WandaVision: Come for the Sitcoms, Stay for the Psychology

I was pretty hyped for WandaVision, but unlike most MCU fans, I was mostly looking forward to all the sitcom shenanigans. I grew up with sitcoms ever since I was a kid. I got even more hyped when I heard they filmed the first episode in front of a live studio audience and that there would be sitcom theme songs created by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez (aka the team behind Frozen). What I didn’t expect was that this show would become a study in grief. In my honest opinion, the real villain of this show was a mix of individual and collective trauma and grief, something that is very relevant in the 2020s and if nothing else, for a spoiler-free option, you seriously have to watch this!

For this blog post, I want to give my overall thoughts on the series from beginning to end, with short recap and my thoughts on each episode. I’ll also be ranking the episodes and the theme songs.

Spoilers for WandaVision!

Episode 1: Filmed Before A Live Studio Audience

This episode is a throwback to the days of The Dick Van Dyke Show. Dick Van Dyke was even consulted for his knowledge on sitcom sets, as the main living room and the kitchen are based from his show. The opening to this episode is hilarious, with Wanda being dropped at the door just as Vision phased through.

The entire episode plays the typical “dinner with the boss vs forgotten anniversary” misunderstanding plot very straight, but Elizabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany do an excellent job playing their sitcom roles. Their chemistry is charming and genuine. Bettany is a natural at playing a very awkward office worker. (He reminds me so much of Giles from Buffy, but that might just be me.)

My favorite thing about this episode is how much work was put into filming it. The behind the scenes videos from Marvel’s YouTube channel show the stark difference between the 1950s/1960s color palette and how everything looked in black and white. I especially loved the costumes.

This episode is a great way to establish what the audience is signing up for: a throwback to old sitcoms with an underlying horrific mystery.

Episode 2: Don’t Touch That Dial

This episode is a throwback to Bewitched, but there are also elements of this episode that remind me of The Stepford Wives and Pleasantville. The plot revolves around Wanda and Vision trying to fit in with their respective groups. Wanda is meeting Dottie (played by Emma Caulfield) and the other ladies of Westview at a country club. There, she makes friends with Geraldine, who’s also having trouble fitting in. Meanwhile, Vision joins up with the local Neighborhood Watch and gets into some shenanigans when he gets gum stuck in his insides.

I loved the Pleasantville vibes of bits of red showing up around the episode (the toy helicopter and the blood on Dottie’s hands). Emma Caulfield was excellent in this episode as the Queen Stepford Wife. And overall, this episode was just fun to watch.

Episode 3: Now in Color

The theme song and overall aesthetic of this episode calls to mind The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family, which fits the whole pregnancy plotline very well. The theme song is very bouncy and sweet and has a genuine, heartwarming vibe to it.

I’m pretty familiar with magical pregnancies in other shows, so it didn’t surprise me that Wanda’s magic went totally haywire and it was so much fun to watch the chaos. Wanda was honestly lucky that she didn’t have to deal with any actual pregnancy issues aside from contractions and labor pains, but that’s what happens when you go through 9 months in half an hour.

I also loved Geraldine/Monica in this episode. Her character reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore, a single lady working hard for a living. She becomes essential when Wanda goes into labor. The lady deserves a medal for being able to deliver twins without any proper medical training (as far as we know). It’s just sad that she ends up getting thrust out of Westview by the end, but it leads into the next episode.

WandaVision episode 4: Ready, A.I.M., theorize - The Verge

Episode 4: We Interrupt This Program

What this episode lacked in typical sitcom format (like a theme song), it made up for with awesome characters. It also adds a layer to the overall theme of the series. Monica coming back from the “Blip” gives a glimpse of just how chaotic the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame has been for everyone.

This is the first time that I felt like Marvel was reading my mind. I mentioned on various social media platforms that I wanted something that focused on what SWORD was doing. I loved how Jimmy Woo mastered the card trick from Ant-Man and the Wasp. I loved how he and Darcy getting invested in the Wandavision show. The part where the SWORD/FBI agents identify Westview citizens felt very meta. Overall, this episode was great to watch!

Episode 5: On a Very Special Episode

This is when the decades and show references start to blend. The theme song is an 80s power ballad with an intro that’s a mix of Growing Pains, Family Ties, and Full House. The episode’s overall aesthetic is a throwback to 80s sitcoms, with the house reminding me a lot of Roseanne or the set of Who’s the Boss? Another sitcom trope also gets introduced: Wanda’s kids suddenly age up! Twice!

Billy and Tommy are adorable in this episode and I love both sets of child actors. The plot of the episode revolved around Wanda, Billy, and Tommy wanting to take care of a stray puppy that they name Sparky while Vision tries to figure out what’s going on with Westview, realizing that not everything is what it seems to be.

One small way that the decades of this episode blend is shown in Vision’s bit at his computer job: computers at work, email, surfing the internet, and Norm saying “cowabunga” feel a lot more 90s than 80s.

On the SWORD side of things, Monica, Jimmy, and Darcy basically become a trio who have very different opinions from Director Hayward. Their teamwork is excellent. I am siding so much with the fandom: Jimmy Woo and Darcy Lewis deserve to have a spinoff. Thankfully, somebody is already getting to work on pitching an X-Files style show with Jimmy Woo as the star. (Agents of Sword/Atlas, anyone?) Hayward, however, is starting to show his true colors and I seriously didn’t like how he planned to use a missile against Wanda.

Wanda seems to show some signs of progress because she’s starting to talk about her grief, even if it’s just with her kids and dealing with all her uncertainty with Vision. But the chaos has started to close in. Which leads nicely into the next episode…

Episode 6: All-New Halloween Spooktacular!

Welcome to the late 90s and early 2000s! The theme song and the episode’s aesthetic is a full on throwback to Malcolm in the Middle. (Side note: The back of Agatha’s pants with a bedazzled “naughty” is so “Juicy Couture,” I can’t even.) This time, Billy and Tommy are narrating the episode, talking to the 4th wall about their uncle Pietro who came out of nowhere (played by Evan Peters) and worrying about their parents.

I really love the Halloween aesthetic and how adorable the kids were in their costumes. On top of all that, Billy and Tommy get powers! Tommy gets super speed and Billy gets telepathy and some magic-based powers.

Hayward goes full on jerk with an agenda mode and tells Monica, Woo, and Darcy that they’re out, but my favorite trio wasn’t going to go down without a fight! In Westview, Vision starts to explore how far Westview goes and things feel very Truman Show and Twilight Zone with how eerie things get. Even though Vision doesn’t remember anything about what happened before the start of the series, he is still an Avenger at heart!

Unfortunately, Vision trying to leave the Hex and failing forces Wanda to expand the barrier to save him, turning the entire SWORD encampment into a circus. The sad thing is that Darcy was part of the people left behind. Monica and Jimmy are running off to meet with people who will hopefully help them while Hayward goes off to set off another SWORD base.

Episode 7: Breaking the Fourth Wall

This episode that pays tribute to the mockumentary sitcoms of the 2000s and 2010s like The Office and Modern Family. Even the theme song is a good reflection of the aesthetic while also paying tribute to Happy Endings.

Wanda has taken a “quarantine-style staycation” and I’m so glad that she’s self-aware enough to know when to take a mental health day. Unfortunately, she has also sunk into depression, as she flippantly tells her kids that she’s starting to think that life is meaningless. I’m so glad the kids don’t hold what she says against her, but I can’t help but feel for Billy and Tommy.

