GothWatch: Cameron’s Cosmo Cosplay!

Dove Cameron channelling “The Craft” for “Cosmopolitan” (1/19)Dove Cameron recently appeared as the lead in a sorta-jukebox-musical adaptation of Clueless, so apparently someone at Cosmopolitan had the bright idea to invite her in for a photoshoot where she dressed up as various “teen queen” movie heroines, from Clueless’s ‘Cher’ to ‘Claire’ from The Breakfast Club. Obviously my fave look from this feature is the one where she goes full-on-Goth to channel The Craft (1996)… though I’m not sure they had a specific character in mind…?

Meanwhile, the accompanying interview revealed that the actress had a surprisingly dark and traumatic childhood herself: “When Dove was eight, she tells me, her best friend was murdered by their father, who then murdered his other daughter and committed suicide. A few years after that, when she was 15, Dove’s own father took his life… This is why she finds time to discuss depression and mortality with her fans as often as she can.” Under the circumstances, it’s kind of amazing that she turned out as well-adjusted, upbeat, and open-hearted as she did… especially when you factor in all the “child star” stuff as well… so snaps to her for that, and long may she shine!

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Kitty In The Middle

The Lounge Kittens in "The Middle"The Lounge Kittens have released the first video from their forthcoming fan-funded E.P., a cover of Jimmy Eat World’s “The Middle”… which is filmed in a fancy 360º format, so that you can literally/virtually stand in the middle of them, as they surround and sing at you! Besides the gorgeous harmonising (and mouth/air-guitar-ing), I also appreciate the uplifting message that this song carries: We’re not at the end (of our lives, or the world, or whatever), but merely “in the middle”, and there’s still plenty time to make things right, and pull up out of the nose-dive. I don’t know whether that’s true or not, but in these cold, dark, lonely days, it’s nice to have some flickering embers of hope to warm our hearts over… so bless ‘em for that… and Jimmy Eat World too, of course…*

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* Fun fact: According to Wikipedia, the band wrote this song after they’d been dropped by their record label, and had to self-finance the recording of a new album… which then went on to sell 1.6 million copies!

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“All I See Is Squirrels!”

[Contains sweet Spanish almonds and SPOILERS!!!]

'Squirrel Girl' in "Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes" (#1.18)Although the Marvel Rising franchise marks Squirrel Girl’s first starring role, it isn’t the first time she’s appeared on TV: Back in 2007 she had a very brief (and desultory) cameo in an episode of Fantastic Four: World’s Greatest Heroes titled “The Cure” (#1.18), in which the eponymous do-gooders were auditioning for new recruits to replace a depowered “The Thing”. She’s only onscreen for (a little under) two seconds, sliding into the center of the audition area and shouting “Ta-dah!”, while her bushy-tailed buds swarm the table where the show’s buzzkill heroes are sat, peevishly dismissing her. Boo! Instead they opted for the rather more obvious (but far less amusing) choice of “She-Hulk”, voiced by Rebecca Shoichet… who, according to IMDb at least, also played SG here.

'Juggernaut' vs. 'Squirrel Girl' in "Ultimate Spider-Man" (#3.5)A couple years later her name/image was used as a throwaway gag in an episode of Ultimate Spider-Man (#2.24) (2013), when “Spidey” (Drake Bell) checked a popularity poll of New York superheroes, and found himself trailing behind our heroine, who he’s supposedly never heard of before. She’s also pictured on a view-screen in ep #3.3 (2014) as one of the newbies that ‘Nick Fury’ (Chi McBride) was hoping to train-up as S.H.I.E.L.D. agents… but Spidey didn’t get to see her in glorious/giddy action for himself until ep #3.5, when she took down “Juggernaut” (Kevin Michael Richardson) outside a diner he was patronising! It’s great fun seeing her tackle such a huge opponent, and baffle/scurry him into submission, though Spidey took a very dim view of her tactics, and the collateral damage to nearby buildings. As she cheerfully shrugged off his reprimand, and bounced out on the clean-up, I couldn’t help thinking that her characterization and voice (provided by Misty Lee, who also voices the hero’s elderly ‘Aunt May’!) were rather Harley-Quinn-esque… though that may just be my obsessive fanboy brain projecting on to her? Either way, I love ‘em both, so please don’t make me choose a favourite!

