are. That's frustrating and slightly annoying from a watcher’s perspective that is also a fan, because, to me, you either know it or you don't. No deliberation is needed! However, I'm sure they were asked to make it seem a little more difficult for television's sake, and deliberations give it that impression.

After Round 1, we of course need the official scorekeeper to let us know the scores, and who better to do that than Luke Youngblood! Luke played Lee Jordan in the films, the Gryffindor student who was the announcer at Quidditch events. Luke appears out of a sliding panel in the wall and provides an update. When he first does this in Episode 1, Dame Helen proclaims she's seen him before but can’t figure out where, and is certain it's not because they have worked together. Keep it going, ma’am!

The scorekeeper is none other than Luke Youngblood (a.k.a. Quidditch scorekeeper Lee Jordan).

With the Round 1 scores read, it is time for Round 2, aptly named The Dueling Club. The questions go up to 10, 30, and 50 points. The teams also have to choose members on the opposing team to answer the questions, with the 50-point question being the hardest. 

My fellow Gryffindors went wild seeing Matthew Lewis appear on the game board.

This is where strategy comes into play, which seems a little goofy at this stage.  Each team must choose a person on the opposite team to answer each specific question based on their knowledge of the HP series. For example, the Hufflepuff team should choose the most knowledgeable Gryffindor team member to get the easiest question (worth 10 points), saving the hardest question (worth 50) to the least knowledgeable person, who's most likely to get it wrong. Because the players have seemingly known each other for all of 10 minutes, this becomes tricky. The houses (audience) also play along and help add to the total score at the end. For the 50 point difficult question, they bring in former actors or huge fans of the series, such as Matthew Lewis, (Neville Longbottom), Simon Fisher-Becker (the Fat Friar), and Pete Davidson (Saturday Night Live cast member and a huge fan of the series). 

Round 3 is the Department of Magical Games in which there are several magical charms shown on the portrait wall, each representing a different style of question. The houses take turns choosing the style they want to play, with each question being worth 50 points. However, if the first house that attempts a question answers it incorrectly, the other house can steal it with a correct answer for 30 points. Each Round 3 question is inspired by a theme, and for Episode 1 that theme is Places.

Each team picks a charm and answers their question accordingly. For example, in Episode 1, Hufflepuff chooses Revelio, where they must uncover what happens next in a scene shown on the portrait wall. Gryffindor chooses Accio, where the show has summoned an actual prop from the films: they have to choose between 3 couches and determine which one was the actual couch in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 that Hermione's parents are sitting on when Hermione wipes their memory for their safety. *crying softly in the corner*

What I enjoy about Round 3 is the vast jump in the difficulty of questions compared to the other 2 rounds. Initially, with Round 1, the questions seem childishly easy. Then we get to questions where you can’t see anything, you only hear a noise from a scene in a film, and you have to identify what it is. Now this is the difficulty level where I am challenged!

The show ends with Round 4, called The Golden Snitch. In this round, teams answer 6 increasingly difficult questions at the same time, and the house members in the audience participate as well. Each question is worth 50 points, but if the houses answer all 6 questions correctly, they double the 300 points to 600! 

Gryffindor House audience members cheer on the contestants and answer questions to help their team in the final round.

After the Round 4 questions and answers, we get the final tally from Lee, er, Luke. In Episode 1, Hufflepuff beats Gryffindor (boo!), and in episode 2, Ravenclaw beats Slytherin (what!).  

Dame Helen promised that both Gryffindor and Slytherin will have a chance at redemption before the tournament is over, and they did! Episode 3 was a showdown for the ages, and Slytherin beat Gryffindor to secure a spot in the final.

This is the basic format for all of the episodes until we get to Episode 4. Starting that final episode, there are 3 teams, the winners of the first three episodes.  To whittle it down to 2, each of the 3 players from the same team must answer their own, individual questions while also being the fastest to press the button to answer against the others. This was a sly way of eliminating players. Ravenclaw jumped to an early lead with 2 players already answering correctly, leaving 1 player on their team who ended up getting answers wrong. That cost Ravenclaw, allowing Hufflepuff to secure their spot in the final! In the most unexpected twist of them all (that’s the Gryffindor in me), Hufflepuff went on to win it all, beating Slytherin!

Hufflepuff champions with Dame Helen Mirren.

Speaking of the final, the prizes! The winning team received a Harry Potter trip of a lifetime! It includes visits to the new New York City store, Harry Potter: The Exhibition, tickets to Universal Orlando's Wizarding World of Harry Potter, tickets to The Cursed Child, and an advanced screening of The Secrets of Dumbledore. They also get to hoist a trophy reminiscent of the Goblet of Fire!

While the series does seem a little campy and child-like at first, its beauty is that it appeals to both adults and children and is aimed at being family-friendly. The fact that Harry Potter is still this relevant to this day makes my inner child scream with joy! (But not audibly, I would get stared at a lot.) I am so excited to see more of this series if they decide to make more seasons!

Have you watched any of the episodes? What are your thoughts? Are you challenged by the questions? Let me know below!

House of the Dragon Trailer Breakdown

POSSIBLE SPOILERS MAY ABOUND. This article is speculation based on the materials available: Fire & Blood, A Song of Ice and Fire, and other Game of Thrones canon materials. With that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get into the fun!

The first official House of the Dragon teaser trailer came out on October 5, 2021, with much acclaim and also some trepidation. As a huge fan of Game of Thrones ever since my friend introduced me to it, I’m absolutely ecstatic for this show. In fact, “ecstatic” doesn’t cover the endless rambles, rants, and research I’ve done regarding this franchise. Adding fuel to the fire (pun intended), House of the Dragon isn’t set up to run into the pitfalls that plagued our beloved characters in Game of Thrones. The source material is readily available, Martin himself is reportedly happy with the work being done, and Game of Thrones is still beloved in many hearts, including my own. Thus, both the passion, resources, and energy are there for HotD. It’s safe to say both fans and newcomers can expect not only the lush cinematic extravagance GOT fans are used to but the glorious twisting and turning plot that put asses in seats from the start.

In this article, I’m breaking down some of the most important shots from the teaser trailer. This show will cover the Dance of the Dragons, a tumultuous and visceral section of Targaryen history from ASOIAF lore. For clarity and simplicity, here’s a brief summary of what is sometimes referred to as the Dance:

The Dance of the Dragons was a civil war between two factions of Targaryen rule. It started as a war of succession between half-siblings Rhaenyra Targaryen and Aegon II Targaryen over who would inherit their father, Viserys I’s, throne. The Dance lasted from 129 to 131 AC, and without spoiling how it ends, suffice it to say there will be 17 dragons in House of the Dragon, and canonically, many of them aren’t making it out alive. (As a note, if you truly want to be surprised all the way around–though often television takes creative liberties–maybe don’t read Fire & Blood, the fandom wiki, or this article just yet.)

Now, let’s get into what we can expect from House of the Dragon, Season One. Screenshot by screenshot. Yep, better buckle in, ‘cause shit’s about to get fictionally historical up in here.

BALERION, THE BLACK DREAD

Named after an ancient deity of the Valyrian Freehold, Balerion the Black Dread came with the Targaryens as they fled the Doom of Valyria. Notably, he was the last living creature to have seen Valyria at its peak. The enormous dragon served as Aegon Targaryen’s mount during the Conquest (Aegon’s conquering of Westeros) and saw the Iron Throne change hands many times before his death in 94 AC, less than a year after Viserys I Targaryen claimed him as his mount. Viserys is the current king we are looking at in the trailer to give you an idea of where that stands in the timeline. He rode Balerion once before his coronation, before the dragon's death, and Balerion did not live to see the events of the Dance. His death is an important timestamp and is likely why it is one of the first images we get to see. It may tell us when the show will kick-off. 

HAND OF THE KING

Here, we see Otto Hightower, who served as the Hand of the King under Viserys I Targaryen’s father Jaehaerys Targaryen’s rule. He continued as Viserys’ Hand and is father to Alicent Hightower, who became Viserys’ wife and the mother of Aegon II Targaryen (among other children). Aegon II rivals Rhaenyra (Viserys’ elder daughter) in the Dance for the succession, though some sources say he accepted the crown unwillingly. Here, the focus on the pin helps viewers place Otto as the current Hand of the King. 

BLACKFYRE

Blackfyre, a hand-and-a-half Valyrian steel longsword, was most famously wielded by Aegon the Conqueror. It has been passed down through the Targaryen lineage and went from Jaehaerys to Viserys’ eldest son Aegon II. This sword is legendary throughout the history of Westeros, along with Dark Sister, which was wielded by Aegon I’s sister and wife, Visenya. Let’s not get started on the Targaryen tradition of incestuous marriages; this article isn’t long enough to cover the absolute ick. This screenshot shows the seated king tightening his grip on the blade. While the sword is reportedly historically wielded by Jaehaerys and then Aegon II without Viserys in between, perhaps creative liberties are being taken. Before his death, Viserys was often beset with requests to change the line of succession from his eldest daughter, Rhaenyra, to his eldest son by Alicent, Aegon II. We may be seeing one such moment of contention here. 

Geek Moment: Can we talk about how cool these sword names are? “All the best swords have names, you know.” - Jon Snow

RHAENYRA TARGARYEN

Rhaenyra, daughter of Viserys, precedes Aegon II in birth order but contends with him after their father’s death for her inheritance–the Iron Throne. I initially thought the trailer was showing flashbacks. However, upon reading further into Fire & Blood, I think the show may be starting before the Dance officially begins. Here, we likely see a young Rhaenyra before her father Viserys’ death. She was being prepared to rule for some time and was named his heir. In fact, there is a moment in Fire & Blood where Rhaenyra sits near the Iron Throne, and lords and landed knights pay obeisance to her. Based on the position of the swords in the background of this image, I’d bet that’s what’s happening here. 