Darcy and Vision carry on the “B Plot” of escaping the circus and getting back to Wanda. Their comedic timing is excellent. They work really well off of each other. The only downside is that Vision just leaves Darcy stranded instead of them just trying to off-road the truck or Vision flying with Darcy.

In spite of having a frickin tank at her disposal, Monica isn’t able to break through the Hex. So instead, she decides to break through on her own again and gains her Spectrum/Photon powers, which basically means that she is able to see different wavelengths of light amongst other things. She’s also able to find Wanda and tries to talk to her, but unfortunately, Agnes gets in the way.

Once Wanda gets to Agnes’s house, things get really spoilerific. If you don’t want to know anything major, please stop!

So I love Kathryn Hahn as Agnes. She has been excellent at playing the “nosy neighbor” while also making everyone suspicious about how much she really knows. By the end of the episode, it’s revealed that Agnes is actually the witch Agatha Harkness and in true Disney Villain fashion, she closes out the episode with her own theme song. Incidentally, this is the last theme song in the entire series. So kudos, Kathryn Hahn. You are officially a full-on Disney Villain now because you got the last song and it became the most viral sensation of 2021. *applause*

Episode 8: Previously On…

While I loved this episode for giving a lot of insight on Wanda’s past, I would have liked some scenes that checked on Jimmy Woo, Darcy, and Monica, especially since the previous episode had a post-credit scene that showed her running into “Pietro.” The best thing about this episode is that it provides a way for people to try and understand their grief in the form of Wanda just trying to piece past events together. Most therapy sessions start out with understanding childhood trauma (insert Freudian couch joke here).

I loved the part where Wanda watches Malcolm in the Middle with Vision. Watching sitcoms to deal with grief is a legit thing, you know. Friends became really popular after 9/11 because a lot of New Yorkers turned to that show for comfort, since it took place in New York and included shots of the Twin Towers. Best line of this episode: “What is grief, if not love persevering?”

While this episode isn’t as plot-heavy, it’s an emotional ride. I almost cried when Wanda saw Vision’s body in the SWORD base and said “I can’t feel you.” (A call back to Infinity War.) The part where Wanda drives around Westview and her breakdown at the plot of land that Vision bought for her also really hit me in the feels.

Some fun trivia: The episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show that young Wanda watches in her flashback (“It May Look Like a Walnut”) is an episode that parodies The Twilight Zone and sci-fi B-movies. It’s the perfect “easter egg” reference for this show that mixes sitcom and sci-fi horror.

Episode 9: The Series Finale

After all the buildup from the past 8 episodes, the finale of WandaVision was great for setting up what’ll happen in MCU Phase 4. I was overall happy that Wanda and Vision got their own chances to shine, had a bit of a “superhero team up” moment with their kids, and that Wanda was finally called out for how her grief-powered magic affected everyone. Vision’s use of “the ship of Theseus” against White Vision was a very Age of Ultron moment.

My only issue with this episode is a lack of closure. I wanted Darcy to get a proper send-off! I want Jimmy Woo to get made the new leader, maybe retooling SWORD and turning it into ATLAS. Monica Rambeau was also majorly underused in this ep. If she could’ve overtaken “Pietro” that easily and escape, she could’ve done it last episode!

But ultimately, this wasn’t about closure, at least not for the fans. It’s really about Wanda getting some sense of closure and becoming the Scarlet Witch. And she was able to get that, even if it lead to her isolating herself in the mountains, reading the Darkhold.

Grief is the Real Villain

There were two types of grief at play in WandaVision: Individual grief and collective grief.

Wanda, Monica, and Director Hayward all show different ways of coping with individual grief. Wanda goes through the five stages of grief and chooses to isolate herself. Monica’s grief centers on the loss of her mother and trying to figure out her life after being “blipped.” Director Hayward wasn’t blipped, but became authoritarian out of a desire for some sense of control.

The aftermath of the “Blip” and the power of Wanda’s reality-warping hex act as a form of collective grief. Westview was a dying town and people were trying to just get by. In Wanda’s point of view, they all seemed miserable. And while her sitcom reality reformed the structure of the town, it came at the cost of everyone losing their free will and living with Wanda’s nightmares. She was unburdening herself onto a lot of people without their consent. The grief was literally felt by everyone.

The reason I feel like grief is the big bad of the whole show is because grief and the way people try to cope drive the way that everyone acts in this show, especially in the finale.

My overall thoughts

I loved this show. I can see this show being studied in film/communication and psychology classes in terms of how a show comes together as well as how individual and collective grief has to be approached. It was a fun, emotional ride.

4.5 out of 5 due to:

  1. Emma Caulfield being majorly underused. If you’re gonna make her a red herring, have her be more prominent in more episodes. I seriously love her as Dottie and I wanted her in the 80s and the Halloween episodes!
  2. A lack of closure for Jimmy, Darcy, and Monica who became the unexpected breakout stars of this series. MCU, keep reading my mind. I need to see these guys again.

But otherwise, I seriously love this show.

A Christmas Carol: A Memento Mori Story

A Christmas Carol is a perennial Christmas classic with countless adaptations. What many people overlook, however, is the core moral of the story. It’s not just “be nice to the poor on Christmas,” but a call to action for those who are privileged to examine their consciences and to do what they can to help others year-round because at some point, we’ll die and be judged on our actions as well as what we neglected to do.

In other words, A Christmas Carol is a “Memento Mori” story. If you don’t know what “memento mori” is, Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble goes more into it. According to her website:

Memento mori or “remember your death” is a phrase that has been long associated with the practice of remembering the unpredictable and inevitable end of one’s life. The spiritual practice of memento mori and the symbols and sayings associated with it were particularly popular in the medieval church. 

Fun fact: My family and I saw a production of A Christmas Carol in Houston’s Alley Theatre. They really played up the aspect of “Memento Mori” right at the start, with skeletons dressed in fancy clothes dancing around Ebenezer Scrooge’s bed, foreshadowing what’s to come.

All the ghosts that visit Ebenezer Scrooge compel him to examine his conscience, that is his past actions and how he neglects to help those in the present. Let’s dive into this story and see how.

Stave One: Facing Judgment & Punishment

with Jacob Marley

Even though Charles Dickens wasn’t Catholic and had some anti-Catholic sentiments, the imagery of Jacob Marley and the other ghosts calls to mind the souls of Purgatory, at least for me.

Quotes from Stave One to reflect on:

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

The air was filled with phantoms, wandering hither and thither in restless haste, and moaning as they went. Every one of them wore chains like Marley’s Ghost; some few (they might be guilty governments) were linked together; none were free. Many had been personally known to Scrooge in their lives. He had been quite familiar with one old ghost, in a white waistcoat, with a monstrous iron safe attached to its ankle, who cried piteously at being unable to assist a wretched woman with an infant, whom it saw below, upon a door-step. The misery with them all was, clearly, that they sought to interfere, for good, in human matters, and had lost the power for ever.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

Similar to the souls in Purgatory, the ghosts in A Christmas Carol can’t really do much to help others on earth aside from intercession. If this is Charles Dickens’s idea of Hell, however, it’s a very good one. All the ghosts are faced with the suffering of humanity and are unable to do anything about it. Sure hits different in 2020, doesn’t it?