'Squirrel Girl' (and friends) in "Ultimate Spider-Man" (#3.5)Side-note: I kinda hated a lot of the stylistic quirks of this series, such as the way Spidey kept pausing the action to talk at the viewer, and how every new character was introduced with a freeze-frame name-caption… but I did love the fact they chose to extend that convention to all three of SG’s senior squirrel chums, “Tippy Toes” (sic), “Monkey Joe”, and “Mr. Lieberman”!

Despite Spidey’s dim first impression of her, SG is later seen attending the S.H.I.E.L.D. Academy in ep #3.14 (2015), cheering his arrival at the Triskelion, and training alongside him (he even praised her as a “quick study” in his voice-over), but weirdly not speaking to him or anyone else, or saying anything aloud at all. There was a sight-gag of her squirrels sitting on a meditating “Iron Fist” though, so that’s fun. Actually, now I come to think about it, none of the female characters were allowed to speak or take part in the main storyline in that episode, which is rather a poor show, really. Thankfully, she had a lot more to say for herself when she returned in ep #3.17, accompanying Spidey and “Power Man” (Ogie Banks) on an illicit after-hours “burrito run” into the city, where they inevitably stumbled into a scheming super-villain’s path… specifically “Mesmero” (Dwight Schultz), who was using a bunch of hypnotised henchmen to help him hack into the city’s cellphone network, and turn everyone into mindless minions! Sadly, SG was the first/only hero to fall under his spell, but her friends were able to snap her out of it in time for her to kick some substantial bad-guy butt. Phew! Spidey had ordered her to leave all of her squirrels back at the base, so there’s no swarming action in this episode, but she did smuggle Monkey Joe along for a fan-serving surprise attack. Hurrah!

'Squirrel Girl' (and "Spidey") in "Ultimate Spider-Man" (#3.17)Her final appearance of Season Three came in ep #3.22, when a confused Spidey returned to find the squad’s dorm empty except for a “hibernating” SG, who couldn’t stay awake long enough to tell him where everyone else had gone… though the answer was, in fact, that they were out doing his Christmas shopping, leaving him free to have an It’s-A-Wonderful-Life-meets-A-Christmas-Carol-style nightmare courtesy of a villain named, er, “Nightmare” (Mark Hamill). She returned in ep #4.9 (2016) as one of a gaggle of students pestering Spidey with questions about their training schedule, but didn’t get anything to do beyond that. There’s a little more action in ep #4.10, where she helped to (temporarily) incapacitate a rampaging “Rhino” (Daryl Sabara)… and there’s a little pseudo-detective-work in #4.23, though it’s fairly inconsequential as her squirrels are distracted by a hidden packet of trail-mix while attempting to track a traitor, and SG herself got knocked out of the big-boss-battle pretty quickly/easily, with barely enough time to make a nut-related quip! Tch!

'Monkey Joe' and 'Squirrel Girl' in "Ultimate Spider-Man" (#3.17)Side-note: This episode featured ten different major “spider”-themed characters (including the inevitable Tara Strong as “Spider-Woman”), which really seems like overkill to me! But if I keep picking holes in this show* I might be here all month, so let’s just skip ahead to the two-part series finale, “Graduation Day” (eps #25-26), in which SG was once again sidelined as a second-stringer among the bloated ensemble, playing a thankless role in one of several connected battles in Pt. 1, and then getting reprimanded once again by the “superior” Spidey… before shrinking back to just another voiceless face-in-the-crowd in Pt. 2, when the headliner’s gross incompetence/stupidity allowed “Doctor Octopus” (Tom Kenny) to trap all of “the world’s greatest heroes” under a shrinking energy-dome-thingy. D’oh! Never woulda happened if he’d had some squirrels on-hand to help, eh?