DAEMON TARGARYEN

Daemon Targaryen is brother to Viserys I and second husband of Rhaenyra. He was an experienced warrior at the time of the Dance, a dragon rider who wielded Dark Sister and rode Caraxes, and a prominent supporter of Rhaenyra’s claim to the Iron Throne. He and Rhaenyra are pictured here, looking out over the water. You can see dragons in the distance if you watch the trailer at a slower speed, at this timestamp [ 0:13 if you need a YouTube video, that’s here. ].

What are they looking at, you may wonder? I have some theories. One theory is that this has something to do with the Dance over Shipbreaker Bay, which makes the most sense chronologically. Prior to this event, Rhaenyra sends two of her sons, Jacaerys and Lucerys, to win houses for her cause. During this mission, the dragons Vhagar (ridden by Alicent’s second son Aemon) and Arrax (ridden by Rhaenyra’s second son Lucerys) fight in a raging storm. I won’t spoil who wins. 

There is also the Battle of the Gullet, which is one of the bloodiest sea battles ever to take place in Westerosi history. However, if the theory of an early beginning to the series holds true, that may be beyond the scope of the first season. The Battle occurs in 130 AC, which would be about halfway through the Dance.

Thirdly, in my personal theory, I think this is the scene where they are sending Rhaenyra’s two sons on their mission to rally certain major houses to their mother’s cause. It would explain the dragon wings in the far distance, the timing, and the somewhat worried faces. 

A TOURNEY & A DUEL

There are a few options for the events here, as well.  The second screenshot above is probably Daemon Targaryen, complete with his dragon helm. Daemon fought Ser Criston Cole at the Tourney for King Viserys’ accession. Perhaps this is that fight, which timestamps this scene as a precursor to the Dance and holds with our early-start theory. 

Another somewhat stronger theory is that this will be the Tourney of 111 AC, held on the fifth anniversary of Viserys and Alicent’s marriage. Rhaenyra wore red and black at this event, and Alicent wore green. Thus, denoting their respective Targaryen factions thenceforth as the “blacks” and the “greens.” Regardless of which theory holds up, this scene places us chronologically before Viserys’ death and the beginning of the Dance. 

HOUSE VELARYON 

House Velaryon is a proud and ancient house descending from Old Valyria. Front and center in this screenshot, we have none other than Corlys Velaryon himself, the Sea Snake. I am incredibly excited to see such an important character from Fire & Blood brought to life, and I am so, so happy to see diversity in the onscreen adaptations. To his left is his wife, Rhaenys Targaryen. Behind them, his daughter Laena and son Laenor. To Corlys’ right presumably stands Ser Vaemon Velaryon, eldest of Corlys’ six nephews. 

House Velaryon is an ancient house with historical ties to the Targaryens, and for a time, they were the richest house in Westeros. Corlys is Master of Driftmark, Lord of the Tides, and the head of House Velaryon, making him a pivotal player in the game. Rhaenys and her and Corlys’s children Laena and Laenor were all passed over in succession for the throne when it was given to Viserys after the assembly of the Great Council of 101 AC to determine Jaehaerys’ successor. Notably, Laenor and Rhaenyra were married for a time before Laenor’s death, preceding when the true brutalities of the Dance commenced. Are we arriving for a wedding? The faces look a little stern, but that might be expected considering the tumult of the time. 

MYSARIA 

Mysaria is a dancer from Lys who became Daemon Targaryen’s paramour. Beyond this, she becomes known as the unofficial mistress of whispers to Rhaenyra during the Dance. Also known as Lady Misery, she is far more than a consort. Daemon, Rhaenyra, and Mysaria develop a complicated relationship, and Mysaria strongly allied with Rhaenyra’s faction. Here, we may be seeing an early moment in their story when Daemon sent her back to Lys after Viserys learned Mysaria was pregnant. Daemon had given Mysaria a dragon egg for the child, which angered his brother, Viserys, and prompted Viserys to have Daemon send her away. Mysaria lost the child on the voyage, and Daemon’s heart hardened against his brother, the king.

VALYRIAN STEEL DAGGER

This is (probably) the blade that killed the Night King in Game of Thrones Season 8. Here, Alicent Hightower races forward carrying this highly recognizable dagger. This may be the same weapon used in Bran Stark’s attempted assassination, wielded by Arya Stark, and eventually plunged into the Night King’s frozen heart hundreds of years after the Dance of the Dragons. 

I thought I knew what was going on in this scene. I thought it was the Small Council Meeting of the “greens” where Queen Alicent and her people conspired about the succession and set plans for her son, Aegon II’s ascension to the Throne. However, the presence of Ser Harrold Westerling throws off that theory and timestamp. According to the source material, Westerling died in 112 AC and was succeeded as Lord Commander of the Kingsguard by Ser Criston Cole, and the Dance starts in 129 AC.

With that said, and Ser Harrold mentioned, can we please direct our attention to the Kingsgaurd in the background who looks suspiciously like Graham McTavish? Uncharted, Outlander, and Witcher fans will recognize him here as the aforementioned Ser Harrold Westerling, Lord Commander of the Kingsgaurd under Viserys I Targaryen (again, presumably). Though his presence complicates the timestamp for what I thought this scene was, as with Game of Thrones, where many characters outlived their time in the books on the show, maybe Ser Harrold sticks around. If that’s the case, Alicent may be racing toward Lyman Beesbury, who is on the cast list and a supporter of Rhaenyra’s claim.

I'll be content with being pleasantly (or unpleasantly, as it looks pretty violent) surprised. 

THEORY: Laenor’s Death?

There would have been two contenders for this scene; however, after further research, if we really are looking at the events leading up to the Dance, that leaves one main possibility. This may be Laenor Velaryon’s death. Laenor died in 120 AC while in Spicetown attending a fair and was slain by one of his favoured knights, Ser Qarl Correy. Possibly, the show is taking some creative liberties with the location, which may be why they’re in a castle instead of the scene in Spicetown. Ser Correy reportedly stabbed Laenor to death after a loud quarrel beforehand. 

First of all, can we talk about how much more book accurate this Iron Throne is? Here, we see who I presume to be Viserys I seated upon the Iron Throne in the Red Keep’s throne room. Walking in, based on the silver hair, this is probably Rhaenyra. Could this be a private confrontation between father and daughter? Is he telling her she is named as his heir? We’ll have to wait and see.

Regardless, I’m so happy that the swords Balerion forged during Aegon’s Conquest are more accurately represented here than in the Game of Thrones TV show. Plus, you can see that the Red Keep is still under construction, somewhat, at this time which is fantastic worldbuilding. We know that Martin is very happy with how things on the show are going, and that gives me both joy and hope. 

So, to bring this article to somewhat of a summary, we have the possibility of the following events in chronological order (more or less):

Balerion’s Death

The Tourney for King Viserys’ Accession 

Tourney on the Fifth Anniversary of Viserys and Alicent’s Marriage

Rhaenyra and Laenor’s Marriage 

Laenor Velaryon’s Death

Viserys’ Death

The Small Council Meeting

Again, this is all theorized until the show airs, but it’s based on chronology, the known ASOIAF canon, the information presented in Fire & Blood, and what we know from House of the Dragon’s casting

I, for one, am beyond excited for House of the Dragon. It should have all of the storytelling prowess, political intrigue, action, and dragons Game of Thrones is beloved for without running into the perils that befell its final season (which I still enjoy, though I acknowledge the flaws). I think it would be a fantastic end-of-season shot to have Aegon II’s coronation in the Dragonpit juxtaposed with his sister Rhaenyra’s coronation on Dragonstone, with dragons roaring in the background. With the first season covering the events leading up to the Dance, viewers will have a firm understanding of the plot, characters, and stakes, which sets up for a strong series from a storytelling perspective. One thing is for certain: I will be sitting right in front of the biggest, loudest TV I can find, snacks and drinks in hand, cell phone on silent, and I will not be interrupted. 

What about you? Are you tuning in for the premiere, or would you rather wait to see how our new glimpse at Westeros is received first?

Witcher Animated Film is a Must-Watch Before Season 2

The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf is an animated feature film from Netflix extends the story of the Netflix live action series The Witcher. While the series is an adaptation of the stories from Andrzej Sapkowski's series of novels, this anime-style film from director Kwang Il Han tells the backstory of the witcher Vesemir and the sacking of Kaer Morhen that resulted in this world's shortage of witchers. Both Vesemir and Kaer Morhen will be part of Season 2 of The Witcher coming December 17, and this film should enrich your Season 2 experience if you've been following the series.

The film itself is beautiful to watch with intriguing characters and engaging storytelling. It has the style of a modern 2D anime like Attack on Titan. Be warned, though, that it also has violence and gore on par with both The Witcher series and with many teen+ anime series (like, again, Attack on Titan). Like its live-action counterpart, the film is definitely not made for either young kids or the faint of heart.

In its storytelling, the film makes no assumptions that you have read the books or played the games. The books and games do feature some of these characters and refer to the events depicted in the film, but the film is a completely original backstory for those characters and events. That said, the film is easier to connect to if you've at least seen Season 1 of The Witcher series.

If you do want to know a bit more before you seeing Nightmare of the Wolf (without any spoilers), here's the scoop:

Both novel readers and those who played the Witcher games from CD PROJEKT RED will recognize Vesemir as the mentor of Geralt, the main protagonist that gives the Witcher stories their name. They will also recognize Kaer Morhen as an old keep where witchers trained from childhood and where they gathered annually to live out each winter season. 

The film gives us a glance at Vesemir's life before Kaer Morhen, his trials to become a witcher, and his early life as a witcher around the time that Kaer Morhen was sacked. The sacking of Kaer Morhen was an event mentioned briefly in Season 1 of the Netflix series, and I suspect Season 2 will describe it in more detail. This film reveals the history leading up to that attack and how it all played out.