Stave Two: The Examination of Conscience

with the Ghost of Christmas Past

Ebenezer Scrooge’s trip down memory lane with the Ghost of Christmas Past is a mix of nostalgia and bittersweet memories, heavy on the bitter. While Scrooge had fond memories of his school days, the memory of his neglectful father and a lack of friends within the boarding school instilled an unhealthy sense of self-preservation in him. However, seeing the memories of his past also prompted Scrooge to think about things he neglected to do in the present, like how he should’ve been kinder to the boy who was singing a carol out in the street or how he keeps his nephew, Fred, at arm’s length even though Fred is the only living memory of his beloved sister.

A similar incident happens when Scrooge is taken to his first job at Fezziwig’s. The Christmas party is lively with dancing and music and merriment. Pay attention to the exchange between the ghost and Scrooge in this memory:

“A small matter,” said the Ghost, “to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.”

“Small!” echoed Scrooge.

The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,

“Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?”

“It isn’t that,” said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. “It isn’t that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count ’em up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.”

He felt the Spirit’s glance, and stopped.

“What is the matter?” asked the Ghost.

“Nothing particular,” said Scrooge.

“Something, I think?” the Ghost insisted.

“No,” said Scrooge, “No. I should like to be able to say a word or two to my clerk just now. That’s all.”

But while Scrooge is feeling pangs in his conscience, small instances of regret, he’s not completely ready to change because the wounds of his past still hurt, as evidence as he relives Belle breaking off their engagement.

Which brings us to our next ghost.

Stave Three: Inactions & Consequences

with the Ghost of Christmas Present

The version of this particular stave shown in A Muppet Christmas Carol is my particular favorite version because the Ghost of Christmas Present is a very heartwarming, joyful spirit. Michael Caine’s Scrooge actually forms a friendship with this ghost.

I also love that in this particular chapter, Scrooge sees how his miserly attitude and lack of compassion are regarded by others in his life, particularly Nephew Fred and the Cratchits.

Of course, there are some things that the Muppet version neglected to show. One particular segment was essentially a tract on Dickens’s part to advocate for a continuation of practices that helped the poor. Scrooge is shown how many people that he regarded as the “surplus population” still do their best to celebrate Christmas in spite of their poverty. My favorite rendition of this comes from this little known animated version:

Fun fact: GK Chesterton (Catholic writer and apologist) was a huge fan of Charles Dickens. In one edition of A Christmas Carol, he wrote an intro to the story that echoes the Ghost of Christmas Present’s call to action and asks the reader to examine themselves.

The answer to anyone who talks about the surplus population is to ask him whether he is the surplus population; or if he is not, how he knows he is not. 

GK Chesterton in his intro to the 1922 edition of A Christmas Carol

As joyful and merry as the Ghost of Christmas Present is, the serious tone he takes on towards the end of his journey with Scrooge is a very sobering moment, especially when Scrooge sees the embodiments of Ignorance and Want. (See the animated version above for a reference.) But Scrooge doesn’t have time to let things sink in because once the clock struck midnight, the next ghost appears.

Stave Four: Facing One’s Death & Legacy with the

Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come

It was shrouded in a deep black garment, which concealed its head, its face, its form, and left nothing of it visible save one outstretched hand. But for this it would have been difficult to detach its figure from the night, and separate it from the darkness by which it was surrounded.

He felt that it was tall and stately when it came beside him, and that its mysterious presence filled him with a solemn dread. He knew no more, for the Spirit neither spoke nor moved.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

This description of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come often calls to mind how death is seen, usually as the Grim Reaper. This Ghost may not appear with a scythe and it’s not a walking skeleton (not even its outstretched hand is skeletal), but in my opinion, the Ghost is definitely an archetype of Death.

The reason why I see the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come as representing Death is that when Scrooge explores the future, he sees how the people he’s familiar with (and even people he never really met but people that are affected by his actions) react to his death, namely that nobody really mourned him. Scrooge is in a major state of denial, but it’s because he’s afraid of facing his death. Most people don’t usually want to think about their death, let alone how people might react if and when that day comes.

When Scrooge finally does come face to face with his gravestone, everything finally hits him. The idea of dying alone and unloved and possibly facing an afterlife burdened by chains is all too much.

Michael Caine’s performance is the best version. His remorse feels the most authentic here. He realizes, now, coming face to face with his death, that he has to make the most of his life while he can. The future isn’t certain or guaranteed, but facing his inevitable death compels Scrooge to take action.

That’s essentially what Memento Mori is. Knowing one’s death and knowing that one will face judgment and end up in either Heaven, Purgatory, or Hell compels people to make the most of their lives while they can without going all YOLO.

Stave Five: Scrooge’s Conversion

It’s one thing to have an epiphany to change. It’s another to really take action and live out what one has learned.

When Scrooge returns from his magical mystery journey, he immediately starts making the most of his time by asking a boy on the street (possibly the same boy he turned away earlier) to go by the prize turkey in the poultry shop and return to his house, promising some serious coin for it. (A shilling would be the equivalent of 12 cents and half a crown is 30 cents, which was worth a lot back then.) Once the poultry man arrives, he tells the man to send the turkey to the Cratchits, but stresses him not to tell them who paid for the turkey.

After dressing up, Scrooge donates some money to a group of carolers and makes amends with the gentlemen who were at his office earlier, promising to donate an amount that astounds them with the promise of more donations in the future.

What really cements Scrooge’s conversion is when he makes amends with Fred and his wife. The next day, Scrooge tells Bob Cratchit that he intends to raise the latter’s salary and promises to help the Cratchits to the best of his ability.

But the way the book (and the Muppet version) finishes the story is my favorite part, evidence of Scrooge keeping what he has learned for as long as he lived:

Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world… and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!

Rent a Boyfriend: Interview with Gloria Chao

This post is an extension of my 15 thoughts on Gloria Chao’s new book Rent A Boyfriend which has been officially released today! If you’re a fan of fake dating, Asian-centric romantic comedies, and young adults in college surviving their sitcom-worthy embarrassing parents, give it a read!

I had the opportunity to ask Gloria Chao some questions about this book. Check out what she has to say!

1.  What inspired you to write this particular book?

RENT A BOYFRIEND is inspired by a real practice that happens in some Asian countries where women sometimes feel so pressured to bring home an acceptable significant other that they turn to hiring a fake boyfriend from the classifieds or a company. I understand this kind of pressure and wanted to write a book that fictionalized this practice and brought it to America. I drew a lot from my own experiences feeling pressured to walk a certain path in life and being set up by my mother.

2.  How familiar are you with the Palo Alto setting? Why did you choose that city as the main setting for the story?

I chose Palo Alto because I wanted a location with a large Asian American population to justify the existence of the boyfriend rental company, Rent for Your ’Rents, which caters to an Asian American clientele. I’m familiar with Palo Alto, so that felt like a natural choice, but of course the fictional community in the book is inspired by many different Asian American communities around the country with which I’ve had lots of personal experience. 

3.  Which character(s) do you relate to the most?

I relate to both Chloe and Drew in different ways. Chloe’s anxiety and her desire to please her parents while somehow walking the path of her choosing are taken from my experience. Drew’s voice, however, is closer to my own. And his backstory of his parents cutting him off for pursuing art is informed by my career switch from dentist to writer. 

4.  You’ve used Chicago as a partial setting for Our Wayward Fate and this novel. Have you ever considered setting an entire story in Chicago?

What a perfect question! I’m currently working on a story that is completely set in my hometown of Chicago! I hope I can share more about this project in the future! I love Chicago so much, and I hope that comes across when I write about it!