In retrospect, only eps #3.5 and #3.17 were really worth bothering with, and the rest were mostly just a frustrating time-suck… I certainly wouldn’t recommend watching this show unless you’re a die-hard Spidey-fan, or want to play a masochistic game where you slap yourself in the face every time someone riffs on the famous “great power”/”great responsibility” line (which seemed to happen at least once per episode!) Still, I do dig the character design here, and appreciate the time and effort that must have gone into drawing/animating the many, many squirrels that appear on-screen. They score full-marks for adorability there.

'Monkey Joe', 'Squirrel Girl', and 'Tippy-Toes' in "Ultimate Spider-Man" (#3.17)Over the years, SG has also featured in several video games, voiced by both Strong and Lee, and from the YouTube clips I’ve seen, the funnest of these appears to be Lego Marvel’s Avengers (2016)… though sadly, there doesn’t seem to be an actual mini-figure of her (or the “Squirrel-Buster” armor) available to buy anywhere. Shame!

Co-inky: I happened to be watching a couple of Wired “Autocomplete Interviews” t’other night, and one of them featured Anna Kendrick talking about how she’d once mentioned wanting to play SG as a flippant off-the-cuff answer to an interview question, and then found fans petitioning on her behalf, even though she actually isn’t that bothered about it. Given a choice, I’d probably cast Ellie Kemper… though that may just be because of her hair-colour, and the fact she titled her autobiography “My Squirrel Days”…

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* Such as why all the heroes wear their costumes to bed at night, and why they keep locking villains up in such close-proximity with all their equipment/armor intact, and why Spidey repeatedly stresses how important it is to keep his aunt safe while steering villains straight towards her… etc., etc., etc.

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“Let’s Get Nuts!”

‘Tippy-Toe’, ‘Squirrel Girl’, and ‘Ms. Marvel’ in “Marvel Rising: Initiation”Aside from a brief phase in my early teens when I read the British Punisher reprints (backed with a black-and-white adaptation of the original Robocop movie), I’ve never been much of a “Marvel man”… but the slew of live-action blockbusters (on screens big and small), coupled with the glowing eulogies paid to Stan Lee in the wake of his passing, have made me wonder what I’ve been missing out on all these, er, decades. As an aspiring feminist, and established Dove Cameron fan, I figured the recently-released Marvel Rising cartoons might be the best way for me to get an overview of some of the company’s more popular female headliners… and, to cut straight to my road-to-Damascus-moment, I am now crushing super-hard on “Squirrel Girl”!

The franchise kicked-off with Initiation, a six-part short-form-series focussing on “Ghost-Spider” (Cameron), a web-slinging teen-superhero (wrongly) accused of murdering her civilian-alter-ego’s best-friend! Hot on her trail are two youthful S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, “Patriot” (Kamil McFadden) and “Quake” (Chloe Bennet, reprising her role from Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), as well as two amateur wanna-do-gooders, “Ms. Marvel” (Kathreen Khavari) and the aforementioned SG (Milana Vayntrub). While the first two Spider-centric episodes are engaging/amusing enough, the series really kicked into comedy-high-gear when SG entered the fray, with her nut-themed catchphrases, plucky squirrel sidekick (“Tippy-Toe”), and irrepressible energy. She’s pretty much the funnest, funniest, feistiest crime-fighter I’ve seen since The Powerpuff Girls… and when she calls in a scurry of bushy-tailed “friends” to intimidate her enemies, it’s undoubtedly the most adorable thing that has ever happened in the history of superheroing!

