Sense8, Graduation and Learning To Accept Unwelcome Endings

A few weeks ago I was sitting in the backyard of my childhood house surrounded by family and close friends. It was my graduation party. I was less than a week removed from the big event and I hadn’t fully processed everything that happened those last few weeks of college (and, in truth, wouldn’t for quite a while.) The conversation hit a lull and I started to take a bite of the mac ‘n cheese that had been getting cold while I dodged a never-ending barrage of questions about my future.

“So what was your favorite memory from graduation?” Someone asked me mid-bite of some delicious homemade mac ‘n cheese. “What are you gonna remember most from those last few days?”

I’m sure he expected me to say something about walking across the stage and receiving my diploma, or about one particularly tearful goodbye, or about the last night of my friends and I all hung out in my apartment. But without much hesitation I laughed and said: “Throwing the mattresses.”

So, a little bit of context: Four of my best friends lived on the third floor of their apartment complex and they needed to get rid of three of their objectively disgusting mattresses before the new tenants moved in. The simple solution was to calmly walk the mattresses down the stairs and place them next to the dumpster. We went a different route.

The first mattress we simply dropped off the balcony out of pure laziness. It seemed easier to chuck it off the balcony than to walk it down the stairs, and if college taught us anything is was the ability to cut corners whenever possible. The drop itself wasn’t terribly exciting. It just kind of floated down in a straight line and landed on the pavement below with an anticlimactic thud, but that was all the inspiration we needed. We threw off the second mattress with slightly more force. It flew down majestically and landed with a hard thud about ten feet away from the balcony. A respectable entry, but we still had to about double that distance to reach our ultimate goal: the parking lot. The third and final mattress is the one I’ll never forget. With a running start, screaming with animalistic intensity, we chucked that once-white mattress off the balcony with everything we had. It flew in the air like a stained, poorly-made, extremely-thick paper airplane for what seemed like an eternity. It soared pass the sidewalk and toward the parking lot before finally hitting the windshield of my Mom’s white rental car. At the sight of the collision, all six boys started chanting and screaming at the top of our lungs like we just won the World Cup. It was quite the spectacle.

As I’ve written before, the Wachowski’s Netflix series, Sense8, is a truly singular show. There are things that happen on Sense8 that just couldn’t happen on any other show, or to be honest, that shouldn’t happen on any other show. From cross-continental karaoke sing-alongs to action scenes that somehow simultaneously feature both two and sixteen people and whole bunch of stuff that you couldn’t even imagine in between. It’s a show that can jump from Mexican comedic soap opera to German gangster movie to Chicago police drama to African political tale without missing a beat or feeling off in the slightest.
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Sense8 is an experience, to say the least. It’s self-indulgent, over-complicated, preachy, and has never even heard of the word subtlety. The show’s thesis is to demonstrate how much better human beings could be if they practiced empathy and felt a profound love for one and other. If you rolled your eyes at that sentence then Sense8 probably isn’t the show for you. I, however, love it with all my heart.

Last summer, Sense8 was abruptly and unceremoniously cancelled by Netflix, probably because the show costs, in my rough estimation, 30 billion dollars to produce. Unfortunately, the second and now final season ended on a cliffhanger, with one of our eight heroes imprisoned by BPO, one of pop culture’s many trademark evil three letter organizations. Sense8’s passionate and loyal fanbase was understandably furious.

Instead of moping around though, they turned that rage into an inspired and dedicated fan-driven campaign to continue the show they love. After a few months of spamming the intern in charge of Netflix’s twitter account, the streaming giant commissioned a finale special to wrap up the series and give fans some closure. In conclusion, whoever said complaining isn’t the best way to get what you want was lying *cough* Mom *cough*.