Tom Canton, who plays elven leader Filavandrel in The Witcher live action series, also voices Filavandrel in The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf.

Definitely check out The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf! Not only is it the perfect companion for Netflix series fans, but book and game fans should also have fun seeing familiar faces and references and an adventurous young Vesemir in action!

Have you seen The Witcher: Nightmare of the Wolf? What did you think? Share your reactions in the comments.

It wouldn't be The Witcher without a steamy bath scene.

Allowing Cowboy Bebop to Evolve

Does this new live-action Cowboy Bebop from Netflix still preserve the unique style and feel fans love from the anime series? Or is it something altogether new?

Classified in genres like neo-noir and Space Western, the Cowboy Bebop hit the Japanese anime scene in 1998 to both critical acclaim and commercial success. When it became part of Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup in 2001, it gained a solid fandom in the West, too. Creator Shinichirō Watanabe has been behind several hit anime productions, but Cowboy Bebop is his signature work and biggest global success. While fans would have loved to have more than the 26-episode series, Watanabe did state that he did not want the series to go on for years. He had a specific ending in mind, which was ultimately the ending that made it into the anime.

Spike Spiegel from the Cowboy Bebop anime series
Spike Spiegel from the Cowboy Bebop anime series in 1998 was voiced by Kōichi Yamadera in the original Japanese and by Steve Blum in the popular English dub.

When I heard that Watanabe was a creative consultant in Netflix's live action Cowboy Bebop revival, I was hopeful that creator and writer Christopher Yost and directors Alex Garcia Lopez and Michael Katleman would honor Watanabe's vision and maybe add in some things that didn't make it into the anime. My hope grew when I learned that Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts were back together to do music for the series.

But I was worried... 

Fans like me are attached to the anime series because of its singular combination of characters, visuals, music, dystopian sci-fi, and a noir/Western blend of storytelling. It's a one-of-a-kind experience. And I kept hearing people around me who had already decided, without even seeing the show, that Spike and Faye were miscast.

So I prepared myself mentally... 

I reminded myself that this isn't going to be my Bebop from two decades ago. It can't be, and, honestly, it shouldn't be. The anime series is a unique experience that can't be replicated. It was perfect as it was, and it will always be something I go back to and enjoy.

Ein on the Bebop
Ein on the Bebop

I adopted the mindset that the live-action Bebop would be an evolution, not a retelling. It may tell some of the same stories and have many of the same characters. But, it will be its own thing, and its quality and value should be evaluated independently, not held in comparison to the anime. That's the approach I've taken with Dune recently, too. It freed my mind to experience the new creation as its own experience that's inspired by the original work but not seeking to duplicate or replace that work.

The result now that I've seen it? I'm in love. Like... totally heart-eyed emoji in love. 😍

Netflix's Cowboy Bebop hits all the right notes for me. 

While I'm still only about 80% happy with how the story has evolved from the anime, the overall experience has me enthralled. The music sparks nostalgic feelings throughout each episode. John Cho absolutely rocks as Spike Spiegel, and his performance is easily my favorite part of the series. Mustafa Shakir as Jet is perfect, with Jet's character being the most faithful to the anime. And Daniella Pineda as Faye works perfectly for how this series has evolved that character, making her more grounded and sensible than her anime counterpart.

Faye (Daniella Pineda), Spike (John Cho), Jet (Mustafa Shakir), and Ein

As for the story, to make it cohesive, Yost chose to reimagine almost all the familiar bounty hits we encounter in Season 1 as part of a larger story that ties back to the Red Dragon Crime Syndicate. As a result, Spike is continuously forced to face his past as a Syndicate hitman, even when his old Syndicate partner Vicious isn't around. This cross-connecting and continuity resolve the issues that Watanabe had in his series with the bounty hunting being episodic adventures loosely connected by the main characters and the mysterious underlying story of Spike and Vicious. Watanabe's structure left his series open to continue (if he ever wanted to), but at the risk of becoming formulaic.

A flashback of Julia and Spike
A flashback of Julia and Spike (a.k.a. Fearless).

The cross-connected stories also make this new series much easier to follow than its anime counterpart. This is where I have to admit that I didn't connect to the Cowboy Bebop anime when I first saw it. I liked the story of Spike, Julia, and Vicious, and I cried at the end of "Hard Luck Woman." But it took asking friends questions and rewatching the episodes a few times to understand the world and to follow everything they talked about. In contrast, I think this evolution from Netflix makes it easier for a new audience to get into Bebop and to engage with the characters and story.

It's definitely an evolution, though...

The most common thing I've heard negative about the Netflix series is that it's "not Cowboy Bebop." What they really mean is that it's not the anime series. I feel like this type of criticism is short-sighted and not open to the idea of allowing the story to evolve or be told in a different way. I don't think it's reasonable to say, "If it's not like the original, it's crap." Is it, though? Wouldn't an exact match just be... boring?

I can empathize, though. If someone is looking to experience exactly what they experienced in the anime, they may be disappointed. Episodes 1-8 are definitely not what the anime was. Instead, they feel like Yost called in Guy Ritchie and Robert Rodriguez to consult, appealing to fans of their films (like myself). But maybe that was the natural path for Bebop to follow since Watanabe drew inspiration from some of the same places as Ritchie and Rodriguez. Ritchie stated in a 2008 interview that Sergio Leone has been an influence on his filmmaking, and Bebop is often associated with the Spaghetti Western genre that Leone is famous for. Rodriguez has cited influences from John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino whose combined film credits have subtle reflections throughout the Cowboy Bebop anime.

Episodes 9-10, though, follow a style that's closer to Watanabe's original work and tell a backstory that fans have been eager to see for two decades. They feel like a hybrid of Cowboy Bebop and Blade Runner, a franchise in which Watanabe created the anime short Blade Runner: Black Out 2022.

A flashback of Fearless (Spike) and Vicious being debriefed by their Syndicate boss after a hit.

The most notable and, perhaps, the best overall change to the story in live-action is getting more character development for Julia and Vicious. Julia has a fully fleshed-out story from the start, and we learn that Vicious has a more concrete motivation for his actions. I won't say more about that to avoid important spoilers, but suffice it to say Elena Satine (Julia) and Alex Hassell (Vicious) take those characters to the next level in their performances. Julia's story at the end of the season, though, is part of that 20% I am still not sure I'm happy with. It's still very new to me, so I'm hoping it will grow on me after some rewatching.

Adding to what I've mentioned so far, here are some other ways that Cowboy Bebop has evolved with this new series:

Genre shift -- The first eight episodes trim back the original neo-noir elements from the anime, shifting more heavily toward the cyberpunk style that was more of a backdrop in the original series. Season 1 also minimizes the themes of loneliness and just scraping by, which were big throughout the anime. In place of those themes is a heavier emphasis on each main character "carrying that weight" of their respective pasts while seeking connection and trust with this new Bebop family.

Rebalance of comedy and drama -- The anime was a drama with some added humor, which is how Watanabe envisioned it. The first 8 episodes of the Netflix series boosts the humor factor, adding in more comedic moments, even during action scenes.

Cowboy Bebop clock showing 15 hours
Clocks across the solar system in Cowboy Bebop use 15-hour cycles instead of the 12-hour cycles of Earth.

Alternating pace -- The first eight episodes of the new series click off at a steady pace, saving the long, dramatic camera shots to slow music (a staple of the anime) for the last two episodes of the season. Those who like the slower pace may feel like those early episodes are rushed. I wonder if it's an effort to pack in as much as they could in Season 1. With the Netflix episodes being 45 to 60 minutes each, a single live-action episode is like watching three of the anime's 24-minute episodes in one chunk.

Dialog drives things forward -- The new series develops a lot of the story and characters through clever dialog. Occasionally, that dialog is delivered at a break-neck pace, usually to a humorous effect. The way dialog was woven into each scene reminded me a lot of Guy Ritchie's films. I'm always hungry for engaging and memorable dialog, and this show definitely delivers!

Gren from Netflix's Cowboy Bebop
Mason Alexander Park plays Gren in Netflix's Cowboy Bebop, a character who has been reimagined for this adaptation.

Gender and race switches -- Some of the characters who were male in the anime series have a different gender identity in the Netflix series. Also, the casting for the new series adds more racial diversity across all the characters.

Sexuality shift -- The new series shows a future where humans accept gender and sexuality differences as normally as they might accept differences in hairstyles and clothing. This manifests in several scenes and in characters like Gren, Faye, Spike, and the nice woman on the bus (you'll know what I mean once you see it).

Language shift -- The new series is loose with profanity. For a Western audience, you might say it has a language profile that matches the maturity level of its other content (violence, sexuality, etc.). 

Quick note for fans looking for Radical Edward and haven't seen the show yet: Be patient! She'll be in there, just not much, and her appearance is more of a tease for Season 2. I love Ed so much and I look forward to seeing more!

I sincerely hope that others, especially long-time fans, give this new Cowboy Bebop a chance. I think it's brilliant and evolves the story and characters in good and interesting ways. Plus, the Season 1 ending changed the game from what we're used to knowing about the story, and it's kind of exciting not knowing what's going to happen next!

Have you checked it out yet? What do you think of the series? And have you spotted all the fun Bebop and non-Bebop Easter eggs throughout? Let's jam in the comments!

Centaurworld: Wacky, Weird, and You Should Watch It

Not long ago, a friend of mine posted a few screenshots from a new show on Netflix, and my immediate reaction was “WHAT IS THIS?!” I was amazed by the short video clips my friend had posted on her Instagram story, and I needed to watch it for myself. The show is Centaurworld, a Netflix original cartoon created by Megan Nicole Dong. Megan has worked in the art department for How To Train Your Dragon 2 and Pinky Malinky. Centaurworld is the first series she has created, and I am telling you now if you have the same kind of sense of humor that I do (anything that's absolutely ridiculous makes me laugh), this will be your new favorite show. I finished watching the first season within a week, and then immediately started a rewatch with my fiancée. The humor, the music, the animation styles, the absolute ridiculousness of the show, and the personalities of the characters all drew me in immediately.