‘Ms. Marvel’, ‘Squirrel Girl’, and ‘Tippy-Toe’ in “Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors”The story ended on a literal anti-climax, which I assumed was a set-up for the feature-length Secret Warriors TV-movie that followed, but… uh… it wasn’t. A couple plot threads and characters do crossover, but Ghost-Spider’s fate is left entirely unresolved/unmentioned, as a new cast of antagonists unleash havoc on the city (including Ming-Na Wen as “Hala the Accuser”, an alien warlord intent on trashing the Earth), and new allies enter the fray, in the form of ‘America Chavez‘ (Cierra Ramirez) and “Captain Marvel” (Kim Raver). Although this flick scores top-marks for diversity, I found the whole thing slightly disjointed and over-stuffed, as the script rushed through the exposition of some characters’ origins/abilities, while leaving others entirely unexplained, and lassoing everyone into a team-up at a rather reckless rate… but I guess that’s often the way with “pilots”, and I got so many laughs out of SG’s antics that I’d still buy the DVD in a hot-second if one actually existed. The Barbie-fied “fashion doll” line, not so much…

Oh, and shout-out to the ubiquitous Tara Strong, who voiced ‘Mary Jane Watson’ in a couple episodes of Initiation. That gal really gets around!

Fun fact: SG was created by Will Murray and the late/legendary Steve Ditko, debuting in Marvel Super-Heroes #8 (a.k.a. “Marvel Super-Heroes Winter Special”) (1991), and has since gone on to appear in her own series of comics and YA prose novels… all of which have now leapt to the top of my must-read list, priority-number-one!

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“You Better Bring Your Wellies…”

Jessica Knappett as ‘Lisa’, Tamla Kari as ‘Lucy’, Lydia Rose Bewley as ‘Jane’, and Laura Haddock as ‘Alison’ in “The Inbetweeners Movie”Making good on my resolution to watch more of Jessica Knappett’s work, I picked up a copy of The Inbetweeners Movie (2011)… specifically the three-disc DVD edition exclusive to Asda, which boasts a bonus batch of video-diaries, because that’s how I roll.* I’m not generally a fan of gross-out/cringe-comedy, and studiously avoided the (hugely successful) TV sitcom that spawned this big-screen blockbuster spin-off, but found myself laughing a lot harder, and a lot more often than I’d anticipated when I first inserted the disc. The plot can basically be summed up as “awkward teenage boys go on cheap foreign holiday and try to get laid”, which probably has more resonance with viewers who’ve had similar misadventures in their youth, rather than spending the summer indoors reading comic books, watching horror flicks, and playing AD&D. Sigh. It’s currently rocking a 54% approval rating at Rotten Tomatoes, and I’d say that matches my own enjoyment of the movie overall… very funny in parts, and very off-putting in others, with no real narrative to draw me in, and no relatable characters for me to care about… but lively enough that I didn’t spend the whole time looking at the clock, or fast-forwarding through the Knappett-less bits.

Which is lucky, because she’s barely in it at all, and spends half of her scenes silently smiling beside her more talkative pals… presumably to set up the later gag where she aggressively swears at an innocent old woman while (re)claiming her “man”…? Either way, it was rather disappointing from that perspective, although her co-stars Laura Haddock, Tamla Kari, and Lydia Rose Bewley all aced their rather thankless roles as the lads’ (s)heroically patient and forgiving love-interests. To be fair, the film does feature far more naked man-flesh than female flesh, and exploits its established stars’ bodies quite ruthlessly for comedic effect (though they occasionally used doubles and/or prosthetics), so the ladies had a great deal less to be nervous/embarrassed about than their male counterparts, and come out of it looking much more dignified! Oh, I should also give a shout-out to Knappett’s future co-star/writer Lauren O’Rourke, who appears briefly but memorably in the opening and closing sequences, as Neil’s left-behind girlfriend ‘Nicole’… poor thing…

