The 10 Best TV Quotes of 2016

Unless you live under a rock, you know two things about 2016: firstly, it was a real-life nightmare, and secondly, it was packed with some really incredible television. It would be impossible to give a definitive list of the best zingers of the year – there’s too much TV and too many one-liners to ever be able to narrow it down to double digits. But, for brevity’s sake, we’ve done our best. So, below, enjoy ten of our favorite lines from 2016’s year of TV:

Shelly on ‘Transparent’

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Ok, wow. Shelly singing “One Hand in My Pocket” on Transparent season 3’s finale was one of the most emotional and heartwarming moments of the year. Truly incredible: “I’m brave but I’m chickenshit.”

Bojack on ‘Bojack Horseman’

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At the end of an entirely wordless underwater episode, which, incidentally, was recently named the best episode of television in 2016 by TIME magazine, Bojack realizes he’s been able to talk the whole time by pressing a button – hence: “Oh, you’ve got to be kidding me.”

Sam Bee on ‘Full Frontal’

Sam Bee is the powerful, no-shits-given, uncensored voice we needed during this nightmarish election season. One choice zinger that comes to mind: “Let’s just have a Supreme Court vacancy for a year because some chinless dildo wants a justice who will use his gavel to plug up your abortion hole.”

Maeve on ‘Westworld’

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If anyone has proven the surprise queen on TV this year, it’s Maeve, who, in the course of her self-actualization and decision to escape her theme-park home, ups her brain function to full capacity. Turning to the Westworld employees helping her on her journey, she smirks, and says, “Dear boys. We’re going to have some fun, aren’t we?”

Earn on ‘Atlanta’

Atlanta proved to be one of the most compelling, real shows of the year, as made clear by this line from Earn: “This spooky thing called slavery happened and my entire ethnic identity was erased.”

Hannah on ‘Girls’

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Girls season 5 was one of the best the show has ever seen, and Hannah in particular was on fire. While she had a lot of great gems this season, we decided to go with the simple, hilarious “I’ve been eating Bugles my whole life, and I still don’t know if I even like them, it’s just something to do.”

Eleven on ‘Stranger Things’

We’d be remiss if we left off our girl Eleven from this list. While she was never very wordy, what she did manage to mumble always rang true. Like this gem: “Friends don’t lie.” Short, elegant, and a little menacing – just like Eleven!

Alec Baldwin on ‘SNL’

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Alec Baldwin’s impersonation of Trump on SNL is already legendary, and historic thanks to Trump’s backlash. The most iconic moment? Probably when Baldwin-as-Trump kissed a KKK costume onstage, and called him “Sweetie.”

Vicky on ‘The Characters’

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John Early is slaying this year – he’s been in a million movies and is a lead role in Search Party on TBS. But he’s been our lord and savior since his Characters episode, when he stole our hearts as Vicky, barking: “Honey, I’m serious, I’m looking for my denim.”

Arya Stark on ‘Game of Thrones’

Game of Thrones was craaaazy this year. And while Arya has always been close to our heart, we have to admit we were kind of over her giving up her identity to be an assassin. So we’re so happy to hear her decide to go a different route in life, and proclaim proudly: “A girl is Arya Stark, and I’m going home.”

The Creators of ‘Brooklyn Sound’ on Their New Deal with Comedy Central

Photo: Brandi Nicole Photography

Get ready for your new obsession: Brooklyn Sound, a new web series from the minds of comedy-musical duo Julia Mattison and Noel Carey which last week was picked up by Comedy Central after rave reviews at the New York Television Festival.

The pair met while attending Emerson College and have since become creatively entwined through their various endeavors – now, first and foremost, their hilarious brainchild about a fictional Brooklyn recording studio desperate to keep from going out of business. Mattison and Carey created the show and also star in it as the studio’s owners and the various wacky musical acts recording songs each episode – there’s a group reminiscent of folksy bearded men like Mumford and Sons, rapping siblings wearing neon baseball hats, and even a dark, eerie Lorde-esque songstress who makes weird hisses.

We caught up with the duo to find out what it was like filming the show, and how it feels to be on the brink of having their own Comedy Central program. At the bottom of the interview, find the first two episodes – the full series is available here.

BlackBook: So you two met freshman year of college?

Julia: We did, yeah. In the musical theater program.

Did you meet in class and hit it off immediately?

J: We did! I feel like instantly in class we both had a tendency to not be the most attentive, and we got along cracking jokes on the side. We got along very quickly with our humor and our styles creatively. But we didn’t really write – we did songwriting together in college, but didn’t fully write stuff together until we graduated.

Had you both always wanted to do comedy, or was musical theater the original plan? Not that they’re necessarily separate.

Noel: I’d always wanted to comedy, even if that meant bringing it into musical theater. That was certainly a draw for musical theater for me, as a kid – great physical comedians like Dick Van Dyke and Danny Kaye were musical theater guys. And Julia and I were both involved in the Emerson comedy scene, as well, but we were in separate troupes. I was in an improv troupe, and Julia in a sketch troupe.
J: Yeah, I did always know I wanted to do comedy, but it was varying – I got into it through different angles through acting in theater, and writing sketches. Actually musical theater was not really my plan – I’ve always loved it, but Emerson was the only musical theater program I applied to. Everything else was an acting program, or a music recording program. I thought I was going to go onto other creative endeavors for a while, but I ended up at Emerson.
N: I didn’t know that. That’s crazy.
J: I’d done a few musicals, and I’d always loved musical theater, but I didn’t think it would be where I was going, necessarily. I’d seen a lot of rock musicals, and alt-leaning musicals. I loved that scene, and Broadway was absolutely a dream of mine, but I wasn’t really certain I was going to do it full out until college.

So you two knew you wanted to write a musical comedy show. How did the idea to set it in a recording studio come about?