Centaurworld "butt door"

Seriously, though... butt doors!

If you haven’t closed this page and started watching yet...let me dive deeper into what Centaurworld has to offer. Centaurworld follows a warhorse named Horse (voiced by Kimiko Glenn) who falls off a cliff with a magical artifact and is transported to a strange dimension like one she's never seen. She is used to war, battles, and monsters. Yet where she ends up is the exact opposite. Centaurworld is full of bright, beautifully weird landscapes and doors that look like... butts?? 

The first character Horse meets is Durpleton, a giraffe-centaur. Voiced by Josh Radnor (How I Met Your Mother), Durpleton is adorable, ridiculous, and has talking farts. Horse soon meets the rest of Durpleton’s herd, led by Wammawink (Megan Hilty), an alpaca-centaur. Others include Zulius (Parvesh Cheena), a zebra-centaur who is flamboyant and effeminate, and Ched (Chris Diamantopoulos, aka Mickey Mouse!) who is a finch-centaur. My personal favorite is Glendale, a gerenuk-centaur who is a kleptomaniac, voiced by Megan Nicole Dong herself. For a fun look at all these characters in action, check out this video introducing characters and actors alike:

Throughout the series, Horse is looking for a way out of Centaurworld, to make it home and get back to her Rider in her own world. Her magical artifact is, in fact, part of a key she needs to open a portal back to her dimension. To obtain the rest of the key parts, she must travel with Wammawink and her herd, meet the 6 shamans of Centaurworld, and convince them to give her their pieces of the key. The herd meets many new characters along the way, and sings songs during their adventures.

Centaurworld's Glendale and her portal tummy

Glendale accesses her portal tummy.

One of the first songs in Season 1 happens when the heard explains their magic to Horse: "Spells For Days". Not only is the song catchy and hilarious, but everyone's powers are absolutely ridiculous, hinting at the craziness ahead throughout the show. Durpleton and others can shoot sparkle blinkies out of their eyes, which fill the world with glitter. Ched can be handsome for 8 seconds, and the style of his face is similar to that of Handsome Squidward from SpongeBob SquarePants. Glendale has a portal tummy, which she uses to hide all the things she steals. Zulius can shapeshift his mane, which comes in handy in all sorts of ways throughout Season 1. And Wammawink, along with all the others, can shoot tiny versions of herself from her hooves. Once the tiny versions appear, they wonder how and why they were created and run off screaming.

Centaurworld's Wammawink shows her odd hoof magic

Wammawink shoots tiny versions of herself from her hooves.

This show has made me laugh and cry, and it's made me cry from laughing. From the situations the herd gets through together, to the songs, to the crazy characters they meet along the way, Centaurworld is just a feel-good show. The first 10 episodes are available on Netflix now, and Season 2 is on the way sometime in 2022. If you like Rick and Morty style animation, ridiculous songs, fun characters, and some super weird scenarios, I think Centaurworld will be right up your alley.

Do you think Centaurworld sounds interesting? If you’ve already seen it, share your reactions in the comments. Haven’t seen it yet? Go watch it right now! Then come back and tell me what you think!

In the meantime, enjoy this video of Megan Nicole Dong drawing some of her characters from the show:

 

The Kings of American Late Night TV

Call me an old soul. There’s something charming about watching television shows before the age of YouTube, particularly shows made here in the United States. They're a time capsule of what's happened in the past. The trends, the fashion, even the way people talked during the time are always fascinating to watch. What’s more interesting are the late night talk shows that have been in syndication for decades now. The shows are legendary, but the hosts are more famous than the shows themselves. Here are the hosts that stood out above the crowd.

"Here’s Johnny!" - The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson

Johnny Carson on set (MCT)

That catchphrase was on TVs all across America from 1962 until his retirement in 1992. Johnny Carson was the King of Late Night television on NBC’s third iteration of The Tonight Show. Much of what late night is today was based on Johnny’s show format. Without sidekicks like Carson's Ed McMahon, there wouldn’t be sidekicks such as Andy Richter from Conan, Steve Higgins from the current Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, or even Geoff Peterson from The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Band leaders on late shows like Paul Shaffer, Questlove, and Jon Batiste all follow the legacy of Doc Severinsen, who led his own orchestra on Carson. Johnny's format was timeless. 

Ed McMahon and Johnny Carson (The New York Times)

Johnny Carson (right) with long-time colleague Ed McMahon. (The New York Times)

In a tribute episode of The Late Show with David Letterman when Johnny Carson passed away in 2005, Letterman remarked that everyone who hosts a late night talk show wants to do their version of The Tonight Show. Sure, they can emulate him, but they can never be him. 

What was even more memorable about Carson were the sketches he took part of during his tenure on The Tonight Show. One of the most iconic recurring sketches was Carnac the Magnificent. Ed McMahon hypes up the audience as he introduces Carnac, the turbaned seer from the East, played by Carson. He walks onto the stage, always stumbling on a step before he takes a seat. He predicts the question inside a “hermetically” sealed envelope that was locked away in a mayonnaise jar at a local sporting goods store since noon that day (or something like that). He would then hold the envelope to his head and utter the answer to the question inside. He would open the envelope, blow on it to take the card out, and read the punchline. 

Here are some of Carnac's predictions over the years:

Check out this Carnac sketch where he delivers one of these great punchlines:

When a prediction falls flat, Carnac would say something snarky. When Ed hands the seer the last envelope, the audience applauds knowing the sketch is ending, to which Carnac says something even snarkier.

While interviewing guests, Carson still is the star of the show as he highlights his guests and what they’re up to. Whether or not the guests were pleasant or the questions were tough, Johnny would always make the topic entertaining. The audience still gets a kick no matter what guest is on the show.

Check out Johnny with Dom Deluise in 1974 letting the comedian do his work:

 

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Dick Cavett!" - The Dick Cavett Show

Dick Cavett on set (ABC Photo Archives)

A former writer on Carson’s The Tonight Show, Dick Cavett hosted The Dick Cavett Show on ABC opposite Carson on NBC from 1969-1975. It was a competition, albeit a friendly one, to see who will be a ratings juggernaut. However, Carson reigned in the rating every single time. Then, while Carson stayed on one network, Cavett’s show moved to CBS in 1975 and bounced around between networks for two more decades.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono with Dick Cavett (BBC)

John Lennon and Yoko Ono were guests on the Dick Cavett Show. (BBC)

What makes Cavett one of the Kings of Late Night? While Carson was flamboyant and full of pizzazz, Cavett showed his chill side and focused more on the interview than lighthearted sketches. Instead of asking 21 questions or showing his dominance as a host, he would always be level with the guest.

As a result of this focus, Cavett breaks the late night show mold by bringing in guests that are not common to late night: legendary Spanish painter Salvador Dali, film director Truman Capote, and even film mogul Orson Welles. It was the counterculture of what was going on with late night at the time, which was more about that Carson-like pizzazz. Cavett's interview approach was a big contrast, too. Carson would have multiple guests on to promote their stuff for a few minutes at a time, but Cavett brought in a single guest and let them be themselves and show. 

Check out below with Cavett interviewing Jimi Hendrix discussing his life as a musician taking off to stardom:

In this interview clip, you can see that Cavett brings out more of his guests with his cool and laissez faire demeanor. And the guests are comfortable to share more of themselves as the interview goes along. The guests, and even Cavett himself, often got lost in the conversation and forgot there was a show still going on!

 

"From New York, The Greatest City of the World!" - Late Show with David Letterman

David Letterman monologue (Getty Images)

David Letterman is what I grew up with watching late night TV. My uncle, who worked as an accountant at CBS at the time, would always joke at family dinners, "When will Dave pick up his paycheck because he doesn't have time to pick them up? He’s that popular!" The Late Show was my lullaby to an arduous day in college and my early career. His humor always finds ways for me to laugh.

Ed Sullivan Theater during Late Show with David Letterman (Shutterstock)That's the genius of Letterman's hosting that made him a clear King of Late Night. He didn’t shy away from the norms of what comedy should be. He blazed his own brand of comedy to entertain the masses. And the audience would soak that all in.

That unique brand included bits like his regular visits to local deli owner Rupert Jee, who owns Hello Deli in the Ed Sullivan Theater building that was home to Dave's show. Dave would send him out to do random tasks for the show: wait tables obnoxiously, sing a song from the movie Frozen, or even skydive! It was often when the show had run out of ideas for sketches that week that Rupert was brought along for the ride.

Here's a clip of Rupert Jee taking a leap of faith in 2005:

While interviewing guests, Letterman would not shy away from letting his guests know what he thought of them or from asking challenging questions like his mentor Johnny Carson. If he finds the guest interesting, he’ll tag along with the guest. If he finds the guest annoying, though, he won’t hold back on how this interview is going nowhere. This interview with Michael Shannon shows what it was like when the interview went well:

Also check the video below of the infamous interview he did with Joaquin Phoenix back in 2009 where an interview seems to go nowhere:

Later on, Phoenix admitted that it was all an act and that the audience and even Letterman himself weren’t even aware of it!

I had the privilege of seeing Letterman live in 2015, and it was a spectacle to see. What's even more interesting is how his brash comedy becomes more magnified as you see it physically in front of you instead of a TV screen. In the live audience, I got to see Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra play during the commercial breaks. And man they are really talented musicians, something you can't fully appreciate just watching on TV! The overall atmosphere was ecstatic and full of energy. You just want to keep cheering Dave on to keep him going. Everything was kept under wraps and you’re confined to the studio throughout the taping. Security aside, though, it was a really memorable moment, and not long before his retirement that year!

