Monday, 29 October 2018

Who is Yasmin Khan?


gif from http://claratwelve.tumblr.com

I adore the new season of Doctor Who. As a long-time fan, I am very protective over each new season, but Chris Chibnall has been writing fantastic episodes. 

I had many feelings about last night's episode. I really loved it, but I feel like it wasn't without its plot holes. First of all, I wasn't a fan of the ending. I still feel as though I don't know what the big deal was about Robertson and the giant spiders, as neither of them were 'dealt with'. Robertson walked away from the mess, and I'm pretty sure there's still a giant spider in the flat next door but one to Yasmin. 

It was the focus on Yasmin's family that I was interested in this episode, and this is where I want to begin to break down some of the writing. It may have just been the fact that I really like a well-developed character, but I feel as though that Yasmin was still in the background, despite the episode being focused on her family. This is absolutely not Mandip Gill's fault - the actress who plays Yaz - because she is brilliant. There is simply an imbalance of focus on each character, which is easily done when Ryan and Graham are sharing a storyline with their family ties, and then have their own separate storylines. 

We feel like we know a lot about Graham and Ryan respectively. However, when we come to describe Yasmin to someone who hasn't watched Doctor Who, we struggle to make her character three-dimensional.

Her name is Yasmin Khan. She went to school with Ryan. She is a police officer. She wants more from her job and more from life.

Apart from the basics, we don't actually know anything about Yasmin - how she feels, what she dreams about, her goals apart from going up in the police ranks, and so on. Every single companion (and pretty much everyone in the world) is always striving for more in life, and this is why they want to travel with the Doctor. We can't say we know Yasmin because we know she wants more... who doesn't want more from life?

The prospect of getting to know Yasmin more was a huge reason for my anticipation of this episode, but what we got instead was an insight to her mother's wishes for her, and even more questions that the series is now compelled to answer. For example, why was there such an exaggeration made on her mother's feelings towards who she dates?

If we break down the particular scene (you can watch it here), her mother begins by questioning who the Doctor is. That's a pretty standard question, but the next question she jumps to is "Are you two seeing each other?" - and here is how the scene went down:

YAZ'S MUM:

Are you two seeing each other?

[Yaz and the Doctor look physically taken aback. There is a pause in dialogue and a glance between them.]

DOCTOR:

I don't think so... Are we?

YAZ:

[A pause] ... We're friends.

DOCTOR:

[Exasperated and busy, she looks at Yaz's mum and shakes her head, raising her shoulders and carrying on with the task at hand]

Hmm.

This is... interesting to say the least. Some people may interpret that as a joke, or a bit of fan-service. However, when her mother then asks the same question about Yaz and Ryan, they both quickly respond that they're not together. 

Yaz and the Doctor never said "no". In fact, they looked to each other for the answer. 

This took me a long time to try and unravel. Like, a stupidly long time. Up until now, I thought the writers were aiming for a Yasmin and Ryan relationship, but the story has seemed to steer off this path. I have a few different ideas about the unwritten context to this scene:

  1. Yaz's mum took one look at the stranger in her living room with the rainbow stripe shirt, suspenders and combat boots on and immediately interpreted the Doctor to be a lesbian. Since her daughter had not explained how she knew her, she may have thought they were together and trying to hide it from her.
  2. Yasmin may have already come out to her family as gay or bisexual (my feeling is bisexual, after previous conversations about ex-boyfriends), and now her mum is suspicious of any person she doesn't know who seems to have a close bond with her daughter.
  3. She hasn't got a clue who her daughter is attracted to, but she can feel something between Yasmin and the Doctor.
  4. All of this is just dialogue to fill a space and has no meaning whatsoever.
  5. There is more going on behind-the-scenes with Yaz and the Doctor, and we just haven't discovered it yet.

This is Doctor Who, so we know everything said or done has a meaning. My guess would be number 2, because her mum didn't seem all that surprised that it could be an option. In fact, she sounded more offended that she hadn't been told. 