Just two weeks after the graduation party I was celebrating my first full week in my summer apartment in New York. This party was subdued because, well, it had been a rough week. Details aren’t important, but I’ll just say that certain employment opportunities that helped inspire my move to the city hadn’t panned out as expected. The friends who had come to help me and my roommates move in were long gone. My girlfriend and I already stained the my sheets trying to open a particularly cheap bottle of red wine. It had been a long week. Needless to say, this wasn’t the exciting beginning to adulthood I had envisioned while eating my mac ‘n cheese back home. car

So, I did what I always do when the going gets rough, I grabbed my remote and turned on the television (What ever percentage joke you need this to be so you don’t worry about my well-being, that’s what it is). I selected the newly-released Sense8 finale event and strapped in for my last ride with this wonderfully insane show.

Creating a final episode is a daunting task for a TV show, mostly because just as a concept it goes against everything that makes TV a unique medium for storytelling. Every episode of traditional television has one purpose: Continue the story and entice viewers to watch the next episode. A finale is freed from those obligations and instead tasked with one mission: To give the story, and the audience, a satisfying conclusion.

What constitutes a satisfying ending is different for every show. Some go dark, killing off a character or breaking up a long relationship. Others go for the surprise twist, doing something unexpected to give the audience one last shock. Still others go for a trip down memory lane, reliving the highlights of the of what came before. Another option, and the door Sense8 decided to walk through, I like to refer to as “One Last Ride”.Sense8-1

Sense8 seemed to approach the finale with a philosophy of “Unfortunately, our time’s up. But instead of sitting here and complaining, let’s go on one last kick ass adventure while we still can.” It’s a truly exhilarating mantra to watch in action. The finale is a whirlwind two and a half hours that seem to go by in the blink of an eye. I laughed, I teared up, I cheered, I mourned, I yelled certain expletive-filled exclamations so loud my roommate came in to see who I was talking to. I guess what I’m saying is, I loved it with all my heart.

I didn’t love it because it was a special episode either, I loved it because it wasn’t.

The finale might be the last episode of Sense8, but for the first two hours, it’s mostly just another episode of the show. Sure, the stakes are high, but no higher than they are in the Season 1 and 2 finales. Excluding the final half hour of fan service, it’s just another chapter in the lives of these characters. An admittedly great chapter that just so happens to wrap up a lot of the main story threads, but not a chapter that feels different or special when compared to the ones that came before it. The episode exemplified the brilliance of a finale that is just another great episode of a great show.

Think about it this way: Sense8 is a one-of-a-kind show, capable of telling stories and producing moments that no other show can. If the powers that be decide that the show must come to an end, the most fitting way to celebrate the show’s brilliance is to jam pack as much of those only-on-Sense8 moments as possible before time runs out. Thankfully, that’s exactly what they did and it made for one hell of an ending.

I’ve been thinking a lot about endings recently. Mostly because my life has been almost nothing but endings for the last month and a half.

Endings are inherently sad, and if they aren’t that probably isn’t a good sign for what came before. No one is happy when there’s no more pages left in a good book, or when the plate in front of them is empty at the end of a good meal. You might be satisfied, entertained, or full, but deep down in your heart of hearts you are already nostalgic for a time when you were reading that book for the first time or taking your first bite of dinner. Unfortunately, those feelings are gone, and you aren’t getting them back.

I know that seems pretty heavy, but that’s where my mind was right before my graduation party back home. All I was thinking about was how much I missed school, how much I missed my friends, how much I missed just being there. I was thinking about all of the nights over the last four years I spent laughing, and how little I was laughing now in comparison. To misquote Lost, I just wanted to go back.

I was still kind of in that funk and looking to drown the sorrow in some delicious homemade mac n’ cheese when someone interrupted me and asked, “So what was your favorite memory from graduation?” I laughed in a way I hadn’t in a while and said, “Throwing the mattresses.”

Sense8 FinaleA few weeks later I’m watching the Sense8 finale special and I drag myself out of my post-graduation funk for good. I watched the characters on the show spend their final hours on TV not mourning their fate or feeling nostalgic for the days when they were a hit, but making the most of the time they had left. I saw them go on one last kick ass adventure before the clock struck midnight. The attitude was infectious. As a viewer, I wasn’t sad that the show was ending. If anything I felt grateful that it got made in the first place and felt an even deeper gratitude that I got to experience a new episode one last time. I cheered and laughed as all of the show’s characters dressed as cartoonish tourists as part of their plan to bring down the evil three letter organization for good and I thought to myself: “I can’t believe this show exists.”