 

"It’s a Great Day For America, Everybody!" - The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson

Craig Ferguson on the Late Late Show set (The New Yorker)

Last, I have to include one of the most off-beat and nonchalant hosts I've ever watched late at night. I always compare him to the Sour Patch Kids candy: he’s naughty and frisky on some episodes and a sweetheart in others. That man is Scottish comedian Craig Ferguson who hosted The Late Late Show from 2005 to 2014, replacing former host Craig Kilborn. Though he had a shorter run than all the previous hosts in this article, Ferguson left an indelible mark on late night TV.

Craig Ferguson with Geoff Peterson (CBS)

Craig Ferguson and his bony sidekick Geoff Peterson. (CBS)

Every Craig Ferguson episode feels like seeing an improv show. Every joke seemed ad-libbed, and Craig’s spontaneous humor seemed to burst out of nowhere! Even Craig himself would crack up in surprise when the bit worked!

One of these moments happened when he incorporated puppets into the show. But these were no ordinary puppets! These puppets could cuss like a sailor on rum! First was Sid, the foul-mouthed North Londoner white rabbit. Then came Wavy Rancheros, a sassy alligator from Louisiana who constantly waves at the audience and rants at the audience to start the show off right. Wavy was such a hit that he took over hosting duties for the 1,000th episode of The Late Late Show. Here's a clip of Wavy showing his angry side:

Craig also read viewer mail as a bit in the show, and he answered it in a funny way. When he goes into a tirade is when the real magic happens in those viewer mail portions. And when he swears, there’s always a flag with the country’s language to censor it, way better than just a bleep.

As an interviewer, Craig charmed his guests. He didn't read and follow his cue cards and ripped them to shreds. And he even got his guests involved in the show's gags, including things like taking an awkward pause or playing harmonica to end their interview.

Carl Reiner with Craig Ferguson (CBS)

Carl Reiner (left) was a recurring guest on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. (CBS)

One of our editors, Stephanie Watson, added more insight as to why Craig Ferguson is a late show icon. She had the privilege of being in his studio audience in 2007 which taped the same day in the same CBS Studios building where the legendary Bob Barker was taping his final show as host of The Price is Right. Stef remembers that Craig's audience was really small and intimate. She got to see some parts they taped for future episodes, too, that would air later in the week.

Stef's favorite moment of the taping was when Craig took time to talk with the audience before the taping and then hint at those side conversations in his monologues. It was like an inside joke only the studio audience would get. She also got to see legendary actor, comedian, and writer Carl Reiner! Similar to my Letterman audience experience, Stef couldn't leave during the "commercials" while they were taping. Fortunately, they could keep a bottle of water on hand.

James Corden and Craig Ferguson (CBS)

James Corden and Craig Ferguson

Stef's take on seeing Craig as a host is similar to my own: his sharp wit, quick sense of humor, and warm demeanor really stand out among other late night hosts. He impressed future hosts to continue his same brand of humor and getting the guests in on the gags. His successor, James Corden, took it up a notch with his famous Carpool Karaoke, which is now a viral hit on YouTube.

 

Some honorable mentions:

Sharing late night fame with these legends are numerous honorable mentions whose impact still has significant weight on the television landscape. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Jay Leno: In the fourth iteration of The Tonight Show, Jay Leno had an opportunity to take over Carson's duties from 1992 until 2009. What made Leno unique was one of his segments where he took local newspaper clippings and poked fun at them. Then he would create the punchline out of them or just let the clipping do the talking as the audience started to laugh. An interesting aspect of Leno's interviews was his ability to find a "gotcha" moment, with varying guest reactions.

Check this clip with Hugh Grant about cheating on his then-girlfriend, Elizabeth Hurley, in 1995. Grant was brave enough to come forward about it:

Joan Rivers: The first-ever female host on late-night television, Joan Rivers was a pioneer. She gave credit for her success to Johnny Carson who gave her a shot as a guest host on The Tonight Show. Fox took notice and immediately picked her up to start her own show, The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, in 1986. Her show lasted one season. What stood out with Rivers was her ability to tell a story through her monologues. She can take any topic and make it relevant to the audience. Her brash, no-nonsense humor clicked with the audience.

Watch this showcase of her work on The Tonight Show and her fabulous monologues:

Given all these legendary shoes to fill, what does the future hold for late night? 

Late night veteran Conan O’Brien made an online presence by creating his own podcast, Conan Needs A Friend, and conducting longer interviews much like Cavett did on television. 

Jimmy Fallon and The Roots with Ed Sheeran (NBC)

In the current iteration of The Tonight Show, Jimmy Fallon and The Roots often perform with their music guests, sometimes using kids' classroom instruments. Here, they're performing "Shape of You" with Ed Sheeran.

Jimmy Fallon keeps the current iteration of The Tonight Show powered by entertainment much like Carson's. Fallon plays games with guests like Slap Jack in which a player who busts on a game of blackjack gets smacked by a giant foam hand. 

Stephen Colbert, now hosting The Late Show, brings his iconic political satire to the late night landscape. 

The groundwork for these modern hosts was laid by the legends. Carson, Cavett, Letterman, and Ferguson blazed the trail of late night television, and the future night lights shine bright for both traditional primetime and modern online mediums.

So which of these kings of late night would you like to see more of? What are your favorite late night hosts from other countries? Share those in the comments and let's discuss!

Stephen Colbert selfie with David Letterman

Stephen Colbert (left) taking a selfie with his Late Show predecessor David Letterman. (KPCW)

Friends: The Show That Was There For Me

It was the fall semester in 1995, and I was in my senior year at NC State. My roommate, Josie, and I had made a ritual of hanging out in our room in Watauga Hall on Thursday nights. We would order pizza, watch TV, and talk a lot. This was before it was normal to have computers or mobile phones around, so it was just us and the TV, and it was some of my best times in college. It was then that Josie introduced me to a show she had fallen in love with over the past year: Friends. It quickly became my favorite television show of all time, and it would be my port in the storm of life over the next nine years. 

As I have reminisced in this 25th anniversary year of the show's debut, I have found myself buying shirts and keychains, and I even bought and assembled the LEGO sets while rewatching the series on HBO Max (that's me with the sets in the image above). That inspired me to share with you all the place the show holds in my life and how different the show seems through the lens of the world we live in today.

"It's about that time in your life where your friends are your family." - David Crane

This building at the corner of Grove and Bedford in Manhattan was used as the external shot of the apartment building in Friends.

There are few shows as iconically Generation X as Friends. Running on NBC in the U.S. from September 1994 through May 2004, the show featured a group of six adults living in the East Village, and it covered their lives from their late 20s into their early 30s. Show creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane explain in the 2021 special Friends: The Reunion on HBO Max that the show is inspired by their personal experiences living in New York in their 20s. Crane states that the show is "about that time in your life where your friends are your family." Kauffman and Crane worked with Kevin S. Bright to executive produce the show throughout its ten-year run.

When the show started in 1994, the characters ranged in age from about 24-29, and I wasn't far behind them having turned 21 that year. Between the shared Gen X cohort with the characters and their relatable life scenarios in the show, I was able to connect to these six friends in ways I couldn't connect with characters on Seinfeld, Frasier and other contemporary hit sit-coms from that time.

Friends TV show, group shot from season 1

Matt LeBlanc, Jennifer Aniston, David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Courteney Cox, and Lisa Kudrow in Season 1, Episode 8, "The One Where Nana Dies Twice."

"Welcome to the real world. It sucks. You’re gonna love it." - Monica

Those TV friendships stayed relatively consistent while my life was in a whirlwind. During the show's run, I struggled in a dating relationship, graduated from college, got married, changed careers, moved seven times, met new friends, lost touch with old friends, got divorced, and finally discovered how to enjoy living on my own. For a decade, it felt like I was always a few months on one side or the other of some major life transition. Yet through it all, I could sit down on Thursday nights and connect with Friends. I could relate to the challenges the characters faced and share in their joy and pain (cue Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock). I figured if they could get through their struggles, maybe I could, too.

"So why don’t you be a grown-up and come and watch some TV in the fort?" - Joey

Like with any friendship, my relationship with the show had its ups and downs. After creating an interesting arc between Ross and Rachel in the first three seasons, the writing in Seasons 4-6 settled into a pattern of "will they/won't they" that got to be monotonous. Fortunately, that was balanced by building the relationship between Chandler and Monica through Seasons 5-6. Chandler and Monica became my favorite thing about the show, and two of my favorite series moments were in the last four episodes of Season 6: Chandler revealing to Phoebe (and the audience) that he's going to propose marriage to Monica, and the proposal scene itself.

"We're on a break!" - Ross

Confession time: I was a really bad fan during the last two seasons. That was around the time that my The Lord of the Rings fandom and friendships were a major part of my life. I'd also been laid off from a job and had to move in with my parents while going through my divorce. I actually didn't see any new episodes of Friends for almost two years until both seasons were out on DVD. I then caught up with my TV friends and, while watching the series finale, had a really good cry.

Friends TV show, Ross and Rachel, 1994-2004

Ross and Rachel's cyclical relationship is an underlying theme from the first episode (left) to the last (right).

"It's the end of an era!" - Rachel

While I went through all my own changes over ten years, so did the world around me. I evolved with that world, and the show evolved with its characters gaining more maturity and empathy. I was a very different person by the end, and so were they.

But, like many people, when I rewatch the show now, the humor doesn't land quite the same way as it did then. I have different social attitudes than I did during the show's original run, continuing to evolve with the world around me. I think that's the reason why I've heard so many folks say in recent years that the characters in the show are awful, that the jokes are in bad taste, and that nothing in the show is realistic. I can definitely understand where that perception comes from, but I want to share why I feel that perception is short-sighted.

Friends TV show, group shot in the final episode

The cast of Friends in the final scene of the last episode.

