‘Cruel Summer’ Is The Olivia Rodrigo Of TV Shows

These days, there’s more pressure than ever to fit things into generational boxes. As millennials dig in their heels and fight the harsh truth that we’re no longer the youngest, most sought-after demographic, there’s a tendency to lash out at what we feel threatened by—namely, people under the age of 25 being talented and successful. But hard as you try to ignore the accomplishments of anyone born after 1996, I regret to inform you that there’s a new teen show on Freeform that your 30-year-old ass needs to be watching.

The show, if you’ve been living under a rock (or like, working full-time and raising a family or something) is called Cruel Summer, and thanks to every entertainment brand being owned by the same four corporations, it’s available on both Freeform and Hulu. So unless your ex just changed their Hulu password and your mom hasn’t had time to look hers up yet, you have no excuse not to watch. The show is nearing the end of its 10-episode first season, which makes now the perfect time to catch up.

So, what is Cruel Summer about? Before I explain, I’ll just say that it’s essentially the Gen Z version of Pretty Little Liars. There are popular girls, wannabe popular girls, ridiculous subplots that serve no purpose, creepy side characters delivering questionable dialogue, and of course, a juicy central mystery fueling the whole operation.

So, the plot: In 1993, a popular girl named Kate goes missing. While she’s gone, an unpopular girl named Jeanette becomes popular, starts hanging out with Kate’s friends, and dating Kate’s boyfriend. In 1994, Kate is rescued, and she claims that Jeanette saw her being held captive and didn’t tell anyone. Oh, and the kidnapper is the vice principal of the high school that both girls attend, naturally. In 1995, Kate and Jeanette are locked in a legal battle while the world around them is more or less going to sh*t. And no, none of that counts as spoilers, because each episode shows us what is happening on the same day of those three different years. It’s a lot to keep track of, but due to some hilarious wigs and over-the-top lighting choices, it’s actually pretty easy to keep track of which year we’re in. On top of the main question of WTF happened with Kate and Jeanette, there are approximately 100 side characters with their own mini-storylines, and the shocking reveals are introduced at a breakneck pace.

It’s been over a decade since Pretty Little Liars premiered (back when Freeform was ABC Family, feel old yet?), and Cruel Summer checks all the same boxes. Yet despite your ~advanced~ age, you don’t need to feel weird about watching it. If you’re a grown adult who can’t understand why you relate to Olivia Rodrigo so much, wait until you’re five Reddit threads deep about this objectively dumb show where each plot twist makes less sense than the one before. Sure, the main characters are in high school, but that didn’t stop you from watching Euphoria, did it? (But actually, if you haven’t seen Euphoria, go watch that—it’s way better than this nonsense.) You may not want to adopt the go-to Gen Z haircuts or styles of denim, but pretending your life is over because you enjoy their music or TV shows is just annoying.

Even as someone who enjoys critiquing a lot of the media I consume, I have to admit that sometimes it’s refreshing to watch something that isn’t really even trying to be good. For more than a decade now, we’ve been in an era of “prestige TV,” where every network and streaming service is throwing their weight behind whatever A-list project they think will inspire think-pieces and win big during award season. But as much as I appreciate the Mare of Easttowns and The Undoings of the world, we also need the Cruel Summers. Those shows have Oscar-winning actresses. This one has Olivia Holt, who’s best known for previous starring roles on Disney Channel and Freeform. Those shows have deeply layered explorations of the human soul, this one tackles the age-old question—does it count as cheating if you date someone new while your girlfriend is kidnapped? The best part about Cruel Summer isn’t the writing or the acting, and it’s DEFINITELY not the wig department; it’s the entertainment factor of watching a messy story being told in an equally messy way.

Image: Freeform/Bill Matlock

Has ‘RHOSLC’ Lost The Thread?

It started off so promising: a diverse cast, a glittering snowy paradise, a peek into Mormonism, a pastor who f*cked her grandfather. The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City had all the makings of what should have been a captivating first season, but 12 episodes later and I can’t seem to get myself to care much. What happened, and where do we go from here?

Maybe I expected too much from a first season of a Real Housewives show. Even my beloved Potomac had a clunky debut, initially pitched as an etiquette show and then later refashioned into a Real Housewives franchise. The drama that season was petty and low-stakes: Gizelle sitting in the middle of the table at Karen’s party, Ashley having the audacity to dance in public. It took five seasons (and a whole lot of pent-up animosity) for them to get to the explosive season that just concluded.

There were definitely some growing pains on RHOP as Gizelle, Karen, and Robyn—women who had known each other for years—got to know Ashley, and later, Candiace. Remember when Ashley was just some perky 26-year-old who took bourbon shots, much to Karen and Gizelle’s horror? This whole season of Real Housewives of Salt Lake City feels like that: a group of women who don’t know each other well and don’t have an affinity to one another just trying to fake it for the cameras. Heather and Whitney and, until she kept going after them, Jen are really friends, you can tell; so are Lisa and Meredith (though whether they are friends out of a genuine fondness or plain narcissism because they are the same exact person remains to be seen for me). But for a show that opened with a voiceover saying “our friendships define us”, the friendship of the group as a whole feels pretty weak.

There are the warring factions—Lisa and Meredith vs. Heather and Whitney, and everybody vs. Jen—but these independent groups feel loosely held together by virtue of being cast on the same show. Do Lisa and Meredith really care if they remain cool with Heather and Whitney? I don’t get the sense that they do, and still, this remains a conflict for multiple episodes. Plus, rather than sitting there and, as they say in other franchises, working on getting to a good place, many of the women literally walk away from fights: Jen at the prohibition party, Jen at the brunch, Meredith in Vegas, etc. Perhaps this is just a side-effect of all that Mormon conditioning, but 12 hours of television later and it just feels like none of these women really GAF whether or not they talk to their castmates after the cameras stop rolling. If there are no friendships to hold the group together, who really cares if they argue? It’s like watching two strangers get into an argument on the subway, only I don’t have to avert my eyes.

In particular, Lisa and Meredith act too above everything to engage with the rest of the cast. They seem like they would be perfectly content to never branch out of their twosome, except to go on double dates with their husbands. That’s very mature, but unfortunately maturity does not make for good reality TV.