I completely understand why Yasmin doesn't know what to say when her mum asks that question. Most companions in 'New Who', apart from Donna and Bill, have wondered what exactly they are to the Doctor. Let's face it; the Doctor/Companion relationship isn't 'normal'. A lot of the time, the lines are blurred between friends and more-than-friends, because of the close bond. They may as well change their Facebook status to "its complicated", because it is. If Yaz is bisexual, which I feel as though the series is trying to tell us without actually telling us, then of course she is going to question her relationship with the Doctor. Graham and Ryan already have a special bond, so Yasmin is then open to developing that bond with the Doctor. Its the classic internal conflict that many of the companions have.

I might have to write a whole other post on the Doctor's reaction to that question, however. 

As well as this complicated relationship, let's go back to what I was saying before. We don't know enough about Yaz to understand why she reacted that way, and we don't even have a clue as to what she might have been thinking at the time. Yasmin is being treated as an afterthought in many of these episodes (except for Rosa), so if we knew more about her and how she interacted with the Doctor when they are alone, then we would be able to unpick this scene a little bit more. 

To conclude what may be a long-winded and pointless post, I want to understand Yasmin Khan more. Her character is part of this ground-breaking new series - the fact that 50% of Team Tardis is not white is amazing, and Mandip Gill is a great actress who deserves every success she is getting from the role. She needs to be focused on more, and its a damn shame it feels as though she is being left behind. 

Whether she ends up with Ryan, develops feelings for the Doctor, or has no romantic storyline at all, she is a vital character who deserves to be explored as much as possible. 

Saturday, 20 October 2018

On Becoming a Waterstones Bookseller

*I am not taking credit for these gifs - other people made them, I am just using them to show my emotions!*

Yesterday, a childhood (and adulthood) dream of mine came true. And I'm going to tell you the story with Kate McKinnon gifs, because she is my favourite person, and Waterstones is my favourite shop.

I interviewed for Waterstones before a couple of years ago, without success, so I went into this interview thinking I would definitely choke up on at least one of the questions, or I would be hit with a question that I really didn't have an answer for. Either way, I went into this thinking that, just like every other job I had applied for in the past couple of months, I would not be successful.

I knew one of the employees that was working in this particular store, and he put me at ease whilst I waited for the main event. I was very grateful to him and felt like saluting my fellow book nerd:


The managers were absolutely lovely, thank goodness! The questions were as I expected - not as many book-related as I thought, but a lot about past experiences and skills that I've acquired. 

We laughed about one of my stories (which is a VERY different experience to any interview I've ever done) and I was was in my chair like:


I was hoping they were laughing with me and not at me! And I had never laughed in an interview so I was wondering when it was all going to go wrong, as it usually does for me.

Then, it was over. The whole process took about ten minutes. Pretty painless as far as interviews go but I was extra nervous for this one, because Waterstones is so important to me.

The manager said quietly that I had done really well as she was walking me out. I told her how nervous I had been, and she said "you didn't look it!" - I didn't know I was that good of an actress! I felt like I at least deserved an Emmy for my efforts, even if I didn't end up getting the job. I imagine this is how I looked from the outside:



And this is how I felt on the inside:



They said they would let me know of their decision by Monday, but that afternoon I got the call.

I'M IN!



For the first time in my life, I had walked out of an interview with a good feeling, and the good feeling had been correct. This feels right, and it feels like I have been waiting for this day for a hell of a long time.

I feel like I really have won an award.

Waterstones only hire people who are passionate about books, so I know that I'll have a lot in common with my colleagues. I am SO excited to start this journey, and it means that I'll be producing a lot more content for my blog since my life will consist of thinking and talking about books!

Now, after what was a stressful day (and a stressful week in general), I can finally relax. I got the job I wanted, and I am excited to feel more involved in the book community than ever before.


I'll keep you all updated, and watch out for a blog post coming next week about my first day on the job!

Thursday, 11 October 2018

The Rockefeller Review: SNL Season 44 Episode 2 (Host Awkwafina)



Welcome back to the Rockefeller Review! If you have not seen my first SNL review here, you may be a bit confused. Basically, the Rockefeller Centre is one of my favourite places in the world, and it also happens to be home to many NBC shows, which I am a huge fan of.