J: The catalyst for the idea was Noel and I wanted to do something where we play a bunch of characters, and get to write music in a variety of genres. Originally it was about bands trying to make it in New York, more generally and using different venues. But it would have been harder to film in a variety of settings. And I’d watched the Sound City documentary about the Sound City recording studio and was really inspired by that, and simultaneously my boyfriend runs the Virtue and Vice recording studios, in Brooklyn, and that’s where we filmed the show. And he had always had stories about different artists, and the random characters you get in and out of the studio.

To me the show feels kind of like The Office in how dry it can be, but then also like Summer Heights High since it’s wacky and you play a bunch of different characters. What shows were you looking to inspiration-wise, and what would you want people to think of when they see the show?

N: I think musically a thing we’re drawn to, and we’ve made this comparison before, is that it’s Parks and Rec meets A Mighty Wind. We really love Christopher Guest, and for me I love how Christopher Guest’s characters always take themselves very seriously, and seem like real people, and the music in his movies can be very funny and out of place at times but still sounds genuine. We didn’t necessarily want to spoof the music industry – we drew from certain artists, not directly – but we wanted to make something that celebrated it, rather. We never poking fun – we wanted you to like these characters and think they took their music seriously.

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The music is all really good, I think, which adds to the show.

J: Thank you. That’s what we were going for – that higher quality music that seems real. I think we also drew from Portlandia, where they are playing multiple characters, and trying to make it seem normal. We’re huge Summer Heights fans though, that’s such an honor.

Noel, you’d mentioned that some of the musicians are loosely based off of real people. Were there any direct artists you drew from?

N: Josiah and the Teeth, from the first episode, we definitely wanted to sound like Mumford and Sons. I don’t believe Mumford and Sons is actually a group of homeless hillbilly people. But we did want to write in that town.
J: The core inspiration for the different characters – the “Shee” character I actually created for impressions for an SNL tape, and I was trying to come up with a Lana Del Rey impression. And I always thought she sounded so sleepy, so I wanted to songs literally about how sleepy she is, and then it became this more Lorde, creepy character. I didn’t come up with the crazy high-pitched voice until the day of shooting. Which is so funny to look back on. But I’m happy with the results. That’s the fun of filming, too. We had very big inspirations, but sometimes didn’t know what was going to happen until we started shooting.

Did you have a favorite musician character to play?

J: My favorites were Shee and Why the Lilacs? I think their story is touching and silly and weird, and we just like playing old people.
N: That was just a great opportunity to spend three hours in a makeup chair, having really good old person makeup put on me, and then you start looking at your face in a different way, and using your body in a different way. It was the best pretend I ever got to play.

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I saw that the show has been picked up by Comedy Central. Congratulations!

J: Thank you! We had a really exciting week at the New York Television Festival. We won a couple awards, and then were really surprised to get the Comedy Central development deal. So that’s the next chapter. We’re such fans of all the stuff they have out right now. They believe in us and I think they really get the style. It’ll be cool to see where we take it with them.
N: I like how they invest in comedians and partnerships, too. That’s where some of my favorite teams that I look up to come out of, like the Broad City girls, and Key and Peele.
J: It was only about a week ago when we found out about this deal, so we’re hoping to know more soon about what the timeline is!

Are there any other projects coming up for either of you?

J: I’m putting out a new live show in a few months – a new comedy, standup, multimedia show – I guess standup music comedy is the best way to describe. It’s about hiding with the world so scary now, and trying to come out and give some observations about life. But Noel helped me write the music for it. It’s called “Safe Space.” I’ve committed. I’m calling it “Safe Space.”
N: I’m writing a few things, but I’m also going away to do a show I was on tour with, called Murder for Two – it was Off-Broadway for a year, and then it went on a national tour that I was on. So now I’m going to Key West.

Here’s the Schedule for This Week’s New York TV Festival

This week is the annual New York Television Festival, founded in 2005 and celebrating the work of both established and up-and-coming TV makers. This year’s roster is stacked with talent, including work from Lena Dunham, Rachel Dratch, Comedy Central, HBO, and MTV, to name a few.

Tonight’s docket includes selections from the indie pilot competition – below, one of our personal favorites, “Brooklyn Sound,” a musical, mockumentary-style show created by Julia Mattison and Noel Carey which follows the second-generation management of a “legendary” recording studio. Take a look below.

And here’s the full list of screenings at this week’s festival:

Independent Pilot Competition Screenings

Monday, 10/24 – Saturday, 10/29
Helen Mills Event Space and Theater (137 W 26th St)

Reserve Tickets HERE.

NYTVF Primetime

Monday, 10/24 – Thursday, 10/27
SVA Theatre (333 W 23rd Street)

Reserve Tickets HERE.

StoryNEXT VR Storytelling Conference

Thursday, 10/27
Tribeca Three Sixty° (10 Desbrosses Street)

Reserve Tickets HERE.

NYTVF After Dark

Friday, 10/28
Helen Mills Event Space and Theater (137 W 26th St)

Reserve Tickets HERE.

NYTVF Development Day

Saturday, 10/29
Helen Mills Event Space and Theater (137 W 26th St)

Reserve Tickets HERE.

 

5 Highlights From Last Night’s Mad Men Finale: Buy the World a Coke

Mad Men, TV

For the last eight years, Matthew Weiner‘s Mad Men has teased us with the prospect of closure for Donald Draper, who has spent a decade in and out of marriages, love affairs, business mergers and interstate lines, all on a quest for fulfillment that never came. Don Draper had never found true love in any aspect of his life except his work. Fittingly, the show ended Don embracing New Age mysticism, only to watch it fuse with the world’s most valuable brand. “I’d Like To Buy The World A Coke,” with its saccharine vision of globalized harmony, shows a utopia that never existed, and represents a particular Western promise rising from the political tumult of the 1960s. In fact, it’s a song that was originally developed by a creative director at McCann-Erickson in 1971, signifying that Don may indeed have taken his new outlook, returned to Madison Ave and monetized it toward ubiquity.