Meredith, in fact, doesn’t really seem to want to be on TV at all. She leaves the room in Vegas when Jen’s behavior starts escalating (at least Lisa follows Jen to try to calm her down/remain on camera). She literally says “I’m not engaging.” Is it because, as she says, she won’t have someone tell her who she can or can’t be friends with, or because she doesn’t want the cameras to catch her cracking?

She also shuts down discussion of her marriage, the one plot point that, I’m sorry, makes her interesting. For all the talk about her marriage problems, they’re basically resolved in two episodes: in episode 7, the worst of it, Seth misses the Park City fashion show; by episode 9, they’re happily back together. From the previous, it seems she will finally talk about it in the finale, but that’s after many episodes of downplaying.

The two cast members who actually do have genuine emotions towards each other are Jen and Mary, and the emotion they palpably feel for one another is hatred. It starts in the very first episode, with “Hospital Smell-Gate” (a feud I still don’t get because it’s a fact. If you just left a hospital, you will likely smell like a hospital. Actually, same with F*cked Her Grandfather-Gate—also a fact). In any case, Mary and Jen’s dislike of one another is so real that they flat-out can’t be in the same room, which is a real shame. In episode 5, during Mary’s attempted brunch reconciliation, she and Jen immediately start arguing. Mary exposes herself when she tells Jen, “I don’t want to talk to you. Ever.” Heather tries to correct her by telling Mary, “you do, you want to talk to her,” but the truth is clear: these women won’t spend time together, good TV or not. Predictably, Jen leaves the brunch early. I’m sorry, but we simply cannot have a show where the only two people who have genuine conflict and bridge the gap between the separate friend groups will not interact with one another. It’s admittedly weird when the two people who are holding this group together, Jen and Mary, are also the most divisive ones. But that could also make for great TV, if utilized correctly.

Speaking of Jen, she seems to have two moods: crying or screaming. At first it was interesting to watch her fly off the handle, at least because nobody else was doing it. Now, it’s gotten predictable, and a little concerning. On top of that, nobody on the cast is capable of holding her accountable or getting a genuine apology (save Lisa at the aforementioned brunch in episode 5), and they all seem tired of trying. Even the hypnotist, despite repeatedly chastising Jen on her improper apology etiquette, can’t elicit a no-strings-attached “I’m sorry” from her. Jen also doesn’t seem to understand how reality TV works, because she won’t forgive and forget. She takes it as a personal affront that Meredith and Lisa forgave Whitney after her apology, saying “I’m not ok with her lying and us throwing everything under the rug,” refusing to realize that apologizing and then sweeping issues under the rug is literally how these shows go on. (Paradoxically, that is a point in her favor that their friendship is real—she is genuinely hurt, and not just for TV.)

The problem is, though, this is The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City, not Everybody Hates Jen. Someone else needs to share the weight, and in order to do that, we need some stakes between everybody else. To her credit, Whitney did try to hold her own by bringing up the rumor of MereLisa saying they’re afraid of Jen to Jen at her husband’s birthday. It was objectively a bad time to bring it up, but Whitney seems to know that this is reality TV, and the worst occasion to bring up an issue in the real world is the single best time to do so to maximize impact. (That or she truly lacks tact, but I’m going with the former guess.) However, while noble, this is a short-term solution, because all Whitney would need to do to fix it is give a simple Ramona Singer-esque apology and admit it was the wrong place, wrong time.

What made RHOSLC so interesting from the beginning was how different it was from other Real Housewives cities, but in order to get back on track, we are going to need to follow the playbook from those other cities, at least for a few pages. The good news is that a solution is both easy and imminent: get these ladies in the same room again! At the reunion, which Mary will attend in its entirety, there can be no storming out or leaving the table when confrontation gets too direct. There can be no FaceTime games of telephone. Like it or not (and I don’t think Meredith or Jen will like it), but they will have to hash it out. And isn’t that what we’re all here for, dammit?

Images: Fred Hayes/Bravo

What’s Really Wrong With This Season’s ‘Bachelor’ Villain

The Bachelor is the TV show equivalent of a f*ckboy. Every season I vow to stop dedicating hours of my life to an experience that gives me more aggravation than actual pleasure. But after the final rose, I delude myself into thinking that maybe, just maybe, it’ll be different next time. And as sure as an unwanted appearance by Ashley I., I’m back.  It actually is different this time, but not in the way I was hoping. My issue this season has nothing to do with the fact that Matt is a less-than-compelling lead. After all, this is a show built around mediocre men. The problem is with our villain. Coming off the literal garbage heap of Peter’s season where producers couldn’t even successfully produce a villain, this time they’re overcompensating by force-feeding us Victoria, a contestant so over-the-top, she’s practically a cartoon. Unfortunately, Queen V lacks all of the qualities that make for a truly great Bachelor villain.

She Lacks Complexity

Victoria is so outlandish, it’s hard to believe she’s anything other than a producer plant, sent to stir up drama and provoke the other contestants. This might actually be fine if it all didn’t feel so one-dimensional. Past villains like Corinne Olympios and Demi Burnett were so fun to watch because they had layers. At first glance, both women seemed like they were only there to seduce the lead and piss off the other women in the process. But as we got to know them, each woman gave us a softer side. Corinne had a sweet relationship with her former nanny, Raquel, who was a mother figure to her. Demi opened up about the struggles she faced while her own mother was in prison. Despite their villain-like qualities, each woman was vulnerable, which, despite being a comically overused term on this show, is key to not only winning the lead’s heart, but also being a good villain. Maybe we’ll get to see a different side to Victoria. But for now, waving around a crown and calling every person that you dislike “toxic” for no apparent reason feels more like the kind of shtick that should end in a night one elimination, especially given the targets she chooses. Which brings me to my next point.

She Chooses Unworthy Opponents

Almost immediately, Victoria gets into it with her roommate, Marylynn. She claims Marylynn is “toxic” and “psychologically disturbed”, even going so far as to tell Matt that Marylynn is bullying her. However, we’re given no actual proof of this being the case. On the contrary, Marylynn is sweet, docile, and seems to get along just fine with the other women. She seems genuinely shocked when confronted by Matt about the bullying accusations and tries to respectfully work things out with Victoria. Victoria, on the other hand, refuses to even hear what Marylynn has to say, steamrolling her with the “bully” narrative and finally bringing Marylynn to tears.