5.  What would you say to young adults who are struggling to have a healthy relationship with their parents? (Especially Asian-American young adults)

You are not alone. And it is definitely not easy. There aren’t really any right or wrong answers, only gray and more gray. I’m realizing that the only thing I can control is what I do and how I communicate, which is both fortunate and unfortunate. Hang in there!

6.  A lot of adults are still reading YA. What would you say to Asian-American adults who are reading this book while raising the next generation?

I don’t have kids so I don’t have any advice from experience, but I guess the least we can hope to do is not repeat the mistakes of the previous generation.

7.  Do you think there could be a possible sequel to this particular book? 

I am open to anything! But I personally think I would write a spin-off before I wrote a sequel. There are plenty of other possible Rent for Your ‘Rents stories to explore!

8.  How do you think Chloe and Drew would handle living in our current complicated year? What would they do in quarantine?

Like a lot of us, I think they would be taking it one day at a time. In quarantine, I think there would be plenty of couch-snuggling, watching feel-good movies, and playing board games like Takenoko, Splendor, or Ticket to Ride! 

Rent a Boyfriend by Gloria Chao: 15 Thoughts While Reading

Thank you to Hear Our Voices and NetGalley for giving me the opportunity to review this wonderful YA rom-com and including me on this Blog Tour!

Synopsis

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before meets The Farewell in this incisive romantic comedy about a college student who hires a fake boyfriend to appease her traditional Taiwanese parents, to disastrous results, from the acclaimed author of American Panda.

Chloe Wang is nervous to introduce her parents to her boyfriend, because the truth is, she hasn’t met him yet either. She hired him from Rent for Your ’Rents, a company specializing in providing fake boyfriends trained to impress even the most traditional Asian parents.

Drew Chan’s passion is art, but after his parents cut him off for dropping out of college to pursue his dreams, he became a Rent for Your ’Rents employee to keep a roof over his head. Luckily, learning protocols like “Type C parents prefer quiet, kind, zero-PDA gestures” comes naturally to him.

When Chloe rents Drew, the mission is simple: convince her parents fake Drew is worthy of their approval so they’ll stop pressuring her to accept a proposal from Hongbo, the wealthiest (and slimiest) young bachelor in their tight-knit Asian American community.

But when Chloe starts to fall for the real Drew—who, unlike his fake persona, is definitely not ’rent-worthy—her carefully curated life begins to unravel. Can she figure out what she wants before she loses everything?

Publisher: Simon Pulse

Release Date: November 10, 2020

Genre: YA Contemporary

Pages: 320 pages

Links:

About the Author

Gloria Chao is the critically acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fateand Rent a Boyfriend. When she’s not writing, you can find her with her husband on the curling ice or hiking the Indiana Dunes. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths.

Her award-winning books have been featured on the “Best of” lists of SeventeenBustle, Barnes & NoblesPopSugarPaste Magazine, and more. American Panda received four starred trade reviews, was a Junior Library Guild Selection and Indie Next Pick, was a YALSA Teen’s Top 10 Pick, and on the Amelia Bloomer List.

Links: Author Website Twitter Goodreads Instagram

15 Thoughts I Had While Reading

  1. I love Chloe’s “mooncake points” aka her way of measuring her parents’ approval of either her boyfriend or herself.
  2. I low-key love that Chloe sort of has this “dual identity,” a version of herself when she’s at home (Jing-Jing), but wants to be her authentic self (Chloe). Drew has a similar dual identity, acting as “Andrew” when he’s being a fake boyfriend and wanting to just be himself when he’s off the clock. Bonus: This book shows scenes in Chloe and Drew’s POVs, though the story centers more on Chloe and her relationship with her family.
  3. I seriously wish that Chloe’s dad could’ve been more open and honest about how he regards Drew. He seemed very supportive of the relationship.
  4. Fun Fact: There’s a more famous Chloe Wang. You might know her better as Chloe Bennet aka Daisy from Marvel’s Agents of Shield. Before she became an actress, she was a pop star and one song came to mind as the chemistry between Chloe and Drew began to develop.
  5. The guy that Chloe’s parents want her to marry is a serious douche canoe and the excuses Chloe’s mother makes for him are a sorry sight to read. Double standards abound within Chloe’s family and their Chinese community. Mr. All-Wrong-For-Chloe is a shining turd example of the patriarchy! (Insert patriarchy jingle from Buffering Podcast here.)
  6. A lot of emphasis is put on one’s reputation within a community. I basically wanted to blast Taylor Swift’s “I Did Something Bad” during one particular scene centering on Chloe!
  7. I seriously imagine Drew having an Instagram account devoted to his art. He could make some serious merch from the little cartoon sheep, similar to this Instagram account.
  8. The word “verisimilitude” came to mind while reading through Chloe and Drew’s relationship. The word means “something having the appearance of truth.” It summarizes their fake dating perfectly!
  9. I had to unpack my bias about the value of a college education because I wasn’t sure why Drew didn’t go to somewhere like the Art Institute and Chloe had to set aside her own biases.
  10. I had a feeling that Gloria Chao really leaned into her previous career (she used to be a dentist) when she wrote the scene that centered on Chloe’s dad.
  11. I don’t understand why studying economics is frowned upon in these strict Chinese families. I’m speaking as a Filipino, but economics leads to a career in business, which is equally as lucrative as law or medicine.
  12. Given that Chloe’s dating a guy named Drew and that I’m a Taylor Swift fan, this song inevitably came to mind.
  13. Mahjong is featured in this book. I was instantly reminded of the famous scene from Crazy Rich Asians (which incidentally is a movie-exclusive scene). Even though I’m Filipino, I have very vague childhood memories of the various aunts in my very expansive extended family playing mahjong for money, though I never played it myself.
  14. Can this book have a sequel? No spoilers, but stuff they showed towards the end opens up the possibility of a majorly awesome sequel that centers more on Drew.
  15. I like the way that Gloria Chao included Chicago as a secondary setting, both in this book and in Our Wayward Fate. As she considers that city home, Chicago is her equivalent of Pemberley from Pride and Prejudice or Brigadoon. I look forward to seeing an entire story set in Chicago someday.

If you want to know more, check out my review of this book on Goodreads and get this book! It’s such a fun read and perfect for early holiday season rom com feels without buying into the Hallmark bandwagon.

The Magic of Disney with Autism

There’s something about Disney and fairy tales that still appeals to kids today. You might have heard some news stories on your feed about young children with autism having fun with Disney characters at the theme parks.

The most well-known story that’s been circulating around the news feeds is how Snow White comforted a young autistic boy named Jack Jack. Jack Jack and his family frequently go to the theme parks and his mother, Amanda, has documented their trips on her YouTube channel. In her other videos, you can see Jack Jack opening up to many more Disney characters.

Even Cinderella’s stepsisters get in on the fun. Recently, Jack Jack (the same boy who fell in love with Snow White) found a second love in Cinderella’s stepsisters. The most recent video shows him proposing to Drizella and Anastasia. Amanda says that they’re very hilarious and I think Jack Jack likes them for their humor.

Of course, Jack Jack isn’t the only one. Snow White has been shown comforting two other boys with autism who were in the middle of a meltdown. And about a year or so ago, a young girl with autism mistook a bride for Cinderella and got to go to Disney World after the news story went viral. Modern audiences, who often criticize Snow White and Cinderella, will probably wonder why those two princesses appealed to these children with autism.