A double-faced symbol rife with varying, even discomfiting interpretations was as much as we could have expected from Mad Men finale, which did not take the lightly experimental route favored by classic endings like Twin Peaks or The Sopranos. Instead, it spent its final hour saying casual goodbyes to its spirited ensemble, all characters that made distinctly individualistic choices, to stay the course that they had already chosen and to never look back.

JOAN TRIES COCAINE AND REALIZES HER AMBITIONS.

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While on vacation with Richard in Florida, Joan tries cocaine, one fingernail at a time: “I just feel like someone gave me some very good news!” But Richard is thinking about their future. “Your life is undeveloped property,” he says, promising Joan a lifetime of wealth and happiness shacking up with him, away from the office. But Joan calls Peggy to set up a meeting while watching Sesame Street on a hazy TV with her son in the kitchen, resembling a glasses-clad domestic Nicole Kidman in Eyes Wide Shut. She proposes starting a production company together, as partners: “Harris-Olson. We won’t answer to anyone.” Yet Peggy relents, and so does Richard, who seems to not want Joan to be self-sufficient or ambitious. “I can’t just turn off that part of myself,” he says. He leaves her, and Joan stays the course. She is a self-made working woman through and through, and will not rest on her laurels this late in the game. We last see her running a new business from her own home, having accepted Roger’s promise to support their love child in his will, and all is well in the jungle.

BETTY TELLS DON TO LAY OFF.

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Don calls Sally at school, and she tells him about Betty’s lung cancer. He gets angry that Betty has requested to have the kids stay with their uncle after her death, rather than move in with him. Sally takes her mother’s side; she knows it would be easier for them to keep on living in a familiar environment. Don calls Betty immediately. He insists that he must do his part and take responsibility for what she’s leaving behind, but Betty refuses.“I want things to stay normal, and you not being here is part of that.” She wants the kids to have a father and a mother figure around, not someone who will constantly be coming and going. She knows Don better than he would admit to himself, and it’s here that we see the last remnants of what was once a strong, committed union between them.

DON VISITS STEPHANIE IN CALIFORNIA.

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Don/Dick goes to visit his niece Stephanie in California, whose baby is now being cared for by another family. He decides to join her on a trip to a spiritual retreat, which promises a daily regimen of yoga, tai chi, psychotechnics and group discussions. In one of the group exercises, the counselor has everyone stand in couples, so as to “communicate without words”. Don, lost in observing everyone else’s tender and honest interactions, gets shoved by his elderly partner, who isn’t having it. Later, Stephanie opens up to the group about her insecurity having left her baby alone, and gets irritated by her cohort’s honest and disappointed reactions. Don follows her out of the meeting and attempts to console her.“It gets easier once you move forward.” “I don’t think you’re right about that,” she says. He wakes up the next morning in their communal tent and finds that Stephanie has vanished, taking the car with her.

PEGGY AND STAN ARE IN LOVE.

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“There’s more to life than work,” Stan tells Peggy, after she tells him off about convincing her to refuse Joan’s offer and stay at McCann. She muses over this before getting a call from Don in California. He’s a wreck. “I never said goodbye to you. I just wanted to hear your voice. Ill see you soon,” he says. Peggy calls Stan in the other room to vent about this, and he consoles her. “When I see you, I want to strangle you. And then I miss you when I go away, and I miss you and I call you on the phone and I get the person I want to talk to.” Wait…what??  “All I want to do is be with you…I’m in love with you.” Peggy is dumbfounded, but then she begins to work it out for herself, in a series-best performance by Elizabeth Moss. “You make everything okay. You always do, no matter what.” He comes into her office, and the two of them kiss. It’s nice to know at least two people found love on this show.

THE FINAL PITCH.

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At the end of his rope and in a near-catatonic state, Don lifts himself up to attend one more group seminar. In a circle of a half-dozen people, everyone, including Don, turns to listen to a man named Leonard. “I’ve never been interesting,” he says. “I work in an office and people walk right by me. I know they don’t see me.” He describes the banality of domestic life, how his wife and kids “don’t look up when I sit down,” and has a theory about love. “You spend your whole life thinking you’re not getting it, that people aren’t giving it to you. Then you realize they’re trying, and you don’t even know what it is.” He bursts into tears, and Don gets up and gives him a long, hard hug. This is his doppelgänger—the man he could have been had he truly had an average life.

5 Highlights From Last Night’s Mad Men: Nowhere to Go But Everywhere

Mad Men, TV
After last week’s merger with McCann-Erickson, on last night’s Mad Men the characters experienced some growing pains atop the corporate ladder. The world of McCann is defined by chauvinistic ambition and there are three times as many executives to watch out for. This was an especially moody episode, with lightly surreal moments that ranged from deliberately stilted to incredibly candid, and felt as carefully controlled as the show’s best episodes.
THE FIRST (AND LAST?) CREATIVE MEETING AT MCCANN.
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Don settles into his rather insulated new office, which lacks the spacious windows and general amount of sunlight of his old one. A meeting with CEO Jim Hobart and “Ferg” Donnelly shows him exactly what he’s in for at McCann: a philosophy of entitlement in every aspect of the business, whether it’s a gift from Conrad Hilton, a sudden acquisition of Miller Beer account, and the promise of no-hassle dinner reservations and parking tickets. “I’m Don Draper from McCann Erickson,” he says as a pretend introduction, but something just doesn’t fit. In his first creative meeting, there are about 20 executives standing around, eating roast beef box lunches and leafing through spiral notebooks with the day’s proposals. “Is this every creative director in the agency?” “It’s only half of us,” Ted replies. As he intuits the passionless, inside-baseball tone of the meeting, Don’s attention span takes a flight of fancy when he sees a plane outside the conference room window, and leaves the room. They don’t need him where they’re going.
DON AND BETTY HAVE A MOMENT
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Don goes to Betty’s place to pick up Sally and drive her to school but finds he’s too late. Still, he finds his ex-wife reading Freud’s Dora: An Analysis of a Case of Hysteria in the kitchen—lest we forgot she is not a graduate student in psychology. Betty looks as happy and confident as ever, because as she explains, this is exactly what she wants to be doing. “I’m younger than you, always have been, always will be,” she says as Don rubs her shoulders. She clearly still loves him, but she’s made a life on her own terms. Is Betty’s literature assignment this a harbinger of Don’s pull toward unstable women? Perhaps he would get something out of it. Regardless of subtext, it was a treat to hear him call her “Birdy” again for the first time in years.