Targeting the mild-mannered Marylynn is like trying to kill a fly with an elephant gun. It’s unnecessary and, frankly, difficult to watch. Viewers enjoy a fair fight. Had Victoria been able to successfully spar with someone like Katie, it would’ve been far more impressive and entertaining, but she’s ill-equipped. Instead, she prefers antagonizing contestants who are unable or unwilling to fight back, which is why she then set her sights on Sarah.

Her Toxicity Has Infected The Group 

We enjoy villains not only because they’re entertaining and spice things up, but also because they serve as a foil to the hero and ultimately provide a comforting vehicle for “good” to triumph over “evil”. What’s been remarkable about this season thus far is that it’s unclear who the “good guys” actually are. Aside from the real queen Katie, the rest of the contestants went from looking visibly uncomfortable around Victoria to piling onto her takedown of Sarah. As someone who wrote under the pseudonym Betchina George, I can usually appreciate a catty moment when it’s warranted, but things went way too far there. Sure, Sarah was needy, and it was wrong of her to steal the other girls’ time. But for the women to not only sit silently while Victoria mocked Sarah in the midst of her apology, but then gleefully join in on the bullying by threatening to make the rest of Sarah’s time in the house horrible was totally unacceptable, whether they knew about her sick father or not.

Unfortunately, even with Sarah gone, the cattiness continues. Victoria has a new henchwoman in Anna, with the two delighting in the vicious rumor that new girl Brittany is an escort and cackling like Cinderella’s stepsisters after Victoria calls Catalina, who by all accounts has done nothing to Victoria, “the dumbest hoe I’ve ever met”. Not a good look.

Victoria: I’m an empath.
America:

Her Romantic Connection With Matt is Nonexistent

What’s made many past Bachelor villains believable is their connection to the lead. Krystal Nielson stuck around despite being extremely polarizing because it was clear she and Arie had actual chemistry. We even had a villain win an entire season, because Ben Flajnik was unable to hide his erection affection for Courtney Robertson. The same can’t be said for the connection between Matt and Victoria this season. He looks visibly pained calling her name at the rose ceremony week after week, and when they have had one-on-one time, the conversations we’ve seen have been totally superficial. Matt isn’t exactly shy about making out with the contestants he’s into, usually by attempting to engulf their entire face with his mouth. So far, he’s given Victoria the kind of half-hearted hugs I begrudgingly gave to distant relatives as a child.

Actual Footage of Matt and Victoria Interacting:

The chemistry is palpable.

It’s clear that this season is hitting differently when it comes to the usual villain trope. Maybe as we become savvier as reality TV viewers and the fourth wall breaks, it’s harder to suspend our disbelief and easier to spot the producer prompts and manufactured drama we glossed over in previous seasons. Or maybe we’re living in a political climate where we’re tired of the constant negative rhetoric and glorifying those who seem to be mean for its own sake. Whatever the reason, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to root for Victoria and almost all of the other women this season. I want to believe that she’ll surprise us and redeem herself in the coming weeks, but it’s The Bachelor. I’ve been burned before.

Images: ABC/Craig Sjodin; Giphy (2)

7 Must-See Black History Month Flicks To Stream Right Now

You marched and protested for Floyd and Taylor and the countless others who came before and after them. You donated. You called. You denounced white supremacists IRL and on social media. You call yourself an ally to Black and brown people and back up that talk with actual action, like cutting off that Karen in your crew or, even better, you’ve got receipts, because you’ve voted for politicians who tout anti-racist platforms. (Dope.) 

OK, alright, you can call yourself woke. 

But you really cannot call yourself woke unless you truly know Black History, my sistrens. Thankfully, there’s plenty to binge-watch and catch up on if you’d like a crash course in the deep-rooted ugliness of what it’s like to be Black in America. While it’d be virtually impossible to include every doc and flick that’s worth watching, this handful is a good start. From the moments the first Black people were stolen from their African homelands to the demolition of Black Wall Street to the civil rights movement to the Black people who are still suffering from this country’s policies of mass incarceration, here are a few titles to start with.

Enslaved (Prime Video)

You’ll follow Samuel L. Jackson around the globe as he retraces the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade from the shores of Gabon to the U.K. to the Florida Keys and more, through the eyes of deep-sea divers in search of six sunken slave ships, the skeletal remains of their shackled human cargo, and relics, to historians who unfurl centuries-old scrolls of petitions to abolish slavery. There’s even an appearance from the late civil rights leader John Lewis, he of “good trouble”, who invited the divers to Washington, D.C., for a face-to-face shortly before his death in July.

Harriet Tubman: They Called Her Moses (Prime Video)

Sure, you can watch the action-packed but much-maligned 2019 box office darling Harriet, or you can get the real deal Holyfield. This documentary traces Harriet’s early days in Maryland to her first journey up the Underground Railroad to Pennsylvania and beyond, again, again, and again in her rescue of an estimated 300 slaves.

The History Channel: In Search of History—Black Wall Street (YouTube)

Once located in the heart of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Black Wall Street was a thriving mecca of more than 300 Black-owned businesses such as movie theatres and doctor’s offices. But that all came to a violent and bitter end after a young white woman’s allegations of being raped by a Black teen sparked a race riot that would leave hundreds of Black people dead and the city leveled. By one estimate, the damages then, in 1921, totaled $2 million, or $50 million today—a massive economic blow to Blacks who endeavored to both build financial stability for themselves and create lasting generational wealth. “Maybe if we talk about it enough, it’ll never be again,” mused one survivor in her testimonial.

I Am Not Your Negro (Netflix)

Before their untimely deaths, what was life like for outspoken civil rights leaders Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Medgar Evers? This doc is based on Remember This House, an unfinished manuscript written by the trio’s pal, essayist James Baldwin, who only managed to pen 30 pages of prose before his own death. But his musings are enough for Samuel L. Jackson, in a voiceover, to string together troubling footage past and present of simmering racial tensions that not only led to Malcolm, Martin, and Medgar’s assassinations, but also illustrate the disturbing racial inequities that remain in America today.

