Geeking Out – Community

Dear Erin,

Okay, by “next week” I obviously meant “two weeks from now,” but that’s only because more important things intervened in both of our lives between then and now. (Note to readers: Not our story to share, so I’ll leave it there, vague as it is.)

This is the second-to-last week of the Summer Series for me, and the last entry on what might in any way be called a “cult classic.” Next week will be about as mainstream as you can go. (Think about that for a week, and see if you can guess what I’ll be writing on!) But this week, I share my love for something so niche (apparently) that it got cancelled several times, and a considerable piece of its legacy is the constant labeling of the audience as both “devoted” and “small.”


An NBC sitcom – sort of – about a diverse group of people becoming friends and finding second chances in a community college. But of course as we now know, it was really about paintball, pop culture references, and behind-the-scenes drama. At least those are what it will be remembered for.

Community premiered in the fall of the year I started teaching at a community college, and I started watching only in order to snark at how wrong this silly network sitcom was going to get the college realities. As I remembered it, the pilot was a little too neat, the first episodes generic, and then it got good around Halloween. I have no idea why I thought I had kept watching that long if it wasn’t all that great.

I just rewatched the pilot again, and now I know why I kept watching: it’s because most of the elements of what Community would become were there from the beginning. The eventual weirdness was certainly toned down, but it had the arch, clever dialogue; certain ridiculous elements (like agreeing to trade a Lexus for a semester’s worth of test answers); and the good-heartedness that provided a foundation for the group of main characters.

The show’s presence on Facebook recently did a Top 5 episode countdown, which saves me some trouble (all of these are good; maybe not my top 5, but good):

  1. Remedial Chaos Theory – the group is at a party and rolls a die to see who has to go get a pizza from the delivery person at the front door; depending on which number comes up, reality changes. Incredibly inventive and clever in a Groundhog Day kind of way.
  2. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons – the group plays d&d with a suicidal student to make him feel appreciated. They take it way too seriously but accomplish their mission. Impressive for how complex a fantasy world is created in the mind of the viewer just through dialogue.
  3. Modern Warfare – “the paintball episode” where reality was thrown out the window and all the stops pulled out. Epic fun considering it’s taking place on a community college campus.
  4. Pillows and Blankets- this one features the world’s biggest pillow and blanket forts, and their associated communities (North and South), which are at war with one another. Think Ken Burns’s The Civil War. Don’t really remember this one well, to be honest, but I do remember it being ridiculous.
  5. A Fistful of Paintballs – another paintball episode that was Western themed and just as clever as the first, although it didn’t seem quite so funny since it was no longer unexpected.

I’d also add the epidodes “Epidemiology” (a Halloween party turns into a real-life zombie scenario) and “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas” (the whole episode is done in stop-motion animation).

All good – if you like that kind of thing. If you’ve been following this series, you might have a good idea of what I like, and it’s usually cute, clever, and/or weird. Often all three. Community is just the same, and it really doubles down on the clever and weird fronts, so be warned. You might not want to be a part of that “small but devoted” fan base the show was known for.

Next time, we go mainstream.


Geeking Out – Anime (Well, really Miyazaki movies)

Dear Erin,

Thanks for the last post. I know what you mean about reading what your students are reading – that’s how I came to read Twilight. I don’t know if it made me relate to them more; it certainly made me worry about them more, and it made me very aware of my book snobbery. I could see why it was popular, but I could also see why it was dismissed by so many people as well. (And I didn’t think those people were wrong.)

Let me tell you a little story about my Tuesday. A good friend came over to give me a break from the boys, and I decided to go to the library. I had just finished this book:


and it felt so good to be reading I wanted to keep that feeling going. (By the way, have you read this one? It’s probably for an audience of about 9 or 10. Fun, though.) But I wasn’t sure what to do with my time at the library. I wandered here and there, tried to remember authors I had been thinking of reading (couldn’t); checked the lists I’ve been keeping on my phone for just this time (nothing looked good). And finally, I said to myself, “What were the YA books I know Erin’s read and enjoyed? Because I don’t want anything much more complicated than that, and I trust her judgment.” And after a little googling and a little wracking my brain, I remembered a couple of series.

But the library didn’t have either of them, so I ended up getting kind of a random assortment and left. Went to get lunch, sat down and read the first chapter of Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana. And then I read your post.

Talk about timing. But at least I now have the list for the next time I get to the library!

Anyway, you mentioned on Tuesday that a lot of the books on that list have “strong female leads.” Did you know that that’s one of the identifiers Netflix has assigned to our taste in movies? And the suggestions they gave to build on that identifier used to include the movies of Hayao Miyazaki.

Ok, so I know I’ve written about my love for Miyazaki on this blog before here and here*, and more broadly about similar anime here, but it’s been awhile, and there’s no denying that this is something I really do geek out about. Not all anime, of course: As I experience it, it’s really more of a stylistic choice than a genre, and plenty of stories are included under this umbrella that have no relevance to my interests. But for those that do, the style often adds a layer I enjoy – usually a layer of the fantastical or whimsical.

Looking back over this series, it seems I’m a fan of the non-naturalistic. I like a train driving through an ocean (Spirited Away)


and little forest spirits whose heads click around like clocks (Princess Mononoke)


and gangly steampunk gardening robots (Castle in the Sky).