Saturday Night Live is my favourite in particular, and this week Awkwafina was the host. I loved her in Oceans 8, and I am yet to see Crazy Rich Asians, but I will get around to seeing it soon. Her hosting of the show is particularly important, because she is only the second Asian woman to host the show since it began in 1975, and since Lucy Liu hosted in 2000. This was a historic night for the show, and I was so happy for Awkwafina. 

Today I'm going to focus on the breakdown of a particular segment of the show - when Pete Davidson delivered his response to Kanye's Trump speech. Take a minute to watch it for yourself, and then we'll break it down:



PETE

... then Kanye said that Democrats broke up black families with welfare and that slavery's not real... do you know how wrong about politics you have to be for, like, me to notice?

...

Like Kanye is a genius but like a musical genius, you know, like Joey Chestnut is a hotdog-eating genius, you know but i don't wanna hear Joey Chestnut's opinion on things that AREN'T hotdog related.


Let's break this down!

What Pete is great at doing generally as a comedian is self-depreciation. He is known for being a really harsh roaster, but then he makes fun of himself and some balance is restored. This is what he's doing a lot in this video about Kanye - telling the whole world he's wrong, but then saying "look, I'm not the smartest cookie. If I know you're wrong, then you're definitely wrong." 

This is a great way, in writing, of dealing with a situation without creating more tension. It's like ripping a plaster off really quickly, but then soothing the pain with aloe vera. Again, its creating that balance so that he doesn't have to be censored in his comedy but he also doesn't end up coming across as a 'bad guy'. 

The way Saturday Night Live deals with politics in this way is really commendable. They have a clear political preference - they don't claim to be neutral, because their job is reliant on having a side and riding it out. They still have the capacity to poke fun at the Democrats or the more liberal side of life,  but most of their sketches revolve around making a point of a universal definition of right and wrong. They're not creating their own moral spectrum, but what they are doing is moulding that spectrum and creating comedy out of it. 

I'm not a comedy writer, but I can really appreciate comedy writing as an art form, especially when a show is using their writing for a good purpose. With Awkwafina hosting, and Pete Davidson calling Kanye out for his behaviour, Saturday Night Live continues to make history, and isn't afraid to be loud in doing so. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Not Fine, and that is Fine

Picture courtesy of Harper Collins Australia

Eleanor Oliphant lives a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled existence. Except, sometimes, everything... 

When I first started reading Eleanor Oliphant, something didn't sit right with me. Except that, it kind of did. It sat very right indeed.

I'm not talking about her terrible past and her vodka-filled weekends. It is what is beneath the memories, and bubbles up onto the surface when the vodka runs out.

Eleanor is lonely.

For World Mental Health Day 2018, I wanted to write about something book-related. I have not long read Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, and it seemed like the perfect book to talk about. Not many books discuss loneliness in younger people, but Gail Honeyman has started a conversation. Loneliness is often talked about in reference to elderly folks who don't have family near them or have lost their friends to old age, but what if you don't have any friends in the first place?

This is Eleanor's problem. I won't spoil any of the plot, but it is obvious from the very beginning that she has had a traumatic past, and her mother is extremely verbally abusive to her over the phone. She develops a fixation on a band member called Johnnie Lomond, and whilst trying to win his affections, she realises what she has been missing in her life. 

I took one of my hands in the other, tried to imagine what it would feel like if it was another person's hand holding mine. There have been times where I felt that I might die of loneliness.” 

This eventually leads to a downward spiral of her mental health, and it is colleague Raymond that becomes her first real friend. 

However, before she creates this bond with Raymond slowly over time, her loneliness is always at the front of her mind. She recognises herself as an outcast from her other work colleagues, musing that “There was, it seemed, no Eleanor-shaped social hole for me to slot”. For a 30 year-old woman to realise that is a very sad thing, and the book really focuses on how young Eleanor is, but sadly how normal loneliness can be for anyone of any age. 