Tamla Kari, Lydia Rose Bewley, and Jessica Knappett repping “The Inbetweeners Movie” at The Empire Movie Awards (2012)As for the extras, Knappett and Bewley crop-up several times together in the “making of” featurettes, grassing or praising their male cast mates… and all four “girls” get a little individual screentime during the video-diaries. There’s also footage of them attending a couple premieres, looking very glam and answering red-carpet questions about their dresses (meh). Both “the boys” and the writer-creator-producers (Damon Beesley and Iain Morris)** are very complimentary about the girls on their separate commentary tracks, praising their talent and courage in equal measure… even the three unruly (and proudly inebriated) commenters on the director’s track settled-down/sobered-up for long enough to sincerely concur on the cast’s blanket brilliance, and pay particular tribute to the beauty of Bewley. Unfortunately the girls’ own track is a slightly patchy affair, with Haddock absent, a sniffling/nose-blowing Kari so far away from her microphone she’s barely audible at times, and frequent complaints that the screen they’re watching the film on is too dark to see anything!*** Two of the biggest takeaways from the tracks about Knappett are that her relative lack of lines left her free to play morale-officer and invite/lure other cast members to get drunk in her room (which became known as “Bar Knappett”), but she also spent time seriously studying with Blake Harrison to mimic his performance as ‘Neil’ more accurately, and become his female doppelgänger. Eep!

Jessica Knappett as ‘Harriet’ in “How Not to Live Your Life” (ep #3.3)I also checked out Knappett’s first credited onscreen appearance, in an old BBC3 sitcom called How Not to Live Your Life… specifically ep #3.3 (aka “Don’s Posh Weekend”) (2010), in which the show’s oik-ish anti-hero (played by the show’s writer Dan Clark) is invited to stay at a fancy country house by a kinky upper-class “virgin” with an overprotective/oblivious father. Interestingly, the would-be-dominatrix is played by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, of Fleabag fame… and both she and Clark went on to (separately) contribute material to Knappett’s own star-vehicle, Drifters. Bless ‘em. Our heroine does a pretty spot-on RP accent here, playing Waller-Bridge’s bestie, who hooks up with Don’s long-suffering boss, played by Daniel Lawrence Taylor (who, for the record, has also created his own sitcom, called Timewasters!) Oddly enough, despite the age-difference between the lead characters this show seems pretty much of-a-piece with The Inbetweeners, with a crude fish-out-of-water fella “following his cock” from one stumbling embarrassment to the next. The major difference is that [SPOILER ALERT!] the secretly-quite-sweet teens all find proper romance on their holiday-in-the-sun, while the old-enough-to-know-better Don is rightly punished by the universe for his ignorance and offensiveness, hounded from the grounds and forced to hitchhike along the side of a motorway wearing only a strappy bondage outfit, handcuffs, and ball-gag! Fyi, this episode ends with a scene of Waller-Bridge and Knappett lying on a bed together in lingerie, if that’s the sort of thing that floats yer boat…

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* I couldn’t find the information anywhere online when I looked for it, so in case you’re curious the bonus disc contains a 44-minute-long video-diary compilation, starring/filmed-by the main cast members over the length of the shoot, mostly documenting the ways they entertained themselves between set-ups. It’s pretty entertaining, and also gives you the best behind-the-scenes footage of just how hard it was raining during their distinctly un-“summery” off-season shoot.

** Fun fact: Morris and Beesley also wrote two episodes of Flight of the Conchords (#1.11 and #2.5), despite not being American or Kiwi!

*** It’s revealed in the director’s commentary that this is because everyone’s watching a “compressed Quicktime” movie, rather than a proper/decent hi-res version of the film.

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Not The Best…

Megan Charpentier as 'Chrystal' and Tardar Sauce as 'Grumpy Cat' a la "Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever"To kick off the “festive season” I watched Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (2014), a made-for-television movie starring cheery human Megan Charpentier alongside the eponymous internet-meme, voiced by Aubrey Plaza. Despite scoring a truly atrocious 27% “freshness” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, the flick has been released on DVD in several countries… and I have to say, if I found a copy stuffed into my stocking on Xmas morning, I wouldn’t be too bummed about it… unless it was my only present, of course, in which case I would throw a serious hissy fit. The “story”, which sees two bickering burglars attempting to steal an inexplicably expensive dog from a mall-based pet-store, only to be thwarted by a plucky young girl who’s developed a psychic connection with a grouchy feline thanks to a wish made on a magical coin, is utter, utter tosh… and painfully trite tosh at that… but Plaza still kept me watching/laughing along with her fourth-wall breaking snark… even when she was specifically mocking me for not switching it off sooner! What a crafty witch she is.