DON GOES TO FIND DIANE

 

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Don drives to Racine, Wisconsin to find Diane. He shows up at Diane’s old house, where he meets her ex-husband’s new wife, and invents a role for himself as a salesman from Miller beer, who is coming to give Diane her prize. There’s a spooky reveal of Diane’s daughter on the stairs when she opens the door to invite him in, which gave the impression that Don is walking into a rabbit hole. “Are you looking for my mother? Anything she needs can go through me,” she says. As Don continues to make small talk with the wife, the husband comes home and immediately sees through Don’s ruse. “You think you’re the first one to come up here? She’s a tornado with a pile of dead bodies behind her.” As a devout Christian, the husband tells Don that Diane is “with the Devil”, and that only Jesus can save her now. The next day, Don picks up a hitchhiker, and is headed to Saint Paul, Minnesota. He’s not going back to work any time soon.
JOAN IS SEXUALLY HARASSED OUT OF THE OFFICE.
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A former partner at SC&P, Joan is assigned to work on her accounts with Dennis at McCann, but he sabotages the first call and is thoroughly unprepared for the job. She gets short with him, and he bluntly retorts: “Who told you you had the right to get pissed off?” This is only the beginning of Joan’s experience of sexism in her new work environment—a problem she attempts to overcome. “I thought you were going to be fun,” he says, and storms out. When Ferg Donnelly meets with Joan to size up the situation, he takes Dennis’ side, but offers to help Joan out—all while being totally creepy and vaguely threatening. “Let’s get to know each other.” The causally shady new man in Joan’s life suggests that she can either go to court or “hire a guy” to take care of the situation. But she prefers to deal with things head-on. She meets with head honcho Jim Hobart. “I don’t care about your SC&P partnership,” he says bluntly, and insists that she get with the program. Joan matches him by threatening to get the ACLU behind her: “I suppose it’ll be difficult to find a reporter who wants to embarrass you this deeply.” He offers her a severance package that is half of what she is owed by the company, and she refuses. But Roger convinces her that it’ll be easier if she just takes the money. Is this truly the end of Joan’s advertising career, or will she make a name for herself elsewhere before the series’ end?

PEGGY AND ROGER.

 

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Peggy is still going to her desk at the all-but-destroyed SC&P offices out of pride. “I am a copy supervisor. I am not setting foot there until I get my office.” She is waiting until McCann gives her the time and space she deserves in her position. On the afternoon she’s set to move into her new office, she hears ominous organ music coming from afar: it’s Roger, of course. The both of them hang out, reminisce, share a bottle of Vermouth and have more on-screen speaking time together in this episode than in the rest of the series combined—and it’s delightful. He plays a rag on the organ as she roller skates around the empty offices. He gives her Bert Cooper’s copy of the ubiquitous painting “Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife”, which she feels confident enough to put in her new office. The next afternoon, she enters McCann-Erickson with sunglasses and a lit cigarette, not giving a fuck. Let’s hope she’s able to promote some kind of institutional change from within, a fight that Joan was forced to give up.

Shondaland, Where White, Straight And Male Is Not the Default

Above: Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder‘s iconic wig removal scene, which captures the pressure many black women feel to disguise their natural hair.

Here Janet Mock shares her personal take on the way Shonda Rhimes’s characters continually defy race and gender to create a reflection of our world and shape the evolution of network television—making room for Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating and, yes, even Empire’s Cookie.

When I moved to New York in 2005, I shared a three-bedroom apartment with two fellow graduate students. None of us knew the neighborhood or one another well. My roommates clicked quickly, despite my own reluctance to BFF-dom. The sight of them sitting hip to hip in front of our television and giggling or screaming to House, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit or America’s Next Top Model never failed to induce an eye roll from me. I’m pretty sure I came off like the girl models on ANTM, the ones who always — without fail — scream, “I’m not here to make friends!”

My aloof front shattered that fall, when I broke with convention, squeezing myself between my roomies on the sofa to watch the season premiere of Grey’s Anatomy. Our love of Shonda Rhimes’s first TV baby was the only thing we all shared aside from our sixth-floor walkup. The sex, surgeries, and struggles inside the fluorescent-lit halls of Seattle Grace Hospital opened up pathways of commonalities for three very different people (a white girl from the Bay Area, an Egyptian girl from Memphis, and me, a black girl from Hawaii).

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Shonda Rhimes photographed by Patrick Ecclesine 

We were devout citizens of Shondaland, and could’ve easily been a Shondaland production ourselves. My allegiance only grew when I discovered that my favorite series was created by a bold black woman — one who not only looked like me but also made history as the first African-American woman to create and executive produce a prime-time drama for television. In the span of a decade, Rhimes has become one of the most influential showrunners in television. At a time when race in America is again on the front pages and a subject of critical national debate, Rhimes — a black woman — is the first and only producer to ever have an entire broadcast network night of her own with three hit shows — Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder — airing in consecutive time slots. Two of those shows are headlined by black women, and all feature prominent gay characters. As network TV struggles to be central in viewers’ minds, the woman behind the camera and scripts finds herself at the beating heart of the cultural conversation.