Loving (Netflix, YouTube, Prime Video, & more)

Before a history-making 1967 Supreme Court ruling, interracial marriages were not only taboo, but illegal in many places. One couple’s determination changed all that. Loving is based on the true story of Richard and Mildred Loving, who had to flee their home in Virginia, one of 20 states that forbade mixed-race unions, for a safe-haven in D.C., and the story of their fight to live and love freely.

Selma (Hulu, YouTube, Prime Video, & more)

The Ava DuVernay-directed Selma depicts civil rights leaders’ and hundreds of Black voters’ history-making march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, in protest against the denial of Blacks’ voting rights. White supremacy looms large with plenty of intimidation tactics and brutal beatings, but the throngs persevered, finally reaching Montgomery. The moment became the catalyst for the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a major win for the civil rights movement. What was not a win? This flick’s Oscar snub for Best Picture.

13th (Netflix)

Land of the free? Not quite. In yet another hit from DuVernay, this jaw-dropping documentary unveils the troubling statistics of Black Americans behind bars. The film’s title references the 13th amendment that abolished slavery but provided for incarceration as punishment for a crime. The truth bombs drop from the very start with statistic after sobering statistic. “The United States is home to five percent of the world’s population,” booms Barack Obama’s voiceover, “but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners.” And they continue throughout, like the fact that Black people make up 13.4 percent of the American population but 40.2 percent of the prison population.

CORRECTION: This article has been updated with the correct statistic that Black people make up 13.4 percent of the U.S. population.

Images: Focus Features

All Hail The Penis Pump, The Unspoken Main Character Of ‘Bling Empire’

This weekend, Bling Empire, a glitzy, designer clothing-fueled reality TV show, premiered on Netflix. The show follows a group of (my brain: don’t say crazy rich, don’t say crazy rich, don’t say crazy rich) insanely wealthy Asian friends living in Los Angeles. They attend and throw lavish parties, spend more money on jewelry than I make in a year (at least, I assume — they are so rich they don’t even discuss prices), and fly on private jets. While the show actually does have plenty of heart and shows the cast going through difficult moments such as debating surrogacy, locating biological parents, and having children before marriage, Bling Empire’s arguably central conflict revolves around a penis pump, and for that, it deserves an Emmy.

Before analyzing this conflict, I must first explain the cast of characters involved. First is Anna, the older sort of matriarch of the group, and Bling Empire’s own Karen Huger. Though Anna would never be so gauche as to call herself the Grand Dame of Los Angeles, she’s probably thought it a few times and definitely would not object if you called her that. (You can just tell by the way she showers her friends with gifts.) Then there’s Kim, world-famous DJ. Not really central to the conflict but worth mentioning nonetheless is Kevin, the dopey but lovable (and supremely hot) model who is not wealthy and thinks Hermès starts with an E, much to the delight and condescension of his friends. Finally, we have Guy, who is just kind of there to help instigate.

Additionally, I must also explain what a penis pump is, because, based on the conversations I had with my straight female friends, it sounds like something that should be pretty self-explanatory, so it feels embarrassing to not actually know what it does. No shame here, because I had to look it up and then was asked why I was shopping for penis pumps when I opened up my phone to show my friend a meme. (Later on in the episode, cast member and socialite Christine Chiu feigns understanding of the mechanisms of the very same penis pump, so again, don’t be embarrassed.) Anyway, according to the Mayo Clinic, a penis pump is used to help get or maintain an erection. It’s a more temporary fix than, say, taking Viagra, and it cannot enlarge the penis.

So there we go! The drama starts when Anna invites the group over to her house for a spa day. We don’t find out until the massages start that they are not getting regular massages, but face massages — the kind popularized by the likes of Meghan Markle. Très chic.

While half the group are getting face massages, Kim decides that she wants to go sage Anna’s house. This is another subplot of the show: the supernatural. At one point, Cherie (former pop star and current baby mama to a guy who is dragging his feet about marrying her) hires Tyler Henry, the celebrity medium, to contact her mother from beyond the grave. Later on, the group meets with a Shaman over a bonfire. But for now, we start small, with Kim barging into Anna’s house under the guise of saging it, when in reality, she just wants to nose around.

She and Guy make a beeline for the bathroom (because, ya know, that’s where all the ghosts hang out), where Guy immediately notices Anna has a penis pump in her shower. (Guy knows because he has the same penis pump, but specifies he keeps it in his bedside drawer.) They both giggle so loudly that everyone getting massages in the yard can apparently hear. Guy and Kim laugh when they pick up the penis pump, grossed out that it’s wet, even though we just established that the penis pump is, in fact, in the shower.

Kim’s solution is not to do what most of us would, and put it back where it came from and pretend she never saw anything, but as she puts it, “throw it outside, that sh*t’s disgusting.” When Guy points out that throwing someone’s belongings out the window is rude, Kim replies, “that’s not rude, it’s disgusting,” adding, “That sh*t’s illegal.” Owning a penis pump is not, in fact, illegal. 

Guy, with his hand wrapped in a paper towel, picks up the penis pump (which is surprisingly big) and chucks it out the window. It lands on the lawn, and everyone immediately knows what it is, a fact that surprises me, since I would not have been able to identify that object under threat of execution.

Just as any of us would be, Anna is not pleased to see the penis pump land on the grass near her feet. She later tells the camera in an interview, “this is not a screw you situation, this is a f*ck you situation,” I guess because “screw you” is slightly less scathing of an insult than its expletive counterpart? In any case, she is pissed with a capital P.

This would all be a weird, likely producer-manufactured one-off event, if Kim would have apologized for doing something so obviously rude. Instead, she refuses to acknowledge that barging into someone’s bathroom and throwing their belongings out the window — even if Anna did later clarify to the LA Times that it was the guest bathroom, not hers — is objectively poor guest behavior, no matter whose house you’re in. She tries to shift the blame onto Guy, telling Anna, “I’m not the one who found that thing,” and insisting she’s not blaming Guy as she, in the same breath, continues to blame Guy.

The drama continues later in the episode at Kelly’s moon festival celebration, where Kim doubles down on her behavior. Kevin asks, “who raised you, wolves?” and Kim throws a drink on his outfit with not a single flicker of emotion crossing her face. She does it almost not as a reaction, but as an automatic response  — a pre-planned reflex that she was preparing to activate no matter what Kevin said. 