Aubrey Plaza with "Grumpy Cat" (aka Tardar Sauce) circa 2014The jarring incongruity between Plaza’s hilarious voice-over and the pat script that the on-camera actors were burdened with is explained in a fantastically frank promotional interview she gave to USA Today at the time: “I probably rewrote about 90% of what I say in the movie, and I also added a lot of commentary. Once I realized that the cat’s mouth wasn’t going to move, I just kind of went for it… The movie kind of has a Mystery Science Theater 3000 vibe to it, so it’s like you’re getting Grumpy’s commentary throughout the whole thing, but then Grumpy is also starring in the story.” She also suggests that viewers watch it with the aid of recreational drugs, and take a drink/hit whenever she says “meow”… which does happen pretty often, and is absolutely adorable every damn time.

I have no idea how a (sober) mainstream family would make it through a mashed-up mess like this one, but for those of us already under Plaza’s spell, or anyone looking for a so-bad-it’s-bizarre seasonal time-passer to make a mockery of, this is mildly recommended… and be sure to check out the behind-the-scenes video of Plaza “getting into character”, which is well worth two-and-a-half minutes of anybody’s time!

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“So, You’ve Gone Insane. That’s Fun.”

[Contains dried robin’s blood and SPOILERS!!!]

Amy Poehler as ‘Leslie Knope’ in “Parks and Recreation” (S6)The major story arc dominating Season Six of Parks and Recreation (2013), aside from ‘Leslie Knope’s (Amy Poehler) acrimonious recall from the City Council, was the not-entirely-unrelated merging of cash-strapped Eagleton (and its super-snooty citizens) into a resentful Pawnee. Although I wasn’t especially invested in this storyline, it did result in the introduction of my fave new supporting character, ‘Craig Middlebrooks’ (Billy Eichner), a volatile Parks Department employee who swings wildly between vulnerability and rage, often while he’s still mid-sentence! The scene where he defensively introduces himself to a work-group using self-deprecating Sex and the City comparisons will live long in my chuckle-bank: “Samantha in the boardroom, Miranda in the bedroom. I know it’s not ideal, but it’s WHO I AM!!!” (eps #6.4/8/12/14-16/19-22) Another noteworthy Eagletonian was clueless councilwoman ‘Ingrid De Forest’ (Kristen Bell), who eventually assumed Leslie’s seat, after our heroine selflessly filibustered herself hoarse to ensure that the latest additions to their citizenry could vote on her recall, despite knowing full well they intended to oust her! (eps #6.3/6/10)

At least this apparent “defeat” gave Leslie the time and freedom to explore more ambitious options, after a much-needed (and pricey) pep-talk from ace “political consultant and power broker” ‘Jennifer Barkley’ (Kathryn Hahn) (eps #6.10). Our heroine’s eventually headhunted to serve as Midwest Regional Director for the National Parks Service… though she insists on working out of her beloved hometown, after claiming a vacant floor in the Pawnee City Hall building, which ‘Ron’ (Nick Offerman) had just finished renovating as a hobby-project. The final scene of the season skipped ahead a couple months, to show her in full-swing at her fancy new job, so… is that where the next season picks up? Or will they flashback a bit, to show a little more of her learning curve…? Hmmm…

Aubrey Plaza as ‘April Ludgate’ in “Parks and Recreation” (S6)Another major shakeup our heroine had to accept/adapt to was the departure of her long-time bestie ‘Ann’ (Rashida Jones), who skipped town with baby-daddy ‘Chris’ (Rob Lowe) in search of greener/less-racoon-infested pastures (ep #6.13). Her going-away party was actually pretty sweet and weepy, though I generally prefer it when ‘April’ is being mean to her former love-rival, rather than getting mushy with her. Speaking of which/whom…

