GothWatch: Tina Cohen-Chang

Jenna Ushkowitz as ‘Tina Cohen-Chang’ in “Glee” (S1)Of course, there’s no way I could write about the first season of Glee without shining a spotlight on the show’s super-cute goth-girl ‘Tina Cohen-Chang’, played by Jenna Ushkowitz… who revealed to Out magazine that the character didn’t actually become a “goth” until the day before shooting began, when the costume designers decided that the frumpy “grandma jeans” and sweater vests they’d originally picked out for Tina made her look too much like her love-interest Artie! Although Tina’s dark punky outfits are consistently awesome, she doesn’t really behave in an overtly (or stereotypically) gothic way, and seems perfectly happy to smile and sing-along with the rest of the show-choir during all the sappy/poppy numbers they perform… so it seemed a slightly superficial, not-even-skin-deep affectation right up until episode #1.20, when Tina’s gothiness became a major plot-point and bone of contention…

Jenna Ushkowitz as ‘Tina Cohen-Chang’ in “Glee” (S1)After an outbreak of mock-vampiric Twilight-inspired attacks in the school corridors, ‘Principal Figgins’ (Iqbal Theba) decided to come down hard on gothiness in general, and explicitly ban Tina from dressing in what he referred to as “lacy demon clothes”, or risk being suspended… thus forcing her to slob around in non-descript sweats for several scenes instead. Boo! SPOILER: She eventually realises that she can scare the conveniently credulous Figgins into reversing his decision by sticking in a false set of fangs and claiming to be part of a super-dangerous Asian vampire clan, who’ll bite him up if he doesn’t respect their darkling dress-code. Hurrah!

Oh, and at one point in the episode she specifically mentions being “obsessed with death”, which to my mind marks her out as a kosher, capital-G Goth, rather than just a “poseur”… but that’s basically the only evidence we get over the course of the entire season. Hmmm…

P.S. Apparently May 22nd has been officially designated “World Goth Day”, so cheers to anyone celebrating their own gorgeous gothiness today. Paint it black, brothers and sisters!

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“Crap! She Looks Crazy Right Now…”

[Contains slushy-facials and SPOILERS!!!]

Lea Michele as ‘Rachel Berry’ in “Glee” (S1)Hankering for a little more Lea Michele in my life, I was lucky enough to find the first season of Glee (2009) for sale in my local Poundland, and promptly set about working my way through the two-part boxset. As I’ve said in the past, I wasn’t too impressed with the show when it debuted here in the UK, and still find it wildly inconsistent and unsatisfying as an overall viewing experience… but watching/hearing Michele sing is always immensely enjoyable, regardless of the song she’s singing, or the context in which she’s singing it. I also love her acting too, of course, especially when she’s playing comedy… so, weirdly, my favourite musical moment of the season is probably her over-emoting in the deliberately terrible promo video for “Run Joey Run” (ep #1.17)… or possibly the scene referenced in the title of this post, where ‘Rachel’ duets with club coach ‘Will Schuester’ (Matthew Morrison), and develops a crush on him as the song progresses, directing the full-bore intensity of her growing obsession straight into the camera lens… though, honestly, anytime Michele/Rachel starts belting away with a manic smile or anguished frown on her face, it’s a high-point for me!

Idina Menzel as 'Shelby Corcoran' and Lea Michele as 'Rachel Berry' in "Glee" (#1.19)And whoever decided to cast Idina Menzel as her estranged biological mother was a frickin’ genius, because besides being a legit Broadway legend in her own right, she also bears an uncanny resemblance to Michele… so seeing/hearing them singing together on-screen was a truly glorious treat for me, even if the song-selection for their final duet (Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face”!?) was wildly inappropriate and off-putting. For the record, Menzel appeared in five episodes this season (ep #1.14/19-22)… which isn’t nearly enough, imho. Encore, dammit!

Although the motivations, actions, and attitudes of scheming coach ‘Sue Sylvester’ made very little sense from episode to episode*, it’s a testament to Jane Lynch‘s remarkable talent and charisma that her character remained the most sympathetic and cheer-worthy “grown-up” in the show. At one point ‘Kurt’ (Chris Colfer) comments that it’s impossible to feel sorry for the woman, but he’s dead wrong… despite her relentless malevolence towards the eponymous show-choir, and its curly-haired coach in particular, I still kinda hate “Mr. Schu” for deliberately leading Sue on and then standing her up solely to f*ck with her head, in episode #1.21. Obviously, as viewers, we’re privy to more of her vulnerable private moments than they are, and therefore have more sympathy for her than the people she torments do, but I still think that he should have known that he was totally crossing the line there. Feh!