On other TV shows, throwing a drink in someone’s face would immediately spark an all-out brawl (any Bravo program comes to mind). But in Bling Empire, it only results in Kevin standing up from the table, muttering to Kim about sending her the dry cleaning bill (while the rest of them hem and haw over Kevin’s now-ruined outfit, which costs $100,000), and leaving the party.

And somehow, this penis pump plot that could have been quashed with one simple apology manages to pump out (pun intended) enough drama to fuel a significant portion of the show. Kim doesn’t even apologize to Anna until the end of the final episode! It is really the gift that keeps giving.

None of this is to say the show is not worth watching — on the contrary, I think everyone should binge it right now (so we can talk about it). It’s frivolous and fun, yet there is a lot of heaviness in the subplots (such as: Andrew’s displays of emotional abuse, Kevin and Kane’s decision to locate Kim’s biological father without asking her first, etc.). If this were The Real Housewives and there were three fewer cast members and 14 more episodes, I’m sure we would have spent a lot more time diving deep into the darker plot lines. But we don’t; we get as much designer name-dropping and sex toy squabbles as we get discussion of cultural taboos. And I’m cool with that! The show is called Bling Empire, and damn it, we get an empire of bling: attractive, shiny, not overly preoccupied with what’s going on underneath.

Perhaps pumping up the penis pumper was a deliberate choice by the cast, who seem savvy enough about how reality TV show production works, to intentionally avoid substantive conflict with each other. (Personally, if someone robbed me of my moment to find out for myself what happened to my biological parent because they wanted to play detective, I wouldn’t thank them, I’d have a hard time speaking to them again.) Or maybe it’s because without the penis pump disagreement, most of the cast seems to get along just fine, save Anna and Christine, who feud half-heartedly over owning the same necklace. Whatever the reason, the penis pump provided conflict, it provided laughs, and it provided education. And for that, I thank it. It, more than any cast member, deserves a contract renewal for season 2.

Images: Bling Empire Production; Netflix (2)

We Have To Talk About The Emotional Abuse On ‘Bling Empire’

Netflix’s Bling Empire is the latest new show to whet our ravenous pandemic streaming appetites, and for good reason. The show follows the delightful antics of IRL Crazy Rich Asians Kevin, Kane, Cherie, Kelly, Kim, Christine, and of course, Anna Shay, as they throw parties and solve mysteries like “where are Kevin’s parents?” and “Is Cherie’s baby actually her reincarnated mom?” Everything would be fine if it weren’t for one individual: Andrew Gray, an actor best known for playing the role of Red Power Ranger from 2013-2014. I’m not kidding. In Bling Empire, Andrew plays the role of Kelly’s f*ckboyish boyfriend, but instead of just being kind of a tool we all hope she breaks up with, he displays a number of legitimately alarming behaviors that at times makes the show hard to watch. Watching their relationship unfold, I couldn’t help but think back to emotionally abusive or harmful partners I’ve dated or seen others date in the past. Throughout the season, Drew throws up red flag after red flag, and the internet definitely took notice. Here are just a few of the concerning behaviors Drew displayed throughout the season.

The Screaming

Do I even need to explain this one? I presume we were all as shocked as Anna Shay when we heard Drew screaming at Kelly over the phone in the very first episode. Not only was this behavior shocking, it’s also textbook abuse. Screaming or shouting is a common form of abuse and potential precursor to violent behavior. Sure, we all get heated with our partners from time to time, but we all know the difference between that and full-volume screeching at them over the phone the moment they pick up over a misunderstanding that could have been solved with a slightly salty text. From the moment Andrew came on screen, this dude’s flag was blood red.

Guilt Tripping

bling empire

Another disturbing Drew moment came when he realized Kelly had discussed his freakout and their subsequent couples counseling session with Anna and Kim (despite the fact that Anna literally heard him screaming at the time). Drew tries to guilt trip Kelly for discussing their relationship with her friends (a very normal behavior that should be allowed in every relationship) in an attempt to keep her quiet about his outbursts in the future. By pushing Kelly to agree to never discuss their relationship with others, he’s protecting himself from anyone finding out about his abusive behavior in the future.

Gaslighting

At the apex of his creepiness, Drew accompanies Kelly to a couple’s counseling session in which she finally reveals the relationship has to end. Throughout the session, Drew continually gaslights Kelly about her version of their relationship, instead categorizing it as “perfect” in an attempt to get her to stay. Luckily, the therapist is having none of it and makes Drew confront the disparity between his version of events and Kelly’s. Also, did you notice how that therapist separated him from Kelly so they could make a plan to get her out of the house? My guess is that therapist was a lot more alarmed by Drew’s behavior than she let on.

Isolation

After making it clear to Kelly he did not want her to discuss their relationship, and after his abuse became more widely known in the group (thank you Anna Shay), the season ends with Kelly and Drew reigniting their relationship secretly because she doesn’t want to “deal with the drama.” Isolation puts Kelly in an even more vulnerable situation, because her friends aren’t even aware that she’s in an abusive relationship to keep an eye out for her.

Jealousy

Drew only just found out that Kelly went on a date with Kevin while they were broken up, but I don’t think it’s the last we’ll be hearing about that issue, especially since it was the first thing Drew wanted to know when they got back together. Sure, none of us want to hear about the people our partners dated when we weren’t together, but extreme jealousy is a form of controlling behavior that I could definitely see becoming an issue with Drew in season two. Unless of course, he doesn’t come back for season two, which I think we’d all be fine with.

As you can probably imagine, Drew’s behavior did not go unnoticed among Bling Empire fans, with people on Twitter calling him a “living breathing red flag.” Social media lit up after the show’s debut with posts from users concerned about Drew and Kelly’s relationship.

Drew from Bling Empire is frightening. If the show is close to an accurate portrayal then Kelly should run and never look back. That level of emotional abuse and manipulation is dangerous. He may want to change and heal but he needs to do that alone.