The unquestionable highlight of S6 (and the entire series so far) for me has to be seeing Aubrey Plaza going Full Goth, after so many years posing as a bat-in-canary’s-clothing. Granted it was only for a couple scenes in a couple unrelated episodes, but it made my cold, grey heart beat a little faster all the same! Typically, her Hallowe’en costumes to date have been decidedly un-spooky (a clown in ep #2.7, a deflated-sumo-wrestler in ep #4.5, a pink flower in ep #6.7), and she’s reserved the sombre black for far less appropriate occasions… such as the old-timey “pilgrim” outfit she wore to ‘Ben’s (Adam Scott) 90s-themed birthday bash (she claims she thought they meant the 1690s!) (ep #6.6), and the Victorian mourning-gown she wore for a Parks-Department-sponsored high school prom in ep #6.18. Oh, it’s also worth noting that while Leslie considers being called a witch to be “sexist and offensive” (ep #6.5), April always takes it (and being called “weird”) as a compliment, and politely thanks the confused name-caller accordingly. Blessed be!

Aubrey Plaza as ‘April Ludgate’ in “Parks and Recreation” (S6)Other April/Aubrey highlights included: The snarl she gave a random old lady when introducing herself as “Odie” (from the Garfield cartoon strip) (ep #6.1)… Her mirroring/mimicking of transferred Eagletonian temp ‘Tynnyfer’ (played by June Diane Raphael!) (ep #6.4)… Her wicked glee over ‘Tom’ (Aziz Ansari) freaking-out and adopting a fake/faulty English accent, in order to impress a cute “Doctor Without Borders” (played by Tatiana Maslany!) (ep #6.5/6)… Her demonic invocations when anyone called for a morale-boosting team-hand-stack/cheer (such as “Dark forces, arise!” in ep #6.13)… The revelation that Leslie foolishly let her name the Parks Department’s summer internship program, and she plumped for “The April Ludgate Summer Solstice Druid Festival and Buffalo Wings Eating Contest” (#6.13)… Her trolling of wine-snobs at the swanky sommelier try-outs, where she declared herself a “professional drinker”, claimed that one particular vintage “comes from your mother’s butt”, and wisely noted that “all wine tastes the same, and if you spend more than $5 on wine, you are very stupid” (#6.19). Word. Oh, and in ep #6.8, there was a sub-plot involving the characters picking the dogs that they most resembled, leading to this dead-on (and very endearing) description of April by ‘Donna’ (Retta): “You’re beautiful, yet cold and aloof. You pride yourself on being a loner. You do not obey, you choose to co-operate. And when you stop baring your fangs to pick a mate, it’s for life. And you’re fiercely loyal to your pack, which makes you a rare black Siberian husky.” Swoon! Sadly her quality-time with ‘Andy’ was seriously curtailed this season by Chris Pratt’s defection to the “Guardians of the Galaxy”… though, on the upside, he’s a lot studlier now than he was when they first met, after “giving up beer for a month” and magickally losing 50 lbs (in reality Pratt endured a strenuous action-hero diet-and-exercise regimen, of course).

Meanwhile, it was also a surprisingly strong season for April’s performance-artist pal ‘Orin’ (Eric Isenhower), who played the part of doting (undead?) mother during her prom send-off (#6.18), and even managed to endear himself to Leslie… in the sense that she’d finally stopped insulting him to his face (or behind his back) and started employing him instead (as an Easter Bunny in ep #6.13)… though she was still quite snippy to/about him, and refused to even consider letting him headline the landmark Unity Concert, despite April’s insistence that “it’s a no-brainer… he dislocates his shoulder to the music of Billy Joel. The Pawnee Journal called it, ‘Why would anyone do this?’” (#6.15) Hee.