Once the team’s mission succeeded, my mind wandered back to the final hours of my college career. During those last moments, I wasn’t sitting in my empty apartment lamenting the lack of laughter in my life now, or dreading the uncertainty of the next chapter, I was chucking stained mattresses from a third story balcony trying to dent a rental car. I was smiling from ear to ear. I was yelling nonsense at the top of my lungs. I was laughing as hard as I ever had. I was thinking to myself: “I can’t believe we just did that.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about endings recently. Mostly because my life has been almost nothing but endings for the last month and a half.

I spent the majority of that time angry and sad over the very idea that something I love has to come to an end. But through some self reflection, and one particularly emotional viewing of the Sense8 finale special, I’ve accepted the fact that everything does have to come to an end at some point. I’ve also learned that an ending is what makes the journey that came before so special. The most any of us can hope for is to look back at that journey and be happy with where you were when it came to an end.

I wouldn’t give up my college experience for anything, and though I won’t lie and say I’m happy it’s over, I can’t think of a more perfect ending then hurling dirty mattresses off a third floor balcony.

The End.

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How This Is Us Hooked Audiences In Season 1, And Why The Show Must Change Going Forward.

So a few weeks ago I came out of my room and it was pretty clear that I had been crying. One of my roommates, being the nice guy that he is, decided to ask me what was wrong. Don’t get me wrong, he’s not a saint. He clearly weighed the pros and cons of posing a question beforehand. I’m not a very emotional person, outwardly at least, and it was 7:00 PM on a Thursday (Usually a time for sports, or dinner, or a combination of the two in our apartment). He probably decided that the situation was abnormal enough to merit venturing into dicey, possibly emotional waters. You could see the hesitation in his eyes as he asked “Everything okay?”

I wonder what he thought I was going to say; Maybe something about a girl who had just broken my heart, or a family member had passed away. Instead, all I said was, “This Is Us is so good, dude.”

I will treasure the memory of his exaggerated eye roll for the rest of my life.

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2016 in Review: How Pitch Beat the Odds and Became the Year’s Best New Show

Who doesn’t love a good sports movie?

They’re predictable, trite and cheesy as can be, but when everything clicks it’s hard to find a genre that can compete with sports films. An underdog team coming from nowhere to win the championship, the scrawny nobody challenging the undefeated belt-holder, a last second hail-mary to win it all. It doesn’t get much better than that, right? From Rocky to Hoosiers to Miracle to The Sandlot, some of the best movies of all time are corny, cheesy, predictable sports films.

As easy as the sports movie formula is to predict, it’s incredibly tricky one to replicate. Every sports movie is a small misstep away from having audiences rolling their eyes at the corny, cheesy, predictability of it all. More so than any other genre, sports films are often a zero sum game: Either the movie is great, or it’s a cringe inducing mess, with little-to-no in between.

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Donald Trump, Political Satire, and How a Joke Made It All The Way To The White House.

Donald Trump was a joke, and a pretty funny one at that.

A year and a half ago, a country, along with a fleet of comedians, laughed as a reality TV star famous for racism, sexism, and firing B-list celebrities announced his candidacy for the highest political office in the United States. We laughed about his tiny hands, we laughed about his crazy hair, we laughed about his taco bowls, and we laughed about his racism, homophobia and misogyny. The whole thing seemed too absurd to be real, and laughter appeared to be the appropriate response. It felt like Donald Trump’s candidacy was a gift from the political comedy gods, sent for our amusement during a tedious election cycle with a seemingly predetermined result. But once the laughter finally quieted down, a greater truth revealed itself: Not everyone was laughing. Now, a year and a half later, a racist, homophobic, misogynist, former reality TV star is next in line for the Presidency, while comedians and audiences alike are left wondering how they let a joke get this far out of hand.