— theycallmecater (@theycallmecater) January 17, 2021

Personally, I found Andrew’s presence on the show distracting from what was otherwise a very fun watch. Bling Empire simply doesn’t need someone like Andrew in the cast. There’s enough drama and intrigue between Anna, Kim, and Anna’s penis pump to make up for anything the Drew/Kelly storyline is bringing to the table. And more importantly, does Netflix really need to be elevating this kind of abusive behavior? While Drew’s red flags are anything but charming to someone who knows how to recognize them, young women and girls might see that kind of behavior normalized—or worse yet, romanticized—on a show like Bling Empire and go on to tolerate it in their own relationships. I know that when I was younger I tolerated a lot of abusive, toxic behaviors because they reminded me of relationships I’d seen on TV. These relationships seem sexy and fun when you’re watching them, but when you’re in them they are anything but, and no one should be left believing screaming, jealousy, and gaslighting are okay. Here’s hoping Kelly and the rest of the Bling Empire franchise leave Andrew where he belongs next season: in the trash.

If you or someone you know are the victim of abuse, check out the National Domestic Violence Hotline here.

Images: Netflix; Giphy; theycallmecater / Twitter

The Best ‘Bachelorette’ Recap You’ll Ever Read: Be Still, My Cold, Dead Heart

Well, friends, we did the impossible. After 11 weeks, two Bachelorettes, and one global pandemic, we’ve made it to the finale! Tayshia is down to her final two three men. As per usual, Chris Harrison is doing the most in his intro voice-over:

Chris Harrison: Will she get engaged to her soulmate, or will she DIE A LONELY OLD SPINSTER?!

Damn, Chris. I know we’re living in the time of COVID, but there are other men on this planet if she decides she’s not into these guys!

We pick up where we left off, with Tayshia having a sidebar with a producer. She’s being filmed behind some blinds after being blindsided by Ben. You gotta love the producers’ commitment to imagery and metaphors on this show. They had to get them where they could, because lord knows Ivan wasn’t going to liken love to his testicles morphing into icicles on his fantasy suite date. Ben is sitting awkwardly on Tayshia’s couch. He says that by looking at Tayshia’s eyes, he sees there’s more under there. Kind of a strange way to point out under-eye bags, but Ben’s never really had a way with words. I guess it beats the alternative I’m used to getting:

Who can relate?

Ben’s talking a lot about his “love” for Tayshia, but isn’t really saying much. When Tayshia pushes back and asks him if he’s always going to run when things get hard, his response is, “I blew it”. Accurate, but not promising! Instead of sticking with her gut and sending him home for a second time, SHE INVITES HIM TO THE ROSE CEREMONY! They then walk out together, hug, and Tayshia initiates a very passionate kiss. Who knew she was a sucker for a moose knuckle?! While I definitely don’t agree with her decision, I can’t wait to see Zac and Ivan’s reactions when Ben rolls up to the rose ceremony.

The Rose Ceremony

Ivan walks into the rose ceremony with the pre-elimination confidence that has become a hallmark of this show. Feeling the pressure from the producers for not delivering the required love similes on the ice bucket date, he offers the consolation prize of saying it feels awesome to be “open” and “vulnerable” (or “vonurble”, as Tayshia would say). Not for long, buddy. Zac says he’s ready for a proposal. Ben walks in with a goofy grin on his face, as if he expects Ivan and Zac will be happy to see him. I think Bennett gave the book about emotional intelligence to the wrong guy.

Ben:

Ivan & Zac:

Like many people who’ve gotten dumped, Tayshia proceeds to explain Brendan’s absence by saying “it just didn’t work out.” Control that narrative, girl! She’s about to start handing out roses but then stops and asks Ivan if they can go talk. Ivan’s face says he knows what’s coming next. They then have a cryptic talk about religious differences, but give no specifics about said differences. Is Ivan a Scientologist? That’s the only legitimate theory I can come up with for this abrupt dismissal.

All kidding aside, it may be that Ivan is atheist or agnostic. Tayshia has always been open about her devout Christian beliefs, so it’s possible this is the reason she sent Ivan home. It’d be a shame if that were the only reason she eliminated him, but, let’s face it, she’s been favoring Brendan and Zac for weeks. Given the honest conversations Tayshia and Ivan had about race, it seems strange, and frankly frustrating, that ABC isn’t allowing an unfiltered exchange about religion. Then again, this is ABC we’re talking about, so maybe that’s asking for too much. Ivan takes the elimination in stride like the angel he is. Love you, Ivan! See you in Paradise.

Ben Meets The Family

The next day we catch up with Tayshia writing in her burn book journal. She meets up with her family and I remember how much I enjoyed Tayshia’s dad, Desmond, eviscerating Colton when Tayshia was competing on his season. Like most viewers, Desmond doesn’t have time for BS. Tayshia tells her family that they’ll be meeting Ben, whom she had previously sent home. Desmond is understandably skeptical and wants some answers. This is gonna be good.

Ben meets with Tayshia’s mom, Rosario, first and keeps talking about how he’s never felt this way before, and the way Tayshia makes him feel, yet he can’t seem to identify the feeling(s) in question. Everything he says is surface-level and there’s no real substance to any of it. It seems like Ben is in love with the idea of love, more so than Tayshia specifically. It doesn’t go much better with Desmond.

Desmond: What do you see in Tayshia?
Ben:

Ben also tells Desmond about how he and Tayshia talked about “showing up” for Tayshia. Does he think that physically coming back after being sent home is what showing up means? She meant showing up for her emotionally, Ben!

Zac Meets The Family

The tone of Zac’s meeting with the family is completely different. Instead of making his answers all about him and his feelings, he expresses his love for Tayshia by showing love to her family. He even seems to win over Desmond, who says he’s going to be tough on Zac. Instead of saying the things he thinks Desmond wants to hear, Zac is honest about his failed marriage and is able to reflect on his past mistakes, even weaving in a reference to the standards Desmond has set and how Zac wants to live up to them.

I gotta give it to Zac; he is incredibly authentic and eloquent. He talks about marriage with Tayshia like it’s a real thing that’s going to happen, not some abstract idea like Ben does when he broaches the subject. Zac is making my job as snarky recapper very difficult, but he totally won me over — until he started pretending he was an authentic New Yorker with that whole pizza charade. Zac, you’re from South Jersey! Rep some hoagies like the Philly boy you are and cool it with the tired NYC cliches.