I CAME OF AGE in the 1990s, in Honolulu, and was one of only two black kids in my school. The other was my younger brother. My mother worked while raising five kids alone, giving us a lot of free time to argue over the remote control. Watching Sister, Sister, Living Single, and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, I had access to images of people who looked like me. The TV provided me with friends and let me know that I was not alone, that my voice and experiences mattered, and that I, too, could be a protagonist.

When Gina Rodriguez accepted the best actress Golden Globe for Jane the Virgin in January, she echoed my own core belief about representation: “This award is so much bigger than myself. It represents a culture that wants to see themselves as heroes.”

As we entered the new millennium, networks muted this vital message as sitcoms like Moesha and Girlfriends faded to black. Actors of color retreated to the background, serving as tokens in supporting roles for white protagonists. Audiences of color were no longer a factor, yet I still remained loyal to television, finding fellowship in shows about any girl protagonist, even if she didn’t look like me.

One such TV heroine was Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), a surgical intern who was balancing saving lives and steamy elevator rides on Grey’s Anatomy, a midseason replacement that premiered in March 2005. The show was centered on her, but characters who looked like me didn’t merely blend into the background. There was the ambitious Cristina Yang (Sandra Oh), the intimidating Miranda Bailey (Chandra Wilson), and the sharp and cocky Preston Burke (Isaiah Washington). Collectively, they were the kind of people who not only reflected me, but the kind I wanted to hang with.

In Shondaland, white, straight, and male is not the presumed default. Out the gate, half of Grey’s Anatomy’s regulars were actors of color — just the way Rhimes, who held an open audition for all races for each character, saw the world. Washington, for example, auditioned for both Derek “McDreamy” Shepherd (ultimately played by Patrick Dempsey) and Dr. Burke, the role he secured.

“When I cast the pilot of Grey’s, Shonda didn’t give anybody a last name,” casting director Linda Lowy recalled in the HBO documentary Casting By. “She just said, ‘Linda, I want you to cast it the way you see the world.’ ”

The multicultural halls of Seattle Grace allowed me and the rest of American viewers to see ourselves. We are human beings who just happen to be products of difference, and the visible difference on Grey’s proved to be successful. By the end of its first season, the show drew nearly 20 million viewers a week and dominated the coveted 18-49 demographic. It was proof that if you build an integrated world where all races, genders, and sexualities are welcome, people from all walks of life will tune in.

“Gay, straight, single, divorced, lost, searching — everybody gets a seat at Shonda’s table,” Oprah wrote in Time magazine in 2013, adding that Rhimes “understands that every dream is valuable and every identity deserves inspection through the looking glass of television.”

Shondaland is the inclusive, multicultural roller coaster ride that Rhimes created. As her logo, which airs at the end of each episode, boldly illustrates, there are the super intense twists and turns, but at its center is a big, red, thumping heart.

SHONDA RHIMES was an eager smarty-pants, the black girl version of Tracy Flick. She grew up the youngest of six kids in a Chicago suburb with parents who centered education in their work and lives (her mom earned a doctorate in educational administration in 1991, the same year Rhimes graduated from Dartmouth College). Rhimes came of age with the progressive soundtrack of “Black power!” and “Sisters Are Doin’ It for Themselves,” as her own voice told stories into a tape recorder, just like TV’s Felicity. She took her passion for storytelling to Dartmouth, where she studied English literature and dreamed of becoming Toni Morrison. The celebrated American novelist provided minority writers with a mission to write what you know while refusing to be limited by your race and gender.

“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it,” Morrison once said. Rhimes did just that by becoming her own kind of writer, one obsessed with popular culture, melodrama, and diversity. It’s a potent mix.

In 1994, Rhimes graduated with an MFA from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts and turned her thesis screenplay into her golden ticket to Hollywood. Her first big project was the 1999 HBO movie Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, starring Halle Berry as the first black woman to receive a Best Actress Oscar nomination. In return, Berry won an Emmy, a Golden Globe, and a SAG Award. Rhimes entered the tween feature film market with the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads and The Princess Diaries 2. When she became a mother in 2002, Rhimes developed an insatiable appetite for television, which led to an epiphany, she later told Oprah: She was going to take over the world through television. Her first pilot, a drama about war correspondents, was put on the back-burner after the start of the Iraq War. Her next project was about sexy, high-strung, fast-talking surgeons.

Grey’s Anatomy was an instant staple of watercooler talk, earning Rhimes an enthusiastic audience, including one of her heroines. “I had dinner with Toni Morrison,” Rhimes recalled during her 2014 commencement address at Dartmouth. “All she wanted to talk about was Grey’s Anatomy. That never would have happened if I hadn’t stopped dreaming of becoming her and gotten busy becoming myself.”

Unlike her hero, though, Rhimes doesn’t warmly embrace (at least publicly) qualifiers like “black woman writer.” In Shondaland, people just happen to be black or female. “I find race and gender to be terribly important,” she told The Hollywood Reporter last year. “They’re terribly important to who I am. But there’s something about the need for everybody else to spend time talking about it…that pisses me off.”

Identity markers contribute to character, but Rhimes’s characters are human above all. To point out a character’s identity is to admit that you are surprised by the existence of difference. In Shondaland, a black woman can fix any political scandal while sleeping with the white president of the United States; the wedding of a Latina and a white woman can be a season’s marquee event; and an openly gay Republican can be the White House chief of staff.

SCANDAL HAD me the first time I watched Olivia Pope strut into her Beltway office during its April 2012 premiere. Pope, the most powerful fixer in Washington, D.C., prefers a neutral cape and trouser palette and survives on fast-paced conversations, make-out sessions in the Oval Office, and a diet of red wine and popcorn. She also has the bounciest blowout and most trembling lip quiver in TV history, courtesy of Kerry Washington — the first black actress to lead a network drama since 1974, when Teresa Graves played an undercover cop in Get Christie Love!