First off, I love the show as a situation comedy of its time. A sitcom creates characters that you have a vested interest in and mixes in some absurd comedy that you can laugh at because you know it's not realistic. For its first four seasons, Friends shared the same NBC Must See TV primetime block on Thursdays as Seinfeld. Seinfeld was dubbed the "show about nothing" and often tops lists of some of the greatest TV shows of all time, all while being far less realistic than Friends. Sitcoms from the earliest in TV history through the 90s were designed as an escape from reality, and Friends stayed true to that.

Friends TV show, flashback with Chandler, Monica, and Ross

In a Season 5 flashback to 1987, high-school-age Monica overhears her brother Ross's college friend Chandler say he doesn't want to be left alone with Ross's "fat sister."

All that said, and even though I'm a life-long fan, I admit that Friends used misogyny, homophobia, and lookism as frequent sources of humor. I admit that it just doesn't "feel" the same now because Western society's social norms have changed. Today, large parts of society are fighting hard against toxic masculinity, body shaming, and homophobia, including as sources of humor. In modern entertainment, if characters show these attitudes, they're either the "bad" guys or they become enlightened as their characters evolve. For example, consider the male chauvinist characters in the ensemble show The Big Bang Theory (2007-2019) who are openly ridiculed or humiliated for chauvinist behavior in their professional and personal lives until they learn to respect women and treat them as equals.

Friends TV show, Chandler in a box

In Season 4, Chandler spends Thanksgiving in a box to show atonement for not being honest with Joey.

However, in spite of Friends not reflecting today's societal standards, the characters do often call each other out on socially inappropriate remarks and insensitive behavior. Those calling out those behaviors often reflect the audience's real-life reactions. In fact, much of the humor around that behavior doesn't come from the behavior itself but from how someone else is reacting to it. For example, a repeated theme in the show is Ross being excessively uncomfortable by anything that suggests a man isn't "manly" enough. But it's always characters' being put off by Ross's behavior that drives the humor (and sometimes drama) in the scenes. We laugh when Ross continues to be hung up on showing someone how manly he is while his friends point out how ridiculous he's being. Ross stays a sympathetic character by experiencing the consequences of his abhorrent behavior and, eventually, showing remorse and growth.

"That is brand new information!" - Phoebe

Friends TV show, Carol and Susan

Carol (Jane Sibbett) and Susan (Jessica Hecht) got married in Season 2 and were the rare example of a normal, healthy family relationship throughout the series.

What some people forget or don't realize about Friends is how groundbreaking it was for its time. The first two seasons prominently featured a main character going through a divorce and shared custody of a child, another character dealing with her parents going through a divorce, and a lesbian relationship and marriage. Sitcoms prior to this rarely touched on similar subjects, and there was a lot of press about whether NBC was doing the right thing by having such themes in their primetime TV shows.

Later in the show, we saw a lot of other story elements that were completely new or very rare for a sitcom: a reference to a polyamorous relationship; a surrogacy to help a couple have children; an unplanned pregnancy; a single mother choosing to raise her daughter on her own; and a couple facing infertility and choosing to adopt. For a sitcom, it had its share of heavy topics and dramatic moments. Friends led a movement of sitcoms becoming more serial and more willing to take on dramatic story arcs and less comfortable topics. And it helped pave the way for the equally groundbreaking Will & Grace in the late 90s.

“I’m not great at the advice. Can I interest you in a sarcastic comment?” - Chandler

Friends TV show, Season 8, Episode 1, dedication to NYCI can't complete this article without mentioning the show's overlap with the historic events in New York City on September 11, 2001. That day shaped how Americans would feel looking back at those Manhattan skyline shots throughout the first seven seasons of Friends. I remember NBC announcing about a week later that the show would continue with its Friends Season 8 premiere on September 27, keeping its original story and humor as a break from the tragic events and aftermath. This was in keeping with a general feeling across the U.S. that the best thing we could do to honor the people we lost was to show our resilience and move forward. Friends producers avoided any skyline shots of the World Trade Center towers from that season forward, and the Season 8 premiere was dedicated to "The People Of New York City." In Seasons 8-10, there were other things in the show that subtly honored the people we lost and the people who worked hard to help the city recover. Otherwise, the show chose to continue its role as an escape for us all during that difficult time.

"Pivot!" - Ross

Central Perk on the Warner Bros. Studio Tour

Central Perk, part of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

Thanks for taking this trip on the memory subway with me. One day I hope to take that Warner Bros. Studio Tour (wbstudiotour.com) and visit the Central Perk set and iconic fountain in the show's opening credits. In the meantime, I thought up some fun community-inspired questions about Friends while going through my recent rewatch. Think you know the answers? Drop-in a comment below and I'll let you know how you did!

 

  1. How did Carol notify Ross that she was in labor with Ben?
  2. What popular game console of the time did some of the friends own and was mentioned on multiple occasions?
  3. Who was the first friend shown using the internet?
  4. What classic arcade game did Phoebe give Chandler and Monica as a wedding gift?
  5. What Marvel film star played a regular character on the series during the last two seasons?

Star Wars: The Bad Batch Season 1 Wrap-up and Omega Theories

It's been a crazy summer of hot days and career changes for me, but Star Wars: The Bad Batch has been a consistent part of each weekend. Since my article kicking off the season, I've looked forward to this time to reflect on the series so far. Now that Season 1 has come to a close, and knowing we have a Season 2 ahead, let's take that plunge into the spoiler-rich Kaminoan depths!

First thing's first: this show is an epic visual and audio experience in every episode. The colors and lighting are stunning, reproducing masterfully crafted live-action cinematography in an animated format. The action itself is worthy of the Star Wars brand and on par with an action-packed Marvel film. Also, the sound design is a perfect match to the visual experience, including the use of the ear ringing effect after an explosion and simulating even the most subtle position changes of characters in the frame.

Completing the show is Kevin Kiner's engaging score, bringing the power and emotion we've come to expect in a Star Wars production. As he did in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels, Kiner finds just the right melodies and impact for each moment in The Bad Batch. One musical moment that stands out for me is his blending the unique sound of Fennec Shand's theme into the action score during her confrontation with fellow bounty hunter Cad Bane.

Omega and Hunter

The basis for this amazing experience is in its writing: the stories and characters were engaging, and I was invested in each of them from the start. Our main characters, the Bad Batch itself, evolve into more than the stereotypes I introduced in my previous article. Season 1 forced them to adapt to a new world where the Republic and the humanitarian values the clones fought for have been absorbed by a cold, oppressive Empire. Former enemies are now allies in the fight to remain free from tyranny, and former allies are now showing them the business ends of their blasters. Crosshair, Hunter, and Omega each evolved a great deal by the season finale.

That writing comes to life thanks to some great performances. I trusted that Dee Bradley Baker would be up to the enormous task he had in the recording booth, and my trust was rewarded. Dee has taken his work from The Clone Wars to the next level. Every character he voices has a wholly unique sound, personality, and emotional profile: the entire Batch, Captain Rex, Gregor, and every other clone trooper, plus a few additional characters. As I watched, I was constantly amazed at Dee's performances, and I'd love to see him get some awards for his work on Season 1. Check out this Entertainment Tonight interview with Dee talking about his work in The Bad Batch:

 

As a quick note for those going into the voice acting career field, make sure you put Dee's website on your personal list of resources to read and reference: iwanttobeavoiceactor.com

Michelle Ang (photo by Sam Nixon)

Complementing Dee was Michelle Ang's performance as Omega, which highlights the character's wide range of experiences throughout the season. Every emotional state is distinct with lots of great nuance in Michelle's delivery. The writing for Season 1 doesn't leave Omega in the passenger seat as a perspective character; she's an active part of driving the story forward. And thanks to Michelle's performance, I feel like I'm fighting with the Batch right alongside Omega!

There's another dimension to my love for this show that I call the "Filoniverse factor." Dave Filoni created both The Clone Wars and Rebels, and he's been side-by-side with Jon Favreau on The Mandalorian, too. The Filoniverse refers to Filoni's original characters and storylines that gained popularity on their own and have cross-connected the shows he's been involved with. The Bad Batch, created by Jennifer Corbett and Brad Rau, is solidly anchored in the Filoniverse with cameos from characters like Cut and Suu from The Clone Wars, Hera Syndulla and Chopper from Rebels, and Captain Rex and Cham Syndulla who were in both of those series. As a big fan of the Filoniverse, I was excited to see every familiar character.

Kanan Jarrus, formerly Caleb Dume (left), and Hera Syndulla (right) appeared as adolescents in Season 1 of Star Wars: The Bad Batch, a great tie-in with a fan-favorite Star Wars couple from Star Wars: Rebels (center).

Early in the season, though, I was afraid that we would revisit so many other Filoniverse characters that it would take away from the Batch. I had a similar reaction when Ahsoka Tano became part of Rebels: for a few episodes, it felt like her presence put a dampener on the show's standalone story. But the writers eventually balanced Ahsoka's presence in the show without compromising the show's own characters and story. By the end, it felt like I was watching one larger story of the Star Wars universe, not a standalone series.

That's the same impression I have now with The Bad Batch. Rex, the Martez sisters, Hera, and more crossed over, but in a way that looks like we were just seeing some missing chapters in their lives. Everything is still tied to the story of the Batch, which is intrinsically linked to everything going on in the galaxy during this transitional time. I hope that balance remains moving forward to Season 2.

The Bad Batch helps Cid retrieve a spice shipment in an action-adventure sequence from S1:E13, "Infested."

I'll have to do another article soon reflecting on how this show and others are developing and cross-connecting the broader Star Wars universe. There's a lot ahead with the Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka Tano series, the continuation of The Mandalorian, and the new Boba Fett story. I am loving seeing all these brilliant creators working together to tell a single epic and engaging story. (And maybe us Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order fans will eventually get the Cal Kestis cameo we had hoped to see when the Bad Batch was on Bracca.)