I really related to Eleanor's loneliness, because as a 21 year-old, I find life quite lonely. My university experience was not at all what I expected - in fact, I was left with a larger sense of loneliness. Seeing groups of friends walking to lectures and chatting to one another in the lecture theatre whilst I was sat alone, fellow students in bars having study sessions and catching up on gossip... I always felt like the odd one out. I was in the musical theatre society, and whilst I had some great times with them all, I felt like I could never catch up with their friendships. I had transferred to this university for my second year, so everyone already had their friends from first year, and I always felt like the new girl no matter how nice everyone was to me. It wasn't at all their fault, it was my own insecurity.

Your sense of loneliness can be exaggerated with mental health issues. My anxiety and depression really didn't help with the feelings I was having in university. I thought that university was supposed to be the best time of your life, and whilst it looked like everyone else was sharing that sentiment, I certainly didn't feel like I was having the best time ever. 

Like Eleanor, sometimes all it takes is that one person to be a friend and show that they care. In university, I met a girl called Becky, who has become one of my best friends. She is my Raymond! She has helped me so much over the past couple of years, and even though she's moving to Japan for work soon, I know I've found a friend for life.

So yes, even though Eleanor will tell you that she is Completely Fine, she is not. And that is okay. Loneliness is so common amongst younger people today, and a lot of it can be traced to your mental health, so if you are not feeling okay reach out to a doctor or someone who you know will care. 

There will always be a Raymond or a Becky who will listen. 

Read Eleanor Oliphant, get help when you need it, and know that it is completely fine to not be completely fine. 

The Rockefeller Review: SNL Season 44 Episode 1 (Host Adam Driver)



If you know me, then it is no secret that I LOVE Saturday Night Live. Even though I'm from England, so never actually get to watch it 'live', I absolutely adore the show and everyone involved in it.

When the new season kicked off last week, I decided to start cataloguing my thoughts on each episode. Either by reviewing as much as I can, featuring a cast member and telling you why I like them, or commenting on the political satire, this series will be mainly focused on breaking down the sketches and reviewing the writing.

Now, I am not claiming to be an expert on comedy. However, I take enjoyment in comedic writing, and am very interested in writing in general, so I feel as though I may be able to bring an outside voice to the show. I'm calling it The Rockefeller Review, because the Rockefeller Centre is where SNL is created, and also because it just happens to be one of my favourite spots in New York.

Last week was the season premiere, and was hosted by actor Adam Driver along with musical guest Kanye West. My personal favourite sketch of the night was 80's Frat Party - a deadpan approach to how what was considered 'normal' party behaviour can actually be really damaging. They managed to make a contribution to the #MeToo movement without actually referencing it, which I found quite powerful.




Another stand-out moment didn't involve Adam, but involved one of my favourite people: Kate McKinnon. Her Ruth Bader Ginsburg impression on Weekend Update is always a best-seller, and this time she had the opportunity to Ginsburn (a term SNL created when Kate's Ginsburg jokes about her target) Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused of sexual harassment and assault. Kate's energy and random dance moments she brings to the character isn't just a bit of fun, but also highlights the strong and passionate woman that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is, and she often brings up past achievements of Ginsburg's so a younger audience is educated on the triumphs of the Supreme Court Justice. 




These two pieces of writing were especially important, due to the fact that musical guest Kanye West, when the goodbyes were being said at the end of the show, decided to put on his MAGA hat and start making a speech in support of Donald Trump. This is not usual, as the end of the show is a political-free zone in order to acknowledge the cast and crew, but Kanye selfishly turned what should have been a celebration of talent into a display of his own ego. 

After so many pieces on America's current political climate, which had been executed so well, Kanye attempted to erase all of the writers' hard work. This, hopefully, will be the last time that Kanye is invited to be a musical guest.

Apart from that unfortunate ending, which is not the fault of anybody but Kanye himself, I am thoroughly looking forward to the rest of the season. America is scary right now, but Saturday Night Live continues to make us laugh through the pain.