Personally, I have a theory. Snow White may not be a princess that appeals to the typical feminist, at least not at first. But look at the story: She escapes from a life of abuse and finds a safer place to live with people who genuinely like her. The reason I think she appeals to children with autism is because of how Snow White handles the dwarves. Even though they’re little men, they still act like children with exaggerated personalities. And keep in mind that one of the dwarves, Dopey, is nonverbal. If you want to know more about the appeal of the classic Disney princesses, I recommend reading Faith Moore’s Saving Cinderella.

But Disney doesn’t just appeal to children with autism. There’s a documentary currently on Amazon Prime called Life, Animated, which centers on the life of a young man named Owen whose special interest centers on all things Disney. He’s able to recall scenes from the various Disney animated movies. However, for him, he doesn’t connect to the princesses, but to the “sidekick” characters such as Timon, Iago, Sebastian. The documentary centers on Owen as he starts living on his own, adjusting to the world of adulthood.

It honestly doesn’t surprise me that Disney Princesses and sidekicks appeal to people on the autism spectrum. As Life, Animated stated, they have exaggerated expressions and emotions, but the stories and characters still tie to things in the real world. I’m really looking forward to the Disney + streaming service because it will include some of the classic Disney movies. My biggest hope is that these classic movies can gain a wider audience.

Gratitude In the Moment

We’ve all heard how important the practice of gratitude is when it comes to our emotional health. It’s easy to feel grateful when everything feels good and we’ve all made an effort to count our blessings at one point or another. But here’s a perspective of gratitude I don’t think you’ve heard before: Choosing to be grateful in the present. Not just think about the food you have or the clothes that you wear, but gratitude for whatever you’re experiencing right here, right now, even when things don’t go according to plan.

I know it’s sounds a lot easier said than done, especially if you’re going through something you don’t want to wish on anyone else. But how often do we think about the past and what we want to change? How often do we think about the uncertainty of the future? There’s so much in this world that’s outside of our control. Gratitude in the moment puts us right in the present.

You could see it as an extension of mindfulness, being more aware of what’s around you. It can be something as small as being grateful for the weather or the smell of a nearby flower or the sound of the birds. If you’re in a city, pay attention to the architecture of the buildings or whatever catches your eye. These are all things to be grateful for.

One other benefit of being grateful in the moment and mindful of our present surroundings is that, ideally, it compels us to put down our phones and actually pay attention. In spite of everything going on in the world, I sincerely believe we are lucky to be alive right now. I’m not saying the world is perfect, but I think being grateful for where we are right now can help us detach from the endless cycle of online debates and news of things that are out of our control.

Being grateful in the moment is a small drop in the bucket in terms of taking care of ourselves emotionally. Try practicing it today and see if it makes any difference. Put aside all regrets of the past and anxieties of the future. Be here now.

Lover: A Track By Track Review

Everything is Taylor Swift and nothing hurts. This was literally the album I have been waiting for. And I LOVE IT! Taylor’s sixth album, reputation, did grow on me over time. However, Lover ranks up there with 1989 as my favorite album so far!

Time to go into a deep dive, track by track review. Every song will be ranked on a scale of 1-13, 13 being the best.

  1. I Forgot That You Existed: This picks up right where reputation leaves off. Any Swiftie worth their salt knows who this song is about, but I won’t name names cuz Taylor doesn’t! I related to this song as soon as I heard the chorus. It reminds me of that time in my life when I finally let go and forgave the people who put me in a bad state of anxiety for years. I was waiting YEARS for this song! But Taylor is so right. Forgiveness can sometimes be indifference. And I LOVE IT! Favorite lyric: “I forgot that you existed/It isn’t love, it isn’t hate, it’s just indifference.” 12/13
  2. Cruel Summer: This song is a definitely a bop that takes you to Bridge City. Definitely a summer love track with the beat. Think “Blank Space” meets reputation at the beach. It describes falling in love in spite of dealing with hard times. I wouldn’t be surprised if Taylor makes this a single as she has been dropping the title of this song as an Easter Egg in a few places. Definitely like the song, but LOVE the bridge because it captures Drunk Taylor in love! Favorite lyrics: “I don’t wanna keep secrets just to keep you…And I screamed for whatever it’s worth/’I love you.’ Ain’t that the worst thing you ever heard?” 10/13
  3. Lover: Can I slow dance with someone to this song, please? This is such a beautiful 60’s style doo-wop ballad. I can easily see people dancing to this at a wedding or at prom. And the music video captures the story of the album as a whole. Love is shown as imperfect, but it’s still beautiful and worth fighting for. Side note: Can we just appreciate that Taylor FINALLY has someone she can celebrate her birthday and Christmas with? Favorite Lyric: “Ladies and gentlemen, will you please stand?/With every guitar string scar on my hand.” 12/13
  4. The Man: THE SHADE OF THIS SONG! This is definitely a feminist anthem. As harsh as the lyrics sound, I have seen this kind of double standard. Nobody blinks an eye at say, John Mayer or Adam Levine when it comes to their love lives and writing songs about their exes, but Taylor Swift’s dating life has been scrutinized and questioned. I also think this puts the whole Scooter Braun deal in a new light, too. If Taylor was a man, I don’t think Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta would shortchange her. Favorite Lyrics: “They’d say I hustled, put in the work/They wouldn’t shake their heads and question how much of this I deserve” 12/13
  5. The Archer: This is one of my personal favorites. I loved this song as soon as I heard it. For me, it captures how I feel when I deal with anxiety and how I try to ground myself down. Favorite lyric: “Help me hold onto you.” 13/13
  6. I Think He Knows: Another 60’s style summer love bop. I swear this could be sung by a girl group, especially with the chorus. Postmodern Jukebox, GET ON IT! I can literally dance and skip down the street to this song! (Incidentally, this picture from her Vogue photo shoot comes to mind.) Favorite Lyric: “He got my heartbeat/Skipping down 16th Avenue”13/13
  7. Miss Americana and the Heartbreak Prince: Imagine if “You Belong With Me” transitioned into “Dear John,” blends with “I Know Places, and “Wildest Dreams” and meets the beat of “So It Goes.” The girl in the dress cries the whole way home and finds love in the midst of the scary times of 2016. Basically, this song captures Taylor’s past six albums in four minutes and I LOVE IT. Can there be a music video for this song, please? Favorite lyric: “The whole school is rolling fake dice
    You play stupid games, you win stupid prizes” 13/13
  8. Paper Rings: A throwback to Grease’s “You’re The One That I Want.” I could dance all night to this song. Incidentally, this song personally makes me think of the main characters of one of my WIPs. Yes, this is another 60’s summer love BOP with lots of awesome little details that takes you to Bridge City again. Favorite lyric: “I hate accidents except when we went from friends to this.”
  9. Cornelia Street: This sounds like a sequel to “Delicate” and there’s evidence that ties Delicate to this song. It also has Red vibes with verses that remind me of “State of Grace,” “Holy Ground,” and the autumn aesthetic. Favorite Lyrics: “And baby, I get mystified by how this city screams your name/And baby, I’m so terrified of if you ever walk away/I’d never walk Cornelia Street again.” 12/13
  10. Death By A Thousand Cuts: This is a classic case of lyrical dissonance (sad lyrics, happy beat) a la “The Story of Us.” According to what I gathered, Taylor was inspired by the Netflix film Someone Great. Unfortunately, I never watched that movie. I can see Taylor going crazy on the piano with this, though. I definitely like it, but it’s not one I particularly relate to and I know for sure that it’s not where Taylor is now. Favorite lyric: “You said it was a great love, one for the ages
    But if the story’s over, why am I still writing pages?” 10/13
  11. London Boy: Do I care if this is probably inaccurate to actual London geography? NOPE! Because all I can think of is a British guy I have a crush on with killer cheekbones and how much this reminds me of said hot British man with his blonde Slayer. SPUFFY FANS LISTEN TO THIS STAT! Favorite Lyrics: “He likes my American smile, like a child when our eyes meet/Darling, I fancy you.” 12/13
  12. Soon You’ll Get Better: This tearjerking track throws everyone back to the Fearless era and talks about Andrea Swift’s battle with cancer and Taylor’s fears of possibly losing her mother. The thing is, though, this can apply to dealing with any loved one who’s battling a disease or even losing them. Favorite lyrics: “And I hate to make this all about me/But who am I supposed to talk to?/What am I supposed to do/If there’s no you?” 11/13
  13. False God: Sorry, Taylor, but this is a track I’m skipping. Tying in religious imagery with sex or making your relationship your idol always turns me off, personally. I understand why some people would like this song cuz it kinda throws back to “Don’t Blame Me.” It sounds nice, but the lyrics unfortunately rub me the wrong way. Lyrics I liked: “Hell is when I fight with you/But we can patch it up good/Make confessions and we’re begging for forgiveness.” 5/13
  14. You Need to Calm Down: Taylor’s most blatantly political song aside from “The Man.” Taylor covers a lot of different stuff people deal with in this song and I definitely like the music video. Seriously wish people could stop saying Taylor is anti-Christian, though. Yes, she swings left and she includes anti-gay protestors in the music video here. I don’t agree with all of her politics, but did we just forget that Westboro Baptist Church exists? Favorite Lyrics: “I’ve learned a lesson that stressin’ and obsessin’ ’bout somebody else is no fun/And snakes and stones never broke my bones” 10/13
  15. Afterglow: Taylor hinted in her “Lover” music video that this song ties into “King of My Heart.” And I can hear the connection. This is a relationship making-up song. What comes to mind for me is Spike and Buffy towards the latter end of Season 6 and all of Season 7. This song points out that relationships can fall apart and that Taylor can own up to her mistakes. Favorite lyrics: “I’m the one who burned us down/But it’s not what I meant/I’m sorry that I hurt you.” 11/13
  16. ME!: I loved Taylor’s first single as soon as I watched the video! The aesthetic alone was just beautiful. And I love that it’s an anthem to loving yourself as you are. Favorite Lyric: “I’m the only one of me. Baby, that’s the fun of me.” 12/13
  17. It’s Nice to Have A Friend. Is it just me or does the music sound Chinese/Japanese? I know that steel drums are used, but the song just gives me shojo light novel anime vibes. It’s the most innocent song on the album. No lyrics stand out to me in particular, though. I like it, but I don’t love it. 7/13.
  18. Daylight. As soon as Taylor shared an Instagram picture with the caption: “Step into the daylight and let go,” I knew I would love whatever song the lyrics came from and I was right. This is the song I relate to the most on here. The chorus and the outro are the best parts and, arguably, the most important thing Taylor ever wrote, IMHO. 13/13.