The pilot — Shondaland’s only chance to win over ABC, as well as a finicky and fragmented American TV audience — made many bold statements, testaments to Rhimes’s deeply held belief that characters, no matter their race, gender, or sexuality, are worthy of being seen. The episode featured the coming out of a closeted, decorated Marine; a White House chief of staff who is gay and conservative; and, of course, the Beltway’s most powerful conflict manager, who happens to be a black woman pining for her former boss who happens to be the president of the United States. Scandal became an instant ratings gladiator (winning its time slot while reaching highs in each of the key women’s demographics) and set the benchmark for must-tweet TV (its season two finale produced 2,200 tweets per minute).

Rhimes hit the jackpot with a prime-time gamble that paid off big, and ABC handed over Thursday nights to the showrunner. The #TGIT (Thank God It’s Thursday) three-hour Shondaland programming block of Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and the newcomer How to Get Away with Murder (starring Viola Davis) solidified her stature as a television powerhouse. In 2014, #TGIT helped its freshman drama (written and created by Grey’s alum and former Scandal producer Peter Norwalk, an out gay man) pull in 14 million viewers.

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Viola Davis in How to Get Away with Murder‘s iconic wig removal scene, which captures the pressure many black women feel to disguise their natural hair.

Shondaland is a world where two black women — after nearly four decades of acting in the background — are front and center, number one on the call sheet of a prime-time network.

“Working in Shondaland makes me feel like the luckiest broad in showbiz,” Washington said at the GLAAD Media Awards in 2012. Davis, during her acceptance speech for winning a best actress SAG Award, credited Shondaland for thinking that a “sexualized, messy, mysterious woman could be a 49-year-old, dark-skinned, African-American woman who looks like me.”

Shondaland’s culture of inclusivity embraces, writes, and portrays difference without really making that the plot. Rarely do her characters have discussions about the intersections of their identities. They just exist. Rhimes is not afraid of showing difference in her visual medium, but she ultimately writes the ways in which we’re the same: flawed beings navigating life and love.

But everyone doesn’t kumbaya with the multiculturalism mantra. On How to Get Away with Murder, the sexiest character on all of Shondaland’s shows is Connor Walsh (Jack Falahee), a gay law student who uses his sexuality to get what he wants. Connor was in the pilot’s only steamy sex scene. When viewers have occasionally bridled at the show’s bold choices, Rhimes has been quick to defend them.

After one viewer said on Twitter that “the gay scenes in Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder are too much,” Rhimes sent a series of tweets that said: “There are NO gay scenes — there are scenes with people in them. If you are suddenly discovering that Shondaland shows have scenes involving people who are gay, you are LATE TO THE PARTY. If u use the phrase ‘gay scenes,’ u are not only LATE to the party but also NOT INVITED to the party.”

For Rhimes, including people of diverse sexual orientations, genders, and colors doesn’t dilute your audience, it makes them better. Her TV domination is proof positive that representation attracts audiences yearning to see themselves while pushing the rest of America to engage in long-overdue conversations about race. The Obama presidency has reframed what’s possible for African-Americans. The #blacklivesmatter demonstrations, from Ferguson and New York to Tokyo and Paris, have put incendiary topics (racial profiling, overpolicing of communities of color and brutality against black people) front and center. The country’s rapidly shifting demographics (the Census Bureau data reveals that children of color already make up close to the majority of new births in America) are reshaping the image of the nation. It’s this political backdrop that fuels Rhimes’s emergence as a cultural force, pushing networks to tell more inclusive stories and create more spaces for black voices, women voices, diverse voices. In 2014, ABC added a slew of prime time shows promoting diversity: Black-ish, about an affluent black family; Cristela, starring Cristela Alonzo, the first Latina to create, produce, write, and star in her own network sitcom; and Fresh Off the Boat, the first show in 20 years to tell the story of an Asian-American family.

“We really wanted to reflect the changing face of America,” ABC Entertainment Group President Paul Lee said.

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Scene from Scandal

Since Kerry Washington’s historic casting in Scandal, roles available to actresses of color have greatly expanded. Nicole Beharie headlines Fox’s supernatural drama Sleepy Hollow. Tracee Ellis Ross is at the center of Black-ish. Gabrielle Union plays a TV anchor on BET’s first scripted drama, Being Mary Jane; Alfre Woodard plays the president on NBC’s State of Affairs. Taraji P. Henson is thememe-worthy Cookie Lyon on Fox’s new hit musical soap opera, Empire. She is redefining the role of leading lady. The Oscar nominee wields her character’s one-liners, shade-throwing, and tweet-bait antics to draw nearly 13 million people a week.

Empire centers on music mogul Lucious Lyon (Terrence Howard), who is grappling with a rare ALS diagnosis just as his ex-wife, Cookie, is released from jail after 17 years, hoping to take over the musical kingdom her drug-dealing money helped build. The show also features their three sons, all vying to succeed their father: Andre (Trai Byers) is the eldest and a ruthless, Ivy League-educated corporate hotshot juggling bipolarism and a conniving wife (who happens to be white); Hakeem (Bryshere Y. Gray) is the baby, a bad-boy rapper who can’t help but make headlines by drunkenly insulting President Obama and dating a closeted lesbian songstress; and Jamal (Jussie Smollett) is the middle child, a gay musical prodigy who refuses to let his father’s homophobia thwart his chart-topping dreams.

It’s Jamal’s close and affirming relationship with his scene-stealing mother that challenges the longstanding myth that homophobia is more prominent in black communities — a narrative that pushed Henson to take the role. “That [storyline] made me want to do it,” she told Time. “I hadn’t seen the subject matter addressed in our in-yourface, let’s-talk-about-this manner.”