No one:
Zac:

The next day Tayshia hears a knock at her door. Fearing that Bennett has gone full American Psycho, she reluctantly answers. It turns out to be her dad, which isn’t a much better sign. He tells her that the family doesn’t want her to make the biggest mistake of her life by rushing into another marriage. Tayshia starts to break down recounting how her dad was there for her in the throes of her divorce. It was raw and one of her realest moments thus far. She’s starting to have doubts.

Zac & Tayshia’s Date

Tayshia and Zac Finale

On their date, Zac reassures Tayshia that he’s ready to take the next step, but Tayshia seems skeptical. Damn, Desmond really got to her! They find out that their date is to learn a wedding dance routine and Tayshia looks about as excited as Brendan did when he met Neil Lane to try on wedding jewelry. Gotta love karma. She keeps getting in her own head and is struggling to relax into the dance moves. Zac is patient with her and they actually pull off a sweet little routine. I’m honestly impressed they learned that in one lesson. It took me and my husband about two months to put together a solid first dance. Respect.

Later that evening they have a casual night in, and Tayshia is honest about her fears that Zac’s feelings will change. He tells her that he is nine years sober today and that his sobriety allows him to not run away and that he’ll love her no matter what she decides to do with her life. Ok, why am I crying in the club right now? And by “in the club” I mean “on my couch”.

Tayshia seems convinced, and frankly, so am I. It’s one of the most authentic exchanges we’ve ever seen on this show and it’s nice to see a couple talk about real-life issues for a change. “I think she believes in me,” Zac says, and I start to tear up. WTF is happening? Is this show…actually making me feel genuine human emotion?

Me watching this season of The Bachelorette:

Ben & Tayshia’s Date Breakup

When Ben meets up with Tayshia “the next day”, she is wearing the same tragic denim number she was wearing when her dad came to talk to her. So she’s either running out of wardrobe options in quarantine or there’s a bit of a continuity issue here and she went to dump Ben after talking to Desmond. She tells Ben that her heart is with Zac and, as usual, Ben looks like a deer in headlights. He takes it pretty well, albeit with way too many “umm”s, and says he’s happy for her. I do feel bad for Ben. He’s a sweet guy and he deserves to find love, but he needs to work through some of his issues with self-worth before jumping into a serious relationship, let alone a marriage. We’re rooting for you, Ben!

The Big Day

It’s engagement day! Tayshia and Zac are getting ready and Neil Lane is back to shill his gaudy rings. Zac looks handsome in his blue suit. Tayshia meets up with Chris Harrison and the exchange is kind of odd. She says she questions if she’s ever been in love until now and then bursts into tears that don’t really look happy. Even Chris seems confused.

Chris: What is going on?
Tayshia:

The proposal set-up is kind of a hot mess. The area rug from the Airstream trailer fantasy suite isn’t helping. Tayshia tells us she feels stressed, overwhelmed, and scared. So basically all of the things one should be feeling right before getting engaged after knowing someone for 30 seconds. She says she doesn’t know if she’s doing the right thing. I’m a little concerned. Is she feeling the pressure of not wanting to disappoint ABC and the fans given the whole Clare debacle?

Things improve when Zac arrives. His engagement speech is really personal and from the heart. It’s undoubtedly the best one I’ve ever heard on this show or The Bachelor. Tayshia starts her speech and after telling Zac that she knows she told him she loved him, takes an extremely long, producer-suggested pause. I admit they got me for a second and I was scared she was bolting. But she continues and tells Zac she wants to jump in fountains all over the world with him and star in endless FabFitFun endorsement deals together. He gets down on one knee and she says yes! Like the true New Yawkah he is, he yells “TAXI!” and the two ride off Flintstone-style into the desert sunset in a cardboard cab the way god and Chris Harrison intended.

And there we have it! Unfortunately (or fortunately, given the endless hours of our lives ABC takes each year) we have no After the Final Rose to catch up with Tayshia and Zac, but it looks like they’re still going strong. This was an excellent season with some of the most mature and authentic men we’ve ever had. Keep it up, ABC! Thanks for joining me this week, guys, and congratulations to the happy couple!

Images: ABC/Craig Sjodin (2); Giphy (6)

15 Holiday Episodes To Re-Watch From Your Favorite Iconic TV Shows

Every holiday movie has the same plot: girl unexpectedly meets boy, boy falls in love with girl, something tragic happens, boy and girl profess their feelings, they kiss passionately against the backdrop of a professionally decorated Christmas tree with fake snow falling around them. Yawn. 

Although I usually put up with that cookie-cutter plot every year, I decided to try something a bit different (and way more entertaining) this December: re-watching the holiday episodes from my favorite TV shows. 

Given that basically every holiday party is canceled, in-person shopping is hardly a thing, and the gyms are closed (although let’s face it, I wouldn’t be going even if they were open), I had all the time in the world to cuddle up with a weighted blanket and a (spiked) hot drink and laugh, cry, and feel all sorts of emotion while watching classic shows like Parks and Recreation, Gilmore Girls, and 30 Rock

As my wonderful gift to you, I’ve listed the best holiday episodes from all our favorite shows so that you too can fill your time this December with something other than watching people’s annoying Instagram Stories and cringey attempts at creating Reels. Enjoy! 

‘New Girl’ – “LAXmas” Season 4 Episode 11

There is literally nothing more relatable in these COVID-19 times than having your holiday plans ruined, your vacation canceled, and you therefore not being able to post that thirst trap bikini pic in December. Call me a masochist, but that’s why I loved re-watching this episode of New Girl. I got to commiserate, emphasize, and shout “HA! You got screwed too!” at the TV when Jess, Nick, Winston, and Schmidt’s holiday flights were canceled. 

’30 Rock’ – “Ludachristmas” Season 2 Episode 9

It’s as if Tina Fey knew we needed something to prove that there are families out there more dysfunctional than our own when they created this episode. In the most hilarious way, we see the picture-perfect Lemon family break down after an outing with Jack and his mother, and the TGS crew have their party plans hijacked by Kenneth. Plus, I promise this is the exact Rockefeller-related holiday content you need to get that sad excuse for a tree they put up this year out of your mind.  