I wanna be defined by the things that I love
Not the things I hate
Not the things that I’m afraid of, I’m afraid of
Not the things that haunt me in the middle of the night
I, I just think that
You are what you love

Cells at Work and the Body of Christ

A popular anime/manga series that swept the internet recently, Cells At Work is basically if Osmosis Jones (and/or Ozzy and Drix for those who remember that show) got an anime upgrade and was written by someone with some serious med school education. The anime has become so popular that fans feel inspired to at least try and take care of their health. Not to mention that the characters were used in a recent ad for blood donation in Japan.

Some fans wonder what kind of world the Cells at Work really is because of how the cells are created and the unusual way that the show portrays diseases such as cancer. The world of Cells at Work is, to quote a video from YouTube “rigidly utilitarian” and some people comment that it borders on a dystopia.

Pump the brakes, otakus. Keep in mind a few things:

1) This show’s characters represent the human body, which functions differently from Western society as a whole.

2) The manga writer/illustrator is Japanese. Sociologically speaking, the Japanese (and Eastern society as a whole) tend to emphasize the collective needs over the individual. (For an example of the cultural difference, watch Crazy Rich Asians.)

3) The best way to reconcile this view is looking at the body of Christ and the Catholic view on how God’s will and mankind’s free will can work together.

“For as in one body we have many parts, and all the parts do not have the same function,  so we, though many, are one body in Christ and individually parts of one another”- Romans 12:5

(There’s also a really long passage from 1 Corinthians 12, but I’ll use the verses as I go along.)

To start with, all the cells in Cells at Work were created with a purpose. It ties into the verse in the first part of 1 Corinthians 12 about spiritual gifts. Every person on Earth, as crazy as this sounds, was given a purpose even before they were born. The cells in this anime were just created knowing their function from early childhood. Sometimes, such in the case of Red Blood Cell aka AE 3803, it takes people a while to do well with their gifts.

AE 3803’s character arc centers on her navigating her way through the body. She gets lost all the time and runs into her share of trouble. Thankfully, she usually has people who help and in one episode, she does manage to make it through the circulatory system all on her own (for the most part). And even though she can be a bit easily distracted, she really came through on the cancer 2-parter when she realizes that something is very wrong and alerts the entire immune system team.

1 Corinthians 12: 22 applies to the adorable platelets (“the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary…”) who seem small and vulnerable, especially since they look like kids and in real life have short lifespans. However, these platelets are very important in repairing the body, healing scrapes and cuts and probably whatever interior damage the body takes. Not to mention, they provide a breath of relief and are adored by a good portion of the fanbase. (They also make a great case for platelet donation.)

One thing fans of the series overlook is that the major characters have a personality and free will to a certain extent. After all, White Blood Cell (aka U-1146) chooses to be friends with AE 3803 even though Killer T Cell discourages the idea. Killer T, however, has his own insecurities, as he has this combative friendship with Helper T cell and a belligerent relationship with NK Cell. Poor Killer T needs to watch his salt intake.

So if all the cells (and by extension all humans) are created with a purpose, how does that explain cancer and the other diseases that harm the body? The nature of sin. Due to original sin, our bodies aren’t created perfectly, so we will be vulnerable to sin from outside forces, just like how the body can be vulnerable to diseases.

Cancer, however, comes from our own bodies. And in the show, the cancer cell was portrayed with a somewhat sympathetic past.

In my opinion, cancer cells represent people who are corrupted by a sin within themselves. In Doctor Ed Hope’s words, cancer is essentially a cellular psychopath. It’s true that there are people who feel like they were born wrong or feel like a mistake and they have to realize that they were created to be good. Unfortunately, due to the nature of sin, some people choose to basically corrupt and destroy the people and the world around them. “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it.”

The only way to deal with sin is to fight it and cut it at its root. This is why the scene where the entire body comes together to fight the growing cancer is one of my favorite moments in the whole show. And while the cancer cell may have some sympathetic moments, it crosses the line by trying to destroy the body. In the manga, Cancer Cell makes a scary comeback and even manipulates a Negotiator T Cell into protecting him, taking advantage of an actual blind spot.

If you or someone you know has suffered or even died from cancer, don’t see the Cancer Cell as a symbol of your despair. Cancer is one of those things in this world that doesn’t make sense. It’s hard to understand the nature of evil. We just know it when we see it and all we can do is fight it.