Now, though, I want to go back to Omega and talk a bit about this ongoing mystery and popular theory about what makes her unique as a clone. 

Omega tells the Batch about a hidden access to enter the cloning facility on Kamino.

What we know: We've learned that Omega is an "unaltered" clone, so she doesn't have the rapid aging and soldier-related enhancements of her brothers. She's also female and doesn't display Jango Fett's physical features. It certainly makes sense that using Jango's X chromosome and not his Y chromosome would have affected gene expression. That said, The Clone Wars and Rebels aren't known for a lot of subtlety when it comes to hinting about character origins and abilities, so I suspect The Bad Batch is following that model. That leaves me asking:

Is Omega really a Jango Fett clone, or is her genetic donor someone else entirely?

The Force-sensitive clone theory: My question ties in with a popular theory that Omega is a Force-sensitive clone. But I have my doubts about Omega's Force sensitivity after watching through the season twice. Omega does have heightened perception, and she's got a sharper-than-average head for tactics. However, she hasn't displayed the more obvious Force traits like telekinesis. Even in the life-or-death situations, she was in during the season finale, she didn't unlock that ability. So if she is Force-sensitive, it manifests differently than the Jedi and Sith we know, or she's going to have to unlock it in a different way.

Obi-Wan Kenobi introduces Sheev Palpatine (left) to a young Anakin Skywalker (right) for the first time.

Looking at the clues: As I speculate the answer to my question and follow clues from Season 1, the most obvious "who else" answer would be that she's a clone of either Anakin Skywalker or Sheev Palpatine. In the broader Star Wars narrative, Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker told us that Palpatine had been experimenting with cloning technology since before the Clone Wars in an attempt to sustain himself in his rise to rule the galaxy. Also, when we look at the timeline, Omega's "adolescence" would put her around age 13, aligning her creation to two significant events:

Putting the clues together: If we combine those clues with a creative consideration of Omega's character design, we could guess that she's a clone of then-Senator Palpatine as part of his long-term plan. But Omega's curiosity, optimism, and skills in mechanics (when fixing Gonky and Todo 360) may be some less-than-subtle references to young Anakin from Phantom Menace. I would certainly see the logic in her being a clone of either Palpatine or Anakin, or some combination of both, maybe with Jango's DNA mixed in.

Is Omega (center) truly a first-generation clone of Jango Fett like Kix (left), or does she have genetic material from a Force-sensitive like Palpatine (top-right) or Anakin (bottom-right)?

In any case, Omega being a clone of a Force-sensitive person would be one explanation for why the Kaminoans hired bounty hunters to bring her back to Kamino. As to whether she'll manifest more noticeable Force powers, though, I'm happy to remain unspoiled and speculation-free as we anticipate Season 2. For now, it's enough for me that she's a clever and fun character to follow.

Crosshair finds his true purpose in serving in the Empire and encourages his Bad Batch brothers to do the same.

Wrapping up my overall impressions, I can relate to the perspective I've read from some viewers that Season 1 felt unfinished. As I reflect, I think it's just because I hoped that Crosshair would return to the Batch by the end of the season. But I think the writers were smart to acknowledge that even without an inhibitor chip, the clones are individuals who can choose different paths and be compelled by different values and purposes. That's a much stronger message overall. Plus, given its place in the Star Wars timeline, this isn't the kind of story they could wrap up with a nice neat bow. 

Once they announced a Season 2, I knew we would see an ending that was more like being in the eye of the storm rather than in its aftermath. Fortunately, they're set up to tackle some new adventures in Season 2. 

How are you feeling about The Bad Batch as we reflect on Season 1? And where do you stand on the theories about Omega's origins? Let's discuss in the comments!

 

What Effect Did Loki Have on the MCU Timeline? Series Review and Theories

Loki aired its last episode, which means that I can put all my thoughts into an article, review it, and ponder theories about it. Naturally, there will be spoilers from throughout the season. Without further ado, let’s get right into it! 

As a long-time fan of Tom Hiddleston (since Wallander), seeing his career grow was already a privilege, but now it’s just pure happiness. Ever since he was first introduced in Thor (2011) as the mischievous god Loki, I couldn’t wait to see more of what he would do with this role. I think it's completely fair to say that he loves this character dearly and, more than anything else, he understands it. After 6 appearances in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, we finally arrived at Loki's glorious return in the form of a Marvel TV series on Disney+.

Loki gives us the version of the character who escaped with the Tesseract during the time heist in Avengers: Endgame. From a character development standpoint, this is the Loki from 2012's The Avengers. This Loki obviously didn’t go through all the same changes as the Loki we lost in Avengers: Infinity War. So people were wondering (and rightfully so) how well the series would work. This version of Loki still has a very rocky relationship with his family. He still believes in his "glorious purpose" and can't see the bigger picture. Marvel didn’t disappoint, though. After his escape from New York, Loki was immediately arrested by the TVA (Time Variance Authority) and recruited to help by Mobius M. Mobius (Owen Wilson). 

The first episode served two very important purposes: 

  1. Getting to know what the TVA was about. 
  2. Confronting Loki with the events he would have gone through if the time heist hadn’t given him an opportunity to escape. 

That second purpose was the answer fans were looking for after Endgame. By showing Loki what happened to him, his family brought out the side of him who was always there, the one Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and Frigga (Rene Russo) saw and we all grew to love. Tom Hiddleston’s performance through those moments was incredible. It sure brought out some tears. 

After learning about the variants (people who disrupted the Sacred Timeline) and why it was important to keep them under control, the series revealed that the variant Mobius was after was, in fact, another Loki. They didn’t beat around the bush, and by the end of episode two, we met Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), aka "Lady Loki."

The endeavor of the two Lokis was both mesmerizing and exciting to watch through the rest of the season. I, however, want to share my only two criticisms towards the whole show. 

From the moment they hinted at it in Episode 3 through to the season finale, I just hated the idea of making Loki and Sylvie’s relationship romantic. It would have made much more sense to give them a sibling kind of relationship since Thor wasn’t around to fill that role for them. Even better, I would have loved to see Loki discovering self-love by seeing things through Sylvie’s eyes. I honestly thought that’s where all of it was headed, but they just had to make it weird. Like, disturbingly weird. 

That kiss in Episode 6一even if I do agree with others that Sylvie used it as manipulation to achieve what she wanted一almost made me turn off the whole thing. I know many people don’t like it and a few who do, but people, please, it is just utterly weird and creepy. Some bring up the argument that something like this would be very Loki-like, but I have to disagree on that point. 

The other thing I didn’t really like is how it started as a Loki-based show and then it turned into a Sylvie show. I do think Sophia Di Martino was the perfect casting, and she did an amazing job with the character. BUT the Loki we came here to see basically got reduced to a secondary character. At points, he was nothing more than a helpless love interest and a stepping stone to Sylvie’s goal. They made him seem like he was a bit dumb and definitely way too naive. By Episode 3, I started seeing the signs of this, but it got progressively more true by the end of the season. In the last episode specifically, Loki was basically just tagging along. 

That said, this didn’t stop Tom Hiddleston from being the absolute highlight of every scene he was in. He is Loki; he understands this character like no one else can, and it shows in everything he does. I think it is one of the main reasons why many love both Tom and Loki so dearly. 

I am still trying to digest everything we saw and all the information we got from the show, but these two things definitely bug me in this near-perfect entry to the MCU. 

 

Looking ahead, what effects will the events in Loki have on the MCU timeline?

It seems that WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier served more as character developments while also setting up these characters’ places in the future while the true start to MCU's Phase 4 is in the last episode of Loki. 

First and foremost, we were introduced to the next main villain of the MCU in the form of He Who Remains played by the amazing Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country). The show doesn’t reveal much at first, but people following MCU news closely know that Majors was cast as Kang, the villain in the next Ant-Man film. Kang the Conqueror is a time-traveling supervillain in the Marvel comics. He had several versions of him appear throughout the stories mostly fighting the Avengers and Fantastic Four. To quote He Who Remains himself from the last Episode: 

"If you think I'm evil, well, just wait 'til you meet my variants."

He Who Remains (Jonathan Majors) waits at the end of time

It's in this scene that He Who Remains revealed to Loki and Sylvie that they had two options. Option 1 was to kill him and, with that, break the Sacred Timeline, pushing it into war with his other variants wreaking havoc. Option 2 was to take over control of the TVA from him and preserve the Sacred Timeline indefinitely. With Sylvie being dead set on revenge, combined with not believing a thing that He Who Remains is telling them, she chooses Option 1.

With that one moment, the MCU changed at its core. 

I had a theory on why we haven't had a Spider-Man: No Way Home trailer yet. With the rumors already surrounding the movie, I said that the reason we didn’t get a trailer is because the events in Loki will have a serious effect on it. I now whole-heartedly believe that I was right. We already know that there are two confirmed returns in Spider-Man with Alfred Molina reprising his role as Doctor Otto Octavius from Spider-Man 2 and Jamie Foxx as Max Dillon from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Rumors have been going around ever since, that previous Spider-Man actors Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield will be in the film. With the events of Loki in mind, there's now a logical way that both Tobey and Andrew could return, each one as a Spider-Man variant. 

Also keep in mind that the big boss himself, Kevin Feige, hinted that you need to see the MCU TV shows to fully understand the upcoming movies. 

Spider-Man is just one of the stories that could be highly affected by the events of Loki. We don’t yet know much about this year's upcoming films Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Eternals, but I definitely wouldn’t be surprised if they also acknowledge the events from Loki. For certain, though, there are three other upcoming films that will have strong ties to the show: Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, Thor: Love and Thunder, and Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is already very revealing just by its title. Jokes are flying around that poor Doctor Strange will have to clean up all the mess Loki and Wanda caused. Elizabeth Olsen has been confirmed to reprise her role as Wanda in the film, and rumors are that Tom Hiddleston will appear as Loki. Given the events in Loki, there are endless possibilities of where Doctor Strange’s story can go, and it would be impossible to even guess which way Marvel will take it. But, with Benedict Cumberbatch also returning in Spider-Man as Doctor Strange the chances of… well… madness… in his upcoming solo film literally multiplied. One thing is for sure, we are definitely not ready for what’s to come in this new era of the MCU. 