You know, things that would be difficult to do well in a live action movie but that fit right in to an animated movie and have personality in spades because they’ve been created and hand drawn.

I suspect next week’s entry won’t disprove this trend.

*Those posts go into significantly more detail about this topic.

Geeking Out – YA Books…

Dear Kristen,

I’m sorry I stole HP from you….

Or at least a little sorry. In my defense, our likes are so similar that it was bound to happen. Except, I think, for this next one.  I’m pretty sure I’m alone in this.

YA Books – specifically those in the Fantasy/Science Fiction genre.

I feel like this needs an explanation.  Because I’m 35, which is not “Young Adult” and so there are probably those out there that are like…”huh? Did you not grow up or mature in the last 20+ years?”

I know, I know.  Sometimes when I put these books on hold, I’m a little embarrassed to take them to the librarian to check out.  Its not like I can plead, “Oh, I’m getting this for my daughter,” since she’s next to me…and 5 years old and only wants to read Mo Willems.


But trust me, I got into these for very logical reasons.

#1 – I taught middle and high school for 9 years, and some of my students were avid, precocious readers and invested their reading time in certain books that I wasn’t so sure about.  Were they okay?  Were they appropriate for them to read?  (It was the same argument that teachers originally had about Harry Potter books, too.)  So, in the interest of wanting to both know the answer to my questions and have a chance to share something with the students I cared so much about, I read the books they read.  And I liked some of them.

#2 – There are books that are written for an adult audience that have been recommended to me, are national best sellers, and have surprised me with X-rated scenes.  I’m not talking about the kind of book where its expected – I avoid those.  I’m talking about ones that you are reading and enjoying and then WHAM!  The author went there – and I feel dirty.  So I put those books aside and look for something that is more PG-13 but still entertaining and possibly even sophisticated in its story telling ability.  So…YA fantasy/science fiction.

See?  Completely logical!

So here, I’m going to share some series that I enjoyed, would recommend to others and got a little geeky over.  Geeky like, I put the whole series on hold after reading the first chapter of the first book.  Geeky like, I obsessively checked to see if the library had ordered the newest book in the series yet to be released so that I could be the first in our county to read it. Yup. Geeky.

  • The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins – Yes, everyone and their mother know about this, but it really was very fun.


  • The Divergent Series, by Veronica Roth – Same as above.  Roth is coming out with a new series next year, so I’m interested in checking that out, too.


  • The Lunar Chronicles, by Marissa Meyer – Fairytales turned into science fiction novels.  It was clever and engaging and overall very fun!


  • Ruby Red, by Kerstin Gier – If Matt had seen the cover of the book with the girl on it, we would never have checked out the audio book.  But he saw a different one, so we did.  This is a time traveling series that was pretty creative.  It also helped that a British woman narrated the book and that always makes a book extra awesome!


  • Throne of Glass, by Sarah Maas – I suggest this with the disclaimer that it is rated R, but if you like magic, assassins, etc. and can take some pretty violent scenes and some language, then you might like this!  But, you’ve just been warned.


There are definitely others that were pretty fun, easy to read, and enjoyable for adults who need a break from…adult fiction…but these were the ones I enjoyed the most.  And I realize they all feature strong female leads, many that have a warrior bent.  I don’t feel like I’m type-casting myself, more just stating where YA fantasy/science fiction books have settled of recent.

I do feel like I need to now write about adult fiction books that I’ve liked to show I have some sophistication…but I will refrain.  Mainly because I already wrote about geeking out over Jane Austen – and she is the epitome of sophistication.


Geeking Out – A Time Out

Dear Erin,

I apologize for missing last week. To be honest, though, you stole my geekdom. You were timely, too, since Harry Potter and the Cursed Child came out this past weekend. Did you get it already? Have you finished it yet?

I didn’t, and so, naturally, I haven’t. I think the only Harry Potter I pre-ordered and bought at a midnight release was the last one, and that was because we were about to leave on vacation – like, the next day – so I had to get it before we left. And then I read it aloud to Charles in the car all the way up to the place we were staying in North Carolina.

And he laughed at me for getting emotional when Dobby died (Oh, spoiler), because the man is dead inside.


Speaking of trips, Captain Wiggles and I went on a quick trip over the weekend, and it’s taken me all week to recover. We flew out to Ohio for the wedding of a college friend. I enjoyed catching up with old friends and sharing in this woman’s joy. And the Captain enjoyed being held and made much of all weekend, without having to share attention with a big brother. But having both boys again this week slowed the recovery from jet lag, and I’ve just been persevering between sleeps this week. Going to the zoo yesterday helped


because I could stand still for a bit while he was entertained, and it wasn’t by a screen, so I didn’t have the tantrum fallout that accompanies screen time.

So, I have a few more things to write about in our series – despite poaching that may happen by unnamed sisters – but today all I can summon enthusiasm for is a fantasy of six hours or so of alone time, in which I might sleep for a few hours, read the new Harry Potter book, even fold some laundry or do some knitting. Without the two month old screaming as soon as he realizes he’s hungry or bored. And without the two year old climbing all over me, insisting I do what he wants (read the blue book, look at pictures of mini coopers in the water, write letters on his speak and spell toy, watch “Mickey [Mouse club]House”), and screaming and flailing when I refuse because I need to work or eat or get dressed.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go deal with the screaming.

Enjoy your weekend!