Empire is ruling the zeitgeist, even besting How to Get Away with Murder as the season’s top-rated new show among viewers under 50, making it an unprecedented success, one that accomplished the rare feat of adding viewership in each of its subsequent episodes. The last time a series increased viewership from its premiere was nearly a decade ago, when Grey’s Anatomy first aired.

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Scene from How to Get Away with Murder

According to Nielsen, 61% of Empire’s audience is black — a figure that no other prime-time show, new or old, has matched. Scandal is second, with 37%, followed by How to Get Away with Murder, with 32%. Though all shows perform well in black households, they draw large audiences across all demographics, making a solid case that the elusive mainstream viewer is tuning in and embracing difference.

Empire’s sweeping success only proves that Rhimes was right back in 2005, when she chose to create and champion a diverse world on TV through Shondaland’s first production. Empire’s rise reinforces Rhimes’s cultural legacy. With Empire, Being Mary Jane, and Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black, the burden and duty of representation no longer falls solely on Rhimes’s shoulders. She can sit back and actually enjoy the kaleidoscope vision of truly inclusive and entertaining television that she helped create.

“So now I am all about Empire,” Rhimes, ever the fan of television, recently tweeted. “ALL ABOUT #EMPIRE, tweeples.”

5 Highlights From Last Night’s MAD MEN: What’s In a Name?

The characters on Mad Men have always been determined to go out on top, but they never expected to have their futures handed to them on a silver platter. In this week’s episode, McCann-Erickson decided to absorb Sterling Cooper & Partners into their business. Their deal offers some of the biggest corporations in the world, so with ambition no longer the driving force in their lives, we saw the idea of progeny begin to haunt them all. Since the company’s future is now seemingly set in stone, it remains to be seen whether Mad Men will end in personal tragedy, a series of surreal dream sequences, an act of God (a.k.a. Matthew Weiner), or pure resignation to the way things are. With two episodes left, perhaps it will include all of these things at once.

STERLING-COOPER & MCCANN-ERICKSON ARE ONE.

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When Roger notices that the office lease for this month was never paid, the executives soon put two and two together: McCann-Erickson is planning on subsuming Sterling Cooper & Partners into their headquarters within the month. This puts everyone into a job-hunting frenzy, but Don quickly gets an idea after learning that Lou Avery is leaving his post in Los Angeles to move to Tokyo. What if SC&P became Sterling Cooper West, taking a handful of clients with them to Los Angeles and becoming a bicoastal competitive force? They spend the episode courting various clients and coming up with a roster sufficient enough to display prominently in their meeting with their new bosses. But when the meeting begins, they’re silenced abruptly. It’s already a done deal, but that it’s better than they could have imagined: “You’ve died and gone to advertising heaven.” With names like Buick, Nabisco and Coca Cola in their future, it’s clear that SC&P’s latest merger is about as good as it gets, and nostalgia will only hold them back.

PETE AND TRUDY LOSE THEIR PRIVILEGE.

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Pete and Trudy are shocked to learn that their daughter Tammy has not gotten into the Greenwich Country Day School, where Pete’s family name has been enrolled for generations. When they meet with the headmaster, they learn that she actually didn’t score well on the entry exam—and on top of that, Trudy didn’t bother sending applications to any other schools. She tells Pete that many of the admissions directors (all men) were getting “fresh” with her: “The husbands won’t leave me alone.” This sparks a familiar feeling of adoration from Pete, who promises her that he will find a place for their daughter. She returns her respect for him right back.

PEGGY FEELS THE PANGS OF MOTHERHOOD.

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Peggy is auditioning young children for a commercial when she learns from Pete that McCann is absorbing SC&P. Though she starts to look for other job offers, she begins to consider how her life may have turned out differently—especially after having an intimate moment with Pete, who fathered the child that she gave away over half a decade ago. When one of the young girls accidentally staples her finger, she has a shouting match with the rude mother: “Why would you leave an 8-year-old child in a midtown office building?” “You do what you want with your own children, I’ll do what I want with mine.” This hits Peggy harder than she expected.

Still torn up about it later, she opens up to Stan about her frustration. “No one should have to make a mistake just like a man does and not get to move on,” she says. “She should be able to live the rest of her life, just like a man does.” She tells him about the child she gave away, and how she has no idea where he might be. “I don’t know because you’re not supposed to know—or you can’t go on with your life.” There will always be the baggage of what could have been, and the uncanny symbol of motherhood recurring throughout her life. We see that Peggy accepts the decision she made with newfound clarity.

ROGER TELLS DON ABOUT HIS AFFAIR WITH MEGAN’S MOM.

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The SC&P executives go out for drinks after learning the future of their company, but of course, Don and Roger have stayed for the night shift. After opines about not having a son to take over the Sterling name, Roger tells Don that he’s going to see somebody, and that Don won’t like it. It’s Megan’s mom, Marie Calvet. “Why didn’t you tell me?” “I wanted to make sure it wasn’t going away.” At this point in his incestuous lifestyle and career trajectory, Don couldn’t care less about who’s sleeping with whom. But Roger sticks it to him: “When I married my secretary, you were hard on me. And then you went and did the same thing.”

In his familiar drunken haze, Don goes to Diane’s apartment, only to find that she’s moved out, and a gay couple has moved in, with no information on her whereabouts. Unsurprisingly, one of the men invites him in for a drink. It’s just like Sally said last episode: Don oozes sexuality—but will he find what he’s looking for?

THE BEGINNING OR THE ENDING?

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It remains to be seen whether the McCann merger is entirely positive for the SC&P crew. Joan is certainly skeptical, as none of the companies listed off in their meeting were clients of hers. “We both know they’re never gonna take me seriously over there,” she tells Pete in the cab ride home. Meanwhile, Don’s secretary Meredith is the most confused out of anyone in the office, constantly put-upon by Don’s silence and private dealings, as well as the other secretaries’ taunts: “We should put a bell on you.” She finally confronts Don in his office, telling him that it is most decidedly “not a normal day. Everyone’s living in a fright.”