Natalie Portman from San Diego Comic-Con (2019) (photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez)

Thor: Love and Thunder will be affected, not just because Thor is Loki’s brother and is rumored to return in this movie, but also as part of answering the big questions about Jane (Natalie Portman). We haven’t seen her since Thor: The Dark World, and Thor: Ragnarok revealed that Thor and Jane broke up. So it definitely came as a surprise when Marvel announced the Phase 4 movies and TV shows that Kevin Feige happily announced that Natalie Portman will make her return. During the 2019 San Diego Comic-Con where this was announced, Natalie herself even held up Thor's hammer, Mjölnir. This suggests we may see Mighty Thor from the comics in which Jane Foster becomes worthy to wield Mjölnir the same way Captain America did in Endgame. BUT, with Loki in mind and Jane Foster being MIA from the MCU for so long, one can’t help but wonder if this version of Jane is gonna be a variant.

Here's my logic: We know that Mjölnir got destroyed by Hela (Cate Blanchett) in Thor: Ragnarok. Thor brought it back from the past during the time heist event in Endgame but it was returned to its original place by Captain America in the end. So at the moment, Mjölnir is in little pieces in the current MCU timeline, right? But then why would Portman have held up Mjölnir at SDCC? Given all that, I believe that the Jane Foster we are getting in Thor: Love and Thunder will be a variant. I might be completely wrong, but as the title of this article says I am giving you all my theories. 

Ant-man and the Wasp: Quantumania is likely going to be the film most affected by Loki. I believe that the TVA and the Citadel are both places existing in the Quantum Realm. In Ant-man and the Wasp, you can see a subatomic city structure for only just a second. Although it wasn’t confirmed by the end of Loki Season 1, I still stand by this theory. I think that what we see there is the TVA headquarters. Also, as I previously mentioned, we’re gonna see a version of He Who Remains in the next Ant-man movie in the form of Kang the Conqueror (Jonathan Majors). 

The suspicious quantum realm city from Ant-Man

I won’t speculate about the upcoming shows like Hawkeye, She-Hulk, Ms. Marvel, or Marvel's What If...? because while I do believe Loki could have an effect on them, I also think that the major multiverse events will happen in the movies more so than in the shows. But, at this point, it is all a waiting game. 

Our favorite God of Mischief made sure that we are not without excitement, entertainment, and fun. Loki managed to add even more layers for us to love in Loki while also giving us many things to look forward to. We don’t know yet when Season 2 will arrive, but one thing is for sure: Loki still has a lot of things to do, and I can’t wait to see it! I won’t try and speculate which way the story will go because I strongly believe it will be affected by the previously mentioned films. I'm confident saying that the future is bright for the MCU. Maybe, even brighter than ever before, and I honestly can’t wait to see what else they will come up with. 

What's your take on the Loki series so far and how it's going to impact other MCU films and shows? Let's speculate in the comments!

 

Why That One Moment in Loki Meant So Much

It was 28 years ago, while I was in college, that I made the first mental connections to something I had felt prominently since my early teens. It would be another year before I had a name for it: bisexual. After another decade, I also better understood and accepted myself as pansexual and queer.

Since that time, it's taken courage to be out and stay out when it came to calling myself bisexual or pansexual. Like others who identify this way, I often felt that my sexuality was invisible. Some straight men I would date wouldn't seek to understand what that meant to me, they'd just get excited thinking this was their opportunity for a threesome with another woman. At the same time, both straight and gay acquaintances treated me like someone who was confused and just hadn't made up my mind yet. 

But what is there to decide? 

I'm sexually attracted to people of all genders. Plus, just because I chose to have a monogamous relationship with a man or woman doesn't change the fact that I am, still, a bisexual/pansexual person. That's still an important part of my identity, and I feel compelled to work toward a better overall cultural understanding of what it means.

So, when director Kate Herron and the amazing cast of Loki brought Loki's and Sylvie's sexualities into the conversation in June 2021, I was thrilled. Here's what happened...

Loki (Tom Hiddleston): "A bit of both..."

 

It's Season 1, Episode 3 of the series, and Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino), settle in on a train as part of escaping a planet on the verge of destruction. Loki and Sylvie are "variants" of the same person across alternate universes, which we call the "multiverse" in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This Loki is, in fact, a variant of Hiddleston's Loki that redeemed himself in Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Instead of completing that arc, though, this variant deviated from the timeline just after leading the attack on New York City in The Avengers (2012). He's now fleeing the "time cops" from the Time Variance Authority (TVA). Sylvie is a Loki variant who was born female in her timeline and has lived a very different life, on the run hiding from the TVA since childhood.

This scene was the first moment where the two characters had time to compare their lives and start to make a personal connection. As often happens in such conversations, the question of love and relationships comes up:

Sylvie: "You're a prince. There must have been would-be princesses, or perhaps another prince?"

Loki: "A bit of both, I suspect the same as you. But nothing ever..."

Sylvie (nodding): "...real."

Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino) relates to Loki's relationship history.

 

I admit I felt some proud tears at this moment, and I couldn't stop smiling for hours. Kate Herron was already becoming one of my favorite directors with this series, but this moment was next-level. Kate herself even shared how much this moment meant to her as a director:

 

This is what we mean when we say bi-visibility and pan-visibility. Just this simple conversation between two characters is so big! I'm grateful for the courage that Marvel and Disney had to prompt real-world conversations that lead to increased understanding in our cultures worldwide. It's certainly not the first time we've seen something like this in entertainment, but it's one of the first times we've seen it so openly on this scale.

Why is this so important to the bi and pan community?

An identity label is a word we select because it holds a meaning about who we are. That one label condenses a bigger picture into something that people can quickly put meaning to. Consider someone who introduces themself to you as a "hipster," "flower child," or "geek." Do those evoke any specific mental images for you about that person? Do you feel like you know them better when they use those labels? 

That's what we want when we tell people we're bisexual or pansexual: for them to know what that label means to us and acknowledge that as part of our identity. While I can't speak for every bisexual or pansexual, I can speak for myself and acknowledge a lot of what we have in common. I want to take a moment and share that here to be part of starting that conversation for us all.

Pansexuality pride flag.

 

Bisexual and pansexual are labels identifying sexuality, i.e. who we're sexually attracted to. Pansexual means that we may be sexually attracted to someone regardless of their gender expression (male, female, non-binary, gender-fluid, etc.). Bisexual has traditionally meant that we may be sexually attracted to someone who is either male or female. However, many of us who are bisexual acknowledge that gender identity is not a binary concept and, thus, we relate bisexual to pansexual. 

That's it, really. That's the core of the identity. Everything else you might have heard is a mix of misconceptions. I want to start dispelling those misconceptions by pointing those out here. Maybe you can help us correct these misconceptions as you speak with others, too:

We're not "confused" or "haven't decided yet." We know we're queer, and we know our sexuality is on a spectrum that's independent from gender identity or gender expression. We're neither confused nor undecided; we're quite certain. We also know that we're still bi and pan regardless of our relationship status. And speaking of relationships...

We aren't inherently polyamorous or prefer open relationships. Our sexuality is not associated with our relationship preferences. Sure, you're going to find some bi and pan polyamorous people out there, and some who experiment with the open relationship model. Most bi/pan people I know, though, including myself, prefer one person in romantic relationships and forming a family. And, naturally...

We aren't all looking for threesomes and sex orgies. I already mentioned dating the guys who heard I'm bi and assumed that meant I'm down for a threesome. Regardless of whether I'm down, it's incredibly uncomfortable for someone to make that assumption about me. What we each want in a sexual encounter is very different and unique to each person. It's something we should each discuss in trust with each would-be partner. It's not included in our identity as bi or pan. These assumptions have led me and others I know into some situations that are awkward at best and scary or unsafe at worst. 

But don't just take all this from me. Check out this short video from Xtra Magazine with bi and pan individuals talking about their experiences and why bi-visibility matters to them:

 

Did the Loki/Sylvie relationship ultimately negate the value of that moment?

I have no doubt that some people will see it that way, but I don't. Through the remainder of Season 1, Loki and Sylvie formed a close bond that was definitely romantic in nature. But does that change anything about their sexuality? No. Choosing to express romantic love to each other doesn't suddenly make Loki and Sylvie heterosexual. Bi-visibility and pan-visibility is about acknowledging that we are bi and pan regardless of such choices. If you're disappointed or feel that their romantic interactions devalue the bisexual/pansexual reveal, I'd like to know: What is it that you wanted to see, instead? Share your thoughts in the comments, and let's talk about what the future holds now that Loki's sexuality is canon.

Before I close, I did want to acknowledge another Loki moment that could have been equally as meaningful to LGBTQ+ fans. The series credits have, on multiple occasions, shown Loki's TVA file with the label "gender-fluid." Some long-time comic nerds have acknowledged that Loki has taken a lot of forms throughout comic history, including different genders. Many simply attribute the gender-fluid label to that comic history. That said, I think leaving the label to that explanation alone misses an opportunity to extend visibility to gender-fluid, genderqueer, and non-binary people here outside of the fictional world. I think Tom himself is supportive, though: he mentions in an interview Raffy Ermac did for Out that he found it important and meaningful to be part of that reveal in the show. Maybe that's something they'll explore more in Season 2.

What films, TV shows, comics, or books have impacted your life in a positive way by representing who you are? I'd love to hear your stories in the comments and chat about how powerful media can be for visibility and representation.