Jenny Slate as ‘Mona-Lisa Saperstein’ in “Parks and Recreation” (S6)Other returning Pawneeans included: A couple cameos by Lucy Lawless as Ron’s awesome new-wife ‘Diane’ (eps #6.1-3/21-22), and Jenny Slate as Tom’s monstrous ex-girlfriend ‘Mona-Lisa’ (eps #6.1-2/21-22)… Mo Collins as trend-hopping TV presenter ‘Joan Callamezzo’ (eps #6.7/14/16/21-22)… and Alison Becker as super-cute newsie ‘Shauna Malwae-Tweep’, whose self-esteem/sanity seems to have taken a serious nosedive, as she admitted crushing on scandal-ridden sleaze-bag ‘Councilman Dexhart’ (Kevin Symons) in ep #6.10, before revealing in ep #6.17 that she’d been dating a married man (who’d since gone back to his wife). She also claimed to be writing a memoir based on her blog: “It’s called ‘Tweeping Up Appearances’, and it’s about my journey to find happiness by smiling through the pain.” Harsh. All this led to Leslie summing her up thusly: “Pretty, fragile, makes terrible life decisions. A real fixer-upper.” Bless. I hope she takes Leslie’s advice and goes to see a therapist during the hiatus! I’ve got a real soft spot for that gal, and I’d like to see her find happiness before the series finale seals everyone in amber. I also have to give a belated shout-out to Susan Yeagley, who plays ‘Jessica Wicks’, a former beauty-pageant-winner-turned-judge, who went on to marry into the wealthy/influential Newport family, and now oversees the Sweetums corporation’s charitable trust, which employed Ben as its president for the last couple seasons (eps #2.3/21, 5.7/15, 6.1-2/8). I’m really not sure why I didn’t mention her before, except that maybe her character was kind of a cypher… though the episode where she fired Ben for disloyalty (over their plot to replace the local tap-water with a sugar-y juice drink) certainly made an impression! Oh, and technically Kelly Washington made a second appearance as a high school student being mentored by Leslie (ep #6.13), except that her character’s name was ‘Cassidy’ when we first met her as a member of the “Model UN Club” back in ep #4.7, and was given as ‘Allison’ here. Ooops? As for Megan Mullally’s perfunctory appearance in the finale as an all-mouth-and-no-crazy ‘Tammy Two’… meh…

Kay Hanley as ‘Herself’ in “Parks and Recreation” (S6)Notable newbies included: Heidi Klum as ‘Ulee Danssen’, a beloved Danish mayor receiving an International Coalition of Women in Government award alongside Leslie in London (ep #6.1)… Erinn Hayes as ‘Annabel Porter’, an influential local trendsetter Tom desperately wanted to impress (ep #6.7)… Megan Amram as ‘Viv’, the fairer-half of a hipster couple trying to buy Ron’s cabin, where they were fluffed by April during an “open-house” (ep #6.9) (Fun fact: Off-camera Amram is a writer/producer, who’s worked on Kroll Show, Childrens Hospital, and The Good Place, as well as P&R)… Ashley Wigfield as ‘Sansa Faramir’ (!), an eavesdropping fiancée at the ring store where Ann and Chris dilly-dallied over getting engaged (ep #6.11) (Fun fact: Off-camera Wigfield is also a writer/story-editor, who’s worked on Jean-Claude Van Johnson, Great News, and Runaways)… Debra Mooney as ‘Rosie Demarco’, the bitter half of a bickering married couple “celebrating” their 50th wedding anniversary (ep #6.14)… Sydney Endicott (aka Sydney Ann Endicott) as ‘Madison’, a friend of Craig’s who also sat on the Pawnee-Eagleton Youth Committee, and helped to organise the Unity Concert… Lilan Bowden as ‘Sam Nut’, a millennial “geekpreneur” Ben shamed with his superior knowledge of needlessly-complicated board games (ep #6.21/2)… and finally, Michelle Obama (of FLOTUS fame) and Kay Hanley (of Letters to Cleo fame) rocked up as themselves in the big-finish finale, to gee our heroes along (ep #6.21-22). Huzzah!

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