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Stranger Things, Blockbuster Reboots, And The Best Way To Profit From The Past

Hollywood is obsessed with the past. Whether it be reboots, remakes, reimaginings, or regurgitations, the biggest trend in blockbuster filmmaking is to dust up old properties and revamp them for the present. Essentially, movie studios are cashing in on the public’s nostalgia for the stories they grew up with. Just this year alone, audiences have seen new iterations of Ghostbusters, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Jungle Book, Tarzan, Independence Day, Star Trek, and Alice In Wonderland, just to name a few. While some elitist pop-culture snobs like myself might complain about the lack originality in blockbuster filmmaking these days, there is very little reason for Hollywood to change this philosophy. Financially, existing franchises and properties are more reliable bets for box office success. Additionally, funding truly new and unique ideas is a risk no matter the scale, and making an original big-budget blockbuster is an even bigger one. So, if movie executives are choosing between green-lighting a $120 million reboot of a story they know people love or an equally expensive original film with no established  audience, it’s easy to understand why the original ideas are losing out.

But what if these two seemingly opposite ideas could be merged? What if we could combine the built-in audiences of stories past, with the originality of stories future? Wouldn’t that be, to complete the “Christmas Carol” metaphor, the perfect way to create stories present?

It’s easy to be skeptical of the idea, after all it’s admittedly a bit outlandish, but stick with me for a couple paragraphs, I’ve seen Stranger Things come true.  

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How HBO’s Silicon Valley Became TV’s Best Comedy

Sitcoms are simple. I know that sounds kind of odd coming from someone who has written a frankly embarrassing amount of articles analyzing the medium, but they really are. A group of people, either a family or friends/coworkers who function as a sort of family, gets themselves caught in a situation and hilarity ensues (Hence the name, situation comedy). Storytelling wise, a sitcom is as formulaic and simplistic as they come.

Over the years, people have tinkered with the formula. The most revolutionary innovation being the introduction of serialized stories, or plots that last longer than one episode. The basic sitcom formula necessitates that all conflicts and plots should be wrapped up in a neat little bow by the end of each episode. Early innovators like Cheers changed the game by telling stories that played out over entire seasons. Those stories weren’t that complex or hard to follow, most of the time they were just standard romantic comedy plots (Boy meets girl, boy likes girl, girl likes boy, they don’t get together for what seems like forever, you know how TV romance works).

But the saga of Sam and Diane paved the way for TV comedies to tell more complex stories than ever before. Though that might sound like a good thing, it has become a double edged sword. Some writers are compelled to tell stories that are too complex and lose the comedy (Remember The Comedians?), while others go all-in on one serialized story that doesn’t connect with viewers (Still lookin’ at you, The Comedians). The other side of the coin, however, is TV’s best comedy: HBO’s Silicon Valley

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Before We Go: The Story Of How I Fell In Love With An Objectively Bad Movie

Have you ever felt like a movie was made just for you? That every frame on the screen, every line of dialogue, every note of the soundtrack, was carefully crafted and curated just because someone, somewhere, knew you were out there to see it. Admittedly, it’s a pretty absurd, idealist notion. Hundreds, sometimes even thousands, of people work tirelessly on creating these films, the idea that all of their hard work is all for one person is insane, and people who subscribed to it are even crazier.

Maybe that’s the magic of film. The idea that an operation on such a massive scale can produce something so personal to so many people is a miracle in and of itself. Or, maybe the magic lies within film’s ability to make you forget that there even was an operation to begin with. I don’t quite know, exactly. It’s a Pandora’s box of questions that no one has really nailed down an answer to.

Nonetheless, I’ve been thinking about this relationship, between a film and a single viewer, a lot recently. It all started on a foggy Sunday morning last month when I watched Chris Evans’ directorial debut Before We Go instead of engaging in my regularly scheduled productivity.

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