‘The O.C.’ – “The Best Chrismukkah Ever” Season 1 Episode 13

chrismukkah

Confession time: I completely forgot about The O.C. until I Googled “shows like Gossip Girl” this summer… and then promptly re-binged it with no regrets. And one of the most entertaining, dramatic, and heartwarming episodes happens to be a holiday one, where Seth introduces Ryan to the wonders of Chrismukkah and struggles in a love triangle between himself, Anna, and Summer. I have to admit, seeing a love triangle that didn’t involve me, my fridge, and Netflix was actually pretty refreshing. 

‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’ – “Christmas Chaos” Season 16 Episode 9

Being invited to the Kardashians’ annual Holiday Party is on my bucket list, Amazon wishlist, and in my letter to Santa every year. Is there anywhere else I can add it at this point? But while my invite is still lost in the mail, the next best thing is to watch the party unfold on TV. And I promise you, this is one of the most iconic holiday episodes ever. It’s the one where Kim is literally quoted saying, “This is so inappropriate. It is so so much money for one night.” Do I need to say more?

‘The Office’ – “A Benihana Christmas” Season 3 Episode 10 & 11

We’ve all been that psycho b*tch, but in this episode Michael takes crazy to a whole new level. How? By Photoshopping his face onto his girlfriend’s ex-husband’s body in one of their old family photos, and sending it out as his Christmas card. And, no spoilers, but this episode includes some major Pam vs. Angela drama and a classic Jim prank on Dwight that will make you forget about TikTok for, like, 20 minutes. 

‘Gilmore Girls’ – “Women of Questionable Morals” Season 5 Episode 11

Some things are just the f*cking worst until someone comes along and makes it special for you (like Valentine’s Day, for a totally random example). And that’s the case for Lorelai and her feelings toward snow in this episode, until Luke surprises her with a romantic snow-related gift that made even a Grinch like me say, “AWWWW!”. Beyond the snow drama, this episode also features the cutest little stray dog that brings Emily and Richard together in a true holiday miracle kind of way. 

‘Friends’ – “The One with Phoebe’s Dad” Season 2, Episode 9

happy christmas eve eve

You know that friend who waits until the last possible moment to buy their presents? Well, be prepared to watch Joey and Chandler do that exact thing… and be forced to buy their gifts at a place I only go into when I really need to pee during a road trip. And, as if that’s not enough comedy, what screams tradition more than some classic Ross and Rachel drama? Be prepared to get your fill of it this episode. 

‘Gossip Girl’ – “Roman Holiday” Season 1 Episode 11

I’ve watched this episode about 14 times, so at this point let’s just say it’s a holiday tradition. I swear, no matter how many times you see Blair come up with a conniving plan to break up her Dad and his boyfriend, the story is guaranteed to transport you from your burrito-stained sweats and unmade bed to the Upper East side within moments. It’s the exact escape you didn’t even know you needed. 

‘New Girl’  – “The 23rd” Season 1 Episode 9

Picture this: Schmidt shirtless, wearing just a Santa hat and Santa shorts. If that’s not enough to convince you to re-watch this episode, keep in mind that the theme is how dealing with new relationships around the holidays is stressful AF (relatable, right?). Like any New Girl episode, this one will have you laughing at the lovable, entertaining, and slightly inappropriate trouble the crew gets themselves into at Schmidt’s office party.

‘Fuller House’ – “Oh My Santa” Season 4 Episode 1

Even though the holidays may suck more than usual this year, just know that for the first and probably only time in your life, your holiday season is going better than Lori Loughlin’s. And speaking of which, this episode of Fuller House is sure to bring a smile to your face, despite how cheesy the plot is. The most relatable part? Tommy throwing a tantrum in the mall. Been there, done that (and over much less, if I may add). 

‘Parks and Recreation’ – “Citizen Knope” Season 4 Episode 10

Are you one of those people who re-gifts an old box of chocolate or nauseating-smelling candle to your co-workers every year? If you said “yes”, you seriously need to take notes during this episode. While Leslie is off work for two weeks, Ann rallies the Parks department to create a special holiday gift for Leslie. As cheesy as the gift is, it’s actually pretty sweet (pun intended) and will probably make you feel as warm and fuzzy inside as the spiked eggnog you’re sipping. 

‘Ally McBeal’ – “Silver Bells” Season 1 Episode 11

There’s something about watching Ally McBeal that brings back all sorts of early ‘00s nostalgia. And this episode gives us just that against the backdrop of a hectic office during the holidays (TBT to offices), and plots about Ally being her usual badass self and the romantic troubles the couples in the office are facing. I won’t reveal if there are any holiday miracles at the end of the episode, but I can safely say you’ll be feeling emotions far from the disappointment Kyle Richards felt when she realized bangs just weren’t her thing. 

‘Modern Family’ – “Undeck the Halls” Season 1 Episode 10

If you want to escape the stressful bullsh*t of your family’s holiday Zoom call by finding another family going through equally dramatic times, look no further. In a mix of both hilarious and feel-good storylines, you’ll get to emphasize with the Dunphy kids as their parents cancel Christmas until someone fesses up to ruining their sofa. Plus, you get to see what happens when Cam and Mitchell say something we’ve all thought at least once in our lives: “this mall Santa is just not jolly enough”.

Cougar Town – “Cry To Me” Season 2 Episode 14

If you’re the kind of person who gets pissed when people leave their holiday decor up way past December, this episode will make you feel more seen than ever. Now bear with me, because this episode is actually more about Valentine’s Day than Christmas, but it still delivers an accurate depiction of how crazy people get around any holiday. 

‘Brooklyn 99’ – “The Pontiac Bandit Returns” Season 2 Episode 10

Amy’s weird-yet-adorable admiration for Captain Holt is somehow one of the most entertaining things to watch (because who TF actually likes their boss?). And as odd as their relationship is, this episode delivers just the right amount of it, showing us Amy working hard (but hardly working on her actual work) to get around Holt’s “no gift” policy. And, to quote the queen of the holidays, Dorinda Medley, we see Jake “make it nice” with his nemesis/best friend Doug Judy in order to gather intel for Rosa. 

Images: Netflix; Giphy (12)