Heather Morris as 'Brittany', Dianna Agron as 'Quinn', and Naya Rivera 'Santana' in "Glee" (S1)Still, the least likeable (and, crucially, the least amusing) main character has to be ‘Quinn’, who attempts to trick her chaste boyfriend ‘Finn’ (Cory Monteith) into accepting responsibility for getting her pregnant, when she knows full well that his bad-boy best-friend ‘Puck’ (Mark Salling) was the real baby-daddy. Boo to that! In retrospect, I can’t help feeling a little sorry for Dianna Agron, who was clearly acting (and singing!) her heart out, while slowly being eclipsed by her formerly-silent side-chicks, ‘Santana’ (Naya Rivera) and ‘Brittany’ (Heather Morris), as they emerged from her shadow to become stand-out, scene-stealing characters in their own right. Fun fact: Former Beyoncé back-up dancer Morris was originally brought in solely as a choreographer/consultant for the “Single Ladies” dance routine (ep #1.4), but everyone loved her so much she was cast as one of the subordinate Cheerios, and her role gradually expanded over the course of the series via hilariously bizarre one-liners (such as her claim that dolphins are “gay sharks”), and a heartfelt sapphic romance with gal-pal Santana. Bless ’em.

Jane Lynch as 'Sue Sylvester' in "Glee" (S1)Er… I feel duty-bound to mention ‘Mercedes’ (Amber Riley) and ‘Emma Pillsbury’ (Jayma Mays) too, but I’m fairly apathetic about both of those characters, despite my appreciation for the skills of the actresses playing them…

Meanwhile, notable guest-stars included: Kristin Chenoweth as adorable washout ‘April Rhodes’, who Will recruits as a ringer for the show-choir, before realising what a terrible influence she is on “his” kids (eps #1.5/16)… Sarah Drew as ‘Suzy Pepper’, a senior student with a creepy crush on Will (#1.10)… Anna Camp as ‘Candace Dystra’, a former beauty-pageant loser serving as a judge at Sectionals (#1.13)… and Molly Shannon as ‘Brenda Castle’, an Astronomy teacher who beamed into the staff-lounge to mock Sue, then vanished from the series as abruptly as she’d appeared (#1.17/19)…

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* Her getting recruited to help judge the Regional finals, despite being a co-director of one of the competing teams, and then choosing to betray everything we know about her by voting in favour of “New Directions” simply because the other judges said some slightly mean things about her school was a particularly ludicrous and holey plot-twist.

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“Where Would You Put The Coconuts?”

Gemma Whelan as 'Kate' in "Upstart Crow" (S1)Although I’m a big fan of Blackadder, and have an abiding “professional” interest in period comedies, I wasn’t in any great hurry to watch Ben Elton’s new Shakespearean sitcom Upstart Crow, because I haven’t really enjoyed anything he’s written since Blackadder Goes Forth, way back in 1989!* Nonetheless, I’ve seen the first two episodes now, and found myself laughing a lot more than I thought I would. Some of the faux-old-timey language is a bit too twiddly and distracting, and I could do without the long-distance-carriage-rides-as-analogue-to-modern-day-train-commutes runner… it’s also a shame that Shakespeare himself should be played by a Cambridge graduate (David Mitchell), thus undermining his status as a (relatively) “working class hero”, and adding a rather unfortunate layer of irony to the character’s impassioned railing against the oppressive Oxbridge establishment… but overall, it’s a pretty entertaining way to pass a spare half-hour.

Gemma Whelan as 'Yara Greyjoy' in “Game of Thrones” (S6)One big point in its favour is the inclusion of Gemma Whelan as ‘Kate’, the servile daughter of Shakespeare’s London landlord, who harbours a burning ambition to become an actress… despite the constant derision she faces for daring to suggest that girls might be better at playing female characters than boys-dressed-as-girls are! To be honest, I didn’t actually recognise Whelan the first time I watched the show… and even after I knew it was her, I still had a hard time seeing her as the same actress who plays the grim and grubby ‘Yara’ in Game of Thrones. I’m really enjoying her sweet comedic performance in this show, which provides a bracing contrast to her saltier dramatic work in GoT… and there can’t be many actresses who get to demonstrate their range so strikingly in two concurrent series, so snaps to her for that!

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* Which was co-written with Richard Curtis, of course… and anyone who’s watched the Blackadder box-set’s behind-the-scenes featurette will know that the scripts for that series were painstakingly punched-up and polished by the cast, before being committed to video-tape.

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Cunkspeare

[Contains inconsiderate texting and SPOILERS!!!]