So if you’re into anything relating to the medical field or want a nice anime that’s relatively lighthearted and has some surprisingly deep meanings, check out Cells At Work on vrv or wait for the English dub via Aniplex. And yes, the English dub cast is singing the theme!

Shazam: The Die Hard of the DCEU– A Movie Review

I’m only a casual fan of superhero movies in general, especially the DC movie lineup. I wasn’t really familiar with the character of Shazam beyond snippets of the superhero in shows like Young Justice. So it came as a surprise to me that not only was this movie entertaining and a breath of fresh air compared to the preceding DCEU movies, it had heart and a theme that many Catholics are familiar with: the importance of family and the battle of sin versus virtue.

Also, I’m calling it now: Even though this movie takes a lot of cues from Tom Hanks’s Big, I can already see this movie becoming the Die Hard of the DCEU: An action-packed, somewhat family friendly movie that people will watch as part of their Christmas movie marathon alongside Gremlins and Home Alone.

There’s gonna be spoilers from here on out, so if you just want my two cents, I will say that I highly recommend families see this movie. Just keep in mind that kids younger than, say, 10, might pick up on the bad language and have nightmares for weeks. The director has a background in horror movies and it really shows at times. You have been warned!

Yes, this movie does take place during the Christmas season, which calls into mind the main theme of family. Billy Batson’s main goal throughout the movie is finding his birth mother after the two of them got separated at a carnival. At the same time, he cuts himself off from really connecting with any foster family, including the group home he gets placed into. He would rather look out for number one because to him, as long as he has his mom, he won’t need anything else.

The foster family is awesome, even if I kinda wish they had more screen time so that the bond Billy develops is more believable. The main sibling that Billy connects with is Freddie, the genre-savvy superhero fanboy with a disability. He walks with a modern day crutch a la Tiny Tim. The good news is that he’s not a fragile flower the way Tiny Tim was. Instead, he helps Billy out with figuring out all the Shazam powers.

In the villain corner, we have Dr. Thaddeus Sivana. A lot of critics are saying that his character is unfortunately lacking in depth and I will agree that he doesn’t get any parallel journey the way, say, Killmonger did in Black Panther or even a personal connection with Billy other than knowing the power-granting wizard. However, Dr. Sivana does act as a foil to Billy in a thematic sense. Billy is given the powers of Shazam because he has a pure heart underneath his standoffish demeanor. Also, while Shazam is seen as a hero for the people, Dr. Sivana is literally possessed by the Seven Deadly Sins.

I mentioned before that the director’s background in horror films is alluded to in the movie. The Seven Deadly Sin demons are mostly where it shows. Even though these monsters are CGI and don’t get a lot of screentime, their grotesque, gargoyle-like appearances are the stuff of nightmares.

One thing that gets pointed out towards the third act of the movie is that Dr. Sivana’s primary demon, the one he never lets out, is Envy. Dr. Sivana’s envy is more than just a green-eyed monster. He hates the success of his abusive father and the fact that Billy got the wizard’s powers and seeks their ruin.

The “lively virtue” that combats envy (according to Catholic tradition) is kindness. Billy doesn’t start out as being a kind person all the time. But he’s kind when the situation calls for it, when it matters most. Also, Billy is surrounded by kindness in the form of his foster family. The foster parents unconditionally love him. They’ll discipline him for acting out, but at the same time, they always give him a seat at the dinner table. The siblings also help Billy find his mom.

It only makes sense that the way these demons are defeated is through Billy and his foster siblings. My favorite part of the movie was when Billy shared the wizard’s powers with his family because he trusts them enough to know they can help him fight. It was an awesome sight to see Freddy, Mary, Eugene, and Darla do battle with all the Seven Deadly Sins.

By the end of the movie, kindness wins over envy and Billy finally finds a sense of belonging that he used to push away. It cannot be any more “Christmas” than that aside from having a Nativity play!

14 Reasons Why You Should Watch Signed, Sealed, Delivered

 

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I’ve talked about this show on my blog before a bit, but for those who are new, Signed, Sealed, Delivered started out as a series on Hallmark Channel before becoming a series of movies on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries. I fell in love with this series back when it came out in 2014, but I’ve lost touch due to the network jump because cable is expensive and it’s unfortunately not free to stream anywhere.

There are a few times in the year when I really crave the cheesy Hallmark channel stuff. Two of these occasions are the Christmas season and Valentine’s Day. So, with Valentine’s Day coming up this week and in anticipation for whatever new installments this series gets this year, I want to talk about 14 reasons why you should start binging Signed, Sealed, Delivered for your romantic comedy fix.

 

Reason #1: This is a genuinely family-friendly series.

I honestly feel like I can recommend this show to anyone who’s willing to give it a chance. The premise is high-concept, but it’s also something anyone can relate to: a group of people who make sure that everyone can communicate what they really want to say to each other. Everyone can relate to the struggle of figuring out what to say or the many, many ways that we can misunderstand each other. And yet, when we finally get the words out, there’s a feeling of relief.

Some of the stories revolve around getting a sense of closure to things while others center on forgiveness, which are all things we have to learn. The plots of every episode and movie are all things we can relate to. As someone who’s inundated with commercials about shows centering on soap opera drama and “first world problems,” Signed, Sealed, Delivered is much easier to follow and really makes you believe in the characters and the things they go through, which leads me to reason number 2.

 

Reason #2: The Characters

The main characters (Oliver, Shane, Rita, and Norman) are all quirky in their own way, but never in a way that comes off as annoying. Instead, they’re all endearing and sweet and you really feel for them. Oliver is a man who likes to cling onto the past and doesn’t like technology, but he’s also someone who’s compassionate. He’s a man of integrity without having any toxicity. In short, he is a genuine gentleman who has problems spitting out how he feels verbally. It’s quite a contrast from Eric Maibus’s more famous role in Ugly Betty.

Shane is the skeptical tech-lover who really helps the group in finding the things they need in order to get the job done. However, she has a lot of emotional baggage and hates the idea of being vulnerable. I can relate to Shane’s fears of falling in love. After being abandoned by her father and having a relationship with a man who constantly kept secrets from her, it’s no wonder she is thrown off guard when she has to work with people who are authentic, honest, and just a bit quirky.

Rita reminds me a lot of myself. She’s a shy, awkward, bookish woman who has photographic memory and is a hopeless romantic at heart. She’s also drop-dead gorgeous, but prefers rocking the librarian look with an owl motif. There was a subplot in the series of her writing an extremely long romance novel and she pours herself into it in a way a lot of amateur writers can relate to. She also gets into the world of beauty pageants and it’s clear that her heart is what really makes her beautiful.

It’s no wonder that Norman Dorman, another quirky postal worker, is head over heels for her. Norman was a foster child who loves collecting stamps, knows the history of almost everything, and has a lot of cousins who often contribute to the plot of the episode or movie. Norman is still trying to figure out his life and his identity along with his relationship with Rita. I love how he makes friends with almost everyone and how easily people open up to him. In spite of his awkwardness, he’s a genuine, honest soul.