In the final scene of the episode, the executives call an office-wide meeting to announce the big news, but everyone responds with nervous chatter. “Hold on—this is the beginning of something, not the end,” Don offers, but they can’t be silenced. They all start to leave the office, and the executives are left dumbfounded. There has rarely been a more potently ambiguous ending on , a show where change never occurs without casualties. I suspect that we will be in for something special next week.

Thomas Dekker: Fearlessly Disappears into Characters

Photo by Eric Ray Davidson. Thomas wears t-shirt and jeans by Levi’s, vintage leather jacket. Styled by Rachel Pincus.

In February, Thomas Dekker was working social media for his new Fox series Backstrom and noticed that William Shatner had posted about the show. Never one to bite his tongue, Dekker shot back at the Star Trek icon, “I wonder if he remembers we worked together when I was six?” Shatner didn’t (though he did remember Dekker from another show, and replied with a thumbs-up emoji). Shatner probably isn’t alone in his hazy recall of Capt. Picard’s son on Stark Trek: Generations. Few remember Dekker as the creepy blond-haired son in John Carpenter’s Village of the Damned. Or for the fairly significant parts he had as a child on Seinfeld, ER, Honey, I Shrunk The Kids, or Seventh Heaven.

Dekker had a great time as a kid, but doesn’t particularly care about being lauded for that period. “My father was a huge film aficionado and he had — it’s still in my house — a huge library of movies, three to a videocassette. My favorite when I was eight years old was Carrie. My father showed me Kubrick and Bergman when I was like nine,” says Dekker. “So there was definitely something in me from a young age that loved great cinema. But it really didn’t feel like those films were connected to my own experiences as an actor.”

“By the time he was 17, Dekker was ready to move on from acting; he filled out an application to work at Amoeba Records, put a band together, thought about directing. But instead of quitting, he switched representation, booked a huge role on what would turn out to be the mega-hit Heroes, then quit that show to play John Connor on Fox’s TV adaptation of the Terminator franchise, then landed the lead in Gregg Araki’s Kaboom in 2010.

When it was done, and I was at Cannes, at Sundance — I just felt like, My god, I am part of a universe now that I have grown up obsessed with,” says Dekker. “I still can’t believe that I was given the opportunity to be a character that weirdo kids — like I had been myself — loved and watched.”

It was a role that his agents had advised against (too sexual, too risky), but they were missing the point: For Dekker, it was a transformative experience. Suddenly he was free to go for it, to play roles in any sort of off-kilter way that seemed right. And that’s
what he did, taking on all sorts of twisted projects, like the eccentric Lance Loud on HBO’s Cinema Verite and a heroin-addicted rocker in Catherine Hardwicke’s Plush.

Which brings us around to his current gig with Fox: On Backstrom he plays the flamboyant, petty- thief roommate of the title character. It would be a pretty run-of-the-mill police procedural if it weren’t for his character, and for the fact that Backstrom is
played by the similarly eccentric Rainn Wilson. “We said the whole time that it felt like we were shooting two different shows: Backstrom and The Backstrom and Valentine Show,” says a laughing Dekker, who admits that he embellished what was originally a much smaller part when he auditioned. “I’ve never
wanted to be this guy that you recognize in every role. What’s interested me has always been how different I can be from one role to the next, how unrecognizable I can be.”

Hair: Tony Chavez
Grooming: Jo Strettell

André Holland: A Leading Man For Television’s New Wave

Andre Holland, Film, TV

Photo by Eric Ray Davidson. André wears Rag & Bone jeans, Converse shoes, Alternative Apparel t-shirt, and his own jacket. Styled by Rachel Pincus.

As a television network, Cinemax may not be widely associated with the production of high-art programming. Yet it’s home to The Knick, the first series by director Steven Soderbergh since he announced he was leaving film for TV. On the show, actor André Holland plays Algernon Edwards, a young black surgeon who, after receiving a medical education in more liberal France, attempts to make his way at New York’s virulently racist Knickerbocker Hospital, which happens to be led by a heroin-addicted (and not un-racist) Clive Owen.

That a director like Soderbergh is bringing this kind of material to the small screen says a lot about TV’s new wave — including its ability to give actors like Holland their big break in a way that previously only the silver screen could. “The first time I met Steven was at a lunch, which was a part of my audition,” Holland says. “I was very nervous going in as I’m such a big fan.” But once he got past his nerves (and got the role) it was cinematic magic from there on out. “Steven is a fiercely intelligent guy; he doesn’t believe in making things any more complicated than they have to be. He surrounds himself with extremely talented artists and craftspeople. He really trusts actors to do their own work. He expects that actors will come in with their own ideas. He has a great way of hearing everyone’s ideas while also maintaining a strong sense of where he wants it all to go.”

The acting and cinematography on The Knick are incredible. Ultimately, though, what stands out is the story. The show doesn’t sugarcoat anything. “I loved the way the scripts didn’t shy away from racism,” says Holland. At every turn the audience is confronted with its appalling ubiquity: There’s no telling oneself that “I” would have been the “good” 19th century New Yorker. There was no such thing.

Similarly, Holland’s character is no angel. Yes, against all odds this young black man has become a doctor and is helping untold numbers. But there’s a “darkness and rage inside of him that occasionally comes out,” says Holland. “People have asked me why Algernon gets in so many fistfights. Well, I think he understands firsthand what racism and bigotry can do to a person. That rage that he has must come out in some way.”

It’s challenging material of the sort that doesn’t focus-group well, but in the hands of masterful talent, is emotionally shattering. Holland points out how germane these themes are — obviously — to current events, before being reminded of a James Baldwin quote: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”