Diane Morgan as 'Philomena Cunk' (as Queen Elizabeth I) in "Cunk on Shakespeare"In a previous post, I admitted to being a little worried about whether ‘Philomena Cunk’ (Diane Morgan) and her “Moments of Wonder” format could carry a whole half-hour… but last night’s special celebrating (?) the life and work of William Shakespeare was jam-packed with more than enough ridiculous puns, absurd analogies (such as when she described Lady MacBeth as “very much the ‘Ms. Pac-Man’ to Macbeth’s ‘Pac-Man'”), mardy dismissals, and glorious gobbledegook to prove that she truly is a woman of infinite jest. Highlights included her inexplicable argument with a theatre director over the number of audience members who wear glasses, the bit where she needed to have the concept of reading explained to her by a library curator*, and her bewildering conclusion that Game of Thrones was The Bard’s magnum opus! Bless. I don’t generally give shows a rating, but if I did then this one would easily score nine “feather-pens” out of ten… though it was definitely a mistake to try watching something this funny over dinner. I was laughing so much, I almost choked a couple times. Then again, there are plenty worse ways to go than death-by-Cunk…

Diane Morgan as ‘Philomena Cunk’ for “Buzzfeed” (5/16)Oh, and while I’m here: Charlie Brooker’s Election Wipe was up for a BAFTA last week, but lost out to Have I Got News For You. I know Morgan was present at the ceremony, because I could see her sat next to Brooker’s wife (and occasional co-writer) Konnie Huq, when they cut to him for reaction-shots… she was slightly obscured and out-of-focus, but it’s pretty easy to recognise her with that fiery hair of hers! Anyhoo, commiserations to the Wipe team for their loss… though both Morgan and Brooker have appeared as guests on HIGNFY, so it still counts as a partial victory, right?

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* “Y’know when you read a word in a book, and you sort of hear that word in your head… how do they get the sounds into the ink, to make it play in your head?”

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A Right Royal Send-Up

Morgana Robinson as 'Pippa' in "The Windsors" (S1)It seems like forever since I’ve seen a new British sitcom I could get properly excited about, but last week The Windsors made its double-headed debut on Ch4, and renewed my faith in home-grown funnies. The series is a wonderfully silly soap-opera, centring on a bickering/back-stabbing upper-class family very loosely based on the eponymous royals… and thanks to the profusion of princesses, the cast is stacked with talented women-folk! Hurrah!

Of course, the main draw for me was Morgana Robinson playing a scheming sex-pot named ‘Pippa’, who can mesmerise men with her awe-inspiring arse… but I also really enjoyed Celeste Dring and Ellie White’s scenes as ‘Beatrice’ and ‘Eugenie’, the sweet-but-slightly-dim-witted daughters of forlorn outcast ‘Fergie’ (Katy Wix). It’s just a shame that the writers decided to recycle an old Phoenix Nights gag and lumber them with permanent (?) face-paint. Hopefully it will have washed off before the next episode! Meanwhile, Louise Ford kept an admirably straight face as ‘Kate’, selling her character’s ridiculous “gypsy” backstory with remarkable sincerity, and generating genuine sympathy from me as she faced-off against Haydn Gwynne’s malicious ‘Camilla’.

I know this show won’t be to everyone’s tastes, with its childishly irreverent take on our nation’s most illustrious toffs, but this is exactly the sort of cartoonish absurdity I eat up with a (silver) spoon!

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CunkFeed

Diane Morgan as ‘Philomena Cunk’ for “Buzzfeed” (5/16)In anticipation of her upcoming Shakespearean special, BuzzFeed took the opportunity to ask ‘Philomena Cunk’ ten “very important questions”, and then recorded her answers for future generations to study and savour. For example: “Before the internet, if you wanted to upset everyone, you’d have to go round to them one by one, but now you can do it in seconds, just by tweeting something you thought was funny because you were drunk.” Yup. Aside from her amusing observations (and even-more-amusing misunderstandings), the article also features plenty photos of Diane Morgan mucking around with various props… fun!

Cunk on Shakespeare – BBC2, 10pm, Wednesday 11th May.

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Reconfiguring Kitty

Ellie Kendrick as 'Kitty Thatcham' in "Cheerful Weather for the Wedding"Back on an Ellie Kendrick kick*, I bought a Blu-Ray copy of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (2012) on eBay. It’s the Norwegian edition, but it has all the extra features, including a commentary track by director/co-writer Donald Rice, co-writer Mary Henely-Magill, and editor Stephen Haren. Although it can get a bit technical at times, the three of them enjoy a lively conversation from start to finish, and also reveal an interesting tidbit about how the casting of Ellie effected their conception of her character, ‘Kitty Thatcham’. Here’s a transcription (slightly edited for clarity):

DR: Ellie Kendrick here who plays Kitty so adorably… In the script Kitty is meant to be a very big, clumsy, cumbersome girl. And we were so taken with Ellie that we wanted her–

MHM: We made a brainy Kitty.

DR: We made a brainy, slightly nerdy, but very romantic Kitty… and we absolutely adore her version of Kitty. Some of the sort of visual jokes therefore were lost, but they were replaced with this wonderful sort of romantic battiness… and earnestness.

SH: She’s a ball of energy as well…

DR: A ball of energy and so talkative and all of that sort of stuff that Ellie brought to Kitty.

They also mention a deleted cutaway gag involving Kitty pushing a broken-down car through the rain… but sadly that’s not included on the disc, so apparently Ellie suffered for nothing on that occasion! And despite their praise for the actress, she only appears as a background extra in the “Behind the Scenes” featurette. Tch!

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* As if I’m ever off her, these days!

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