 

Reason #3: The Show is Political Without Taking Sides

I have watched way too many shows that talk about their political beliefs with all the subtlety of an Ayn Rand novel. It’s my personal belief that when it comes to politics, fiction needs to be a lot more subtle and make people ask questions instead of just telling the audience what they should believe in. Signed, Sealed, Delivered takes a different approach by talking about issues we can pretty much all agree with. I’m very certain that both sides of the aisle can relate to making sure all our soldiers are taken care of and adjust to getting home from war in the best way possible. The show emphasizes a lot of things on a personal level, which makes the politics a lot more believable because we can empathize with all the characters.

 

Reason #4: The Morals are Clear Without Being Preachy

A long, long time ago, I remember watching Touched by an Angel back when they syndicated the show. It was by no means a perfect show, but I still liked it a lot. One criticism that the show got, though, was, well, how preachy it was. Similar to the politics, Signed, Sealed, Delivered helps us understand the morals of every episode and movie without feeling heavy handed because they show the morals through an emotional story arc or experiences that feel relatable.

Since the main characters’ job is to basically deliver mail that, for one reason or another, didn’t get to its destination in time, one thing we learn throughout the show and the movies is that timing is a funny thing. Whatever mistakes we make in the past can be repaired if given the right thought and consideration.

One of my favorite examples is from the episode “Dark Of Night” which teaches about the importance of forgiveness. The POstables stop a man from going to extreme means for the sake of revenge, saving three lives in the process. The moment is intense, but what happens afterwards is a huge sigh of relief and leads to the team earning the highest honor: The Dark of Night Award. The morals play out in a way that makes us really hope for the best outcome possible.

 

Reason #5: The Uplifting Mood

Even though a lot of drama happens in this series, there’s usually a happy ending and these endings always feel earned. Every ending progresses the character arc for the main characters in some way. They’re always moving forward in their lives, but in a way that feels natural. Sure there are some cliffhanger endings, but they never feel as frustrating because there’s still that hope that everything will work out for the best.

In a world where it seems like some people are just waiting for the apocalypse to happen, Signed Sealed Delivered reminds us what authentic hope looks like in a scene where Norman talks to his grandmother about a dark time in his life:
“When I finally gave up, I laid down on the ground, and that’s when I saw it… a sliver of light. I hadn’t noticed it before. That’s when I knew everything was gonna be okay… I like coming down here. It reminds me that, no matter how dark it gets, light will always find a way in.” 

“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” (Romans 8:24-25)

 

Reason #6: The Wonderful Guest Stars

Not only do we get cameos from former Touched by an Angel cast members Della Reese and Valerie Bertinelli, but we also have guest stars from Broadway and classic television. Valerie Harper, for example, is the enthusiastic supervisor who pursues her dream of being in theater. Carol Burnett is perfectly cast as Norman’s grandmother. Happy Days actress Marion Ross and Melrose Place actor Rob Estes guest star in the Christmas special. Fans of the M.A.S.H. spinoff Trapper John, M.D. will recognize Gregory Harrison in later SSD movies in a very surprising, but wonderful role.

I’m pretty sure the #POstables community can name many more awesome guest stars, but it’s definitely fun to watch just to see who might pop in.

 

Reason #7: The #POstables community

To quote Melinda May from Agents of SHIELD, the #POstables on Twitter and Facebook are a small, but active fanbase, especially when you consider that it doesn’t get much hype compared to When Calls The Heart or The Good Witch. When I got back into the series during Christmastime last year, I tweeted about it and my Twitter notifications blew up like crazy! Everyone is loving and supportive of each other and they helped me catch up on everything I missed.

On top of that, the cast of Signed, Sealed, Delivered interacts with the fandom on Twitter. I mentioned Crystal Lowe (who plays Rita) on one of my Tweets and she liked it! I can literally only name one or two other fandoms where the celebs really notice their fans like this.

 

Reason #8: The Music

Aside from the title song from Stevie Wonder, this series used to have a wonderful theme song:

 

Most fans will instantly recall Billy Joel’s “And So It Goes” as the background music for Shane and Oliver’s dance in the series. The YouTube channel Alameda and Downing has collected the score from every episode and movie in this series. The music always fits whatever is going on.

 

Reason #9: It Pays Attention To The Little Things

Before I watched this series, I had no idea that there was a National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C. This show makes me want to see that place for myself. And that’s only one example of how this show makes small things feel important. One episode centers on getting a child’s letter to his grandmother and it sounds so silly, but that letter becomes important in the context of an ongoing investigation and a criminal who’s still at large.

In all honesty, the whole premise of the show is about paying attention to the little things. This show makes everything from a book of collectible stamps to a bottle of Yoo-Hoo feel important. And the characters aren’t flashy or cosmopolitan, but they still feel as real to us as our actual postal workers.

 

Reason #10: It Inspires Old-Fashioned Letter Writing

This series is honestly made for the Hallmark brand because it emphasizes the importance and beauty of written communication. Letters or lack thereof can become a legacy. (Just ask anyone who’s frustrated at the fact that Jane Austen’s sister burned a lot of her letters or listen to “Burn” from Hamilton sometime.) The written word is a powerful thing, as any author would know, and these words on paper cause so many things to happen and for some reason, words that are actually written feel more important and personal than text messages and emails.

Have I mentioned that I am just ecstatic that there will be more movies to come this year?

 

Reason #11: The Realism of the Relationships

Communication issues in relationships is a common theme in Signed Sealed Delivered. And as contrived as some of the misunderstandings can be, I think we can all relate to the problems our POstables have when it comes to communicating with each other. Real relationships take a lot of work and even though I don’t agree with the show’s stance on “one true love” and “soul mates,” I do believe in the importance of setting boundaries and being clear on where you stand.

Shane, Oliver, Norman, and Rita all have problems with communicating and their struggle to make sure everyone understands each other is honestly one of the most believable things about this show. (It’s also one I relate to because I have autism and communication is very important to me.)

 

Reason #12: Respecting the Dignity of Every Person

One episode that stands out to me is “The Future Me,” which features two young actors who have Down Syndrome. Even though the characters are teens who are almost adults, it’s a real struggle for their parents to get their heads around the idea that they want to marry. But thankfully, these two young adults get their happy ending because it’s clear that they can take care of themselves and each other. They see each other as people, even with the extra chromosomes.

Norman connects with all sorts of people throughout the series, such as an old woman who bequeathed him her stamp collection and in the movie Truth Be Told, he connects with a young girl named Phoebe, who gets bullied because she’s still waiting on her military mother. He gives Phoebe advice on how to deal with the bullies and helps her get a sense of closure. The best part is that these people don’t see Norman as a “weirdo” like some might label him to be.

It’s true that these characters may come off as weird to some, but every character feels like a genuine real person, at least to me. Even the slightly ditzy postal worker Hazel and the very grandiose, flamboyant Ramon. And I love that everyone is treated with the respect and dignity every human being should be given.

 

Reason #13: How They Define Themselves

Oliver, Shane, Norman, and Rita all struggle with identity issues to some extent. They all have family issues, but have also created a “found family” unit with each other. Without spoiling the series or the movies, they all learn that they can find stability in knowing who they are and value those who love them as they are. What they do is important and the stuff they do is important, but we wouldn’t love them if they were any different. Who they are as people matters.

 

Reason #14: The Bigger Picture

Much like Touched By An AngelSigned Sealed Delivered reminds us that we put our faith in things we don’t see all the time and that for some reason, even when we receive something that was a day or five years “late,” the timing is somehow still perfect. Even if you’re not someone who believes in God, there’s this intangible factor in the show that really makes you believe that everything happens for a reason and that there are stranger things between heaven and earth that are beyond what we can comprehend.