Category Archives: television

Close Out 2021 With a Good Movie

By Nikhita Datar

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3 minute read]

It’s weird to think that very shortly, 2021 will be coming to a close. With that being said, Hollywood is releasing what seem to be a couple of hopeful major award-grabbing movies. Here’s what films to look forward to for the rest of the year, which you can watch over winter break in preparation for awards season:

  1. Dune 
Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

Based off of a novel written in 1965 by Frank Herbert, this narrative brings together all of the elements of film that we love to see on the big screen: a star-studded ensemble cast (Timothee Chalamet, Zendaya, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, and Oscar Isaac), innovative costume design, a hard-hitting soundtrack (composed by Hans Zimmer), and intricate visual design that is attributed to director Denis Villeneuve. I would recommend this movie with a warning: it’s definitely not for everyone. Not much background is explained in the film, so if you haven’t previously watched David Lynch’s adaptation of the book or read the novel itself, you may have a more difficult time understanding the plot. With minimal dialogue and more focus on the sound/visual elements, it might feel slow to some. 

  1. Eternals

The movie industry’s biggest franchise is finally gracing us with another highly-anticipated film with Marvel movie Eternals. Similar to Dune, the ensemble cast is filled with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. Including Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Salma Hayek, Kit Harington, and Gemma Chan, and directed by recent Academy Award winner Chloe Zhao, this film is said to be different from anything that Marvel has ever released before. If you like larger-than-life stories, then this is the perfect fit for you. 

  1. Spencer
Photo by Tim Alex on Unsplash

If you’re a fan of Netflix’s The Crown, then this movie is the perfect match for you. With Kristen Stewart in the titular role, this story named after Princess Diana’s maiden name unpacks the Christmas festivities at Queen Elizabeth II’s Sandringham Estate leading up to the divorce between Diana and Prince Charles. Directed by Pablo Larraín, who also made Jackie, this film is predicted to make Stewart a potential Oscar candidate from the looks of the trailer itself.  If you’re a history buff or simply want to know more about the beloved Princess Di, then Spencer is the movie to watch. 

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Why You Should Start Watching Survivor

By Jonah Vroegop

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3.5 minute read]

When one sits down to watch the hit reality series Survivor, they’re in for countless hours of entertainment, drama, and an eye-opening look at an American social experiment. This is how it works – a group of about 16 to 20 people sets off to an island with only basic survival supplies and is then split into two tribes. These two teams compete against each other in frequent challenges to earn creature comforts or immunity and to avoid being eliminated. After each challenge, the losing team must vote for one of their members to be sent off the island and removed from the game. These eliminations happen until there is one final “survivor” who takes home the one million dollar prize. In theory, the premise of the show is simple. However, I’ve learned that there are many more moving parts to the game itself. The contestants protect themselves from elimination by forming alliances within their tribe and strategically eliminating other players who they believe could slow them down or pose a threat to them later on.

Photo by Chor Tsang on Unsplash

In the first season especially, there was a heavy emphasis on survival. The contestants were made to hunt and fish, gather food from the jungle, and cook only over the fires they managed to build. Many players used their fishing and hunting skills to gain the favor of others and therefore avoid elimination. Due to the lack of food and other resources, weakness and hunger can later put tribes at a disadvantage. Although the characters face harsh survival conditions, I like how it forces them to be more strategic about who they vote off and how they do it. In the later seasons, the aspect of survival is less relevant and the show is more focused on the complex elimination challenges and unique contestant personalities.

Photo by Julian Hanslmaier on Unsplash

The tribes themselves also influence the flow of the show heavily. Through the show’s 40 seasons, there have been such divisions as “White Collar vs. Blue Collar”, “Gen X vs Millennials”, and “All Stars”, in which some well-known players come back from previous seasons. Some tribe divisions are fair and others are less so, thus influencing the order of eliminations and increasing the tensions between teams.

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Modern Family: Rewatching 2009 in 2021

By Jack Schwartz

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3.5 minute read]

It’s no secret that when the pandemic forced us to spend more time indoors, many people quickly turned to streaming TV shows and movies to keep themselves entertained. Unsurprisingly, streaming giants like Netflix boasted huge increases in usage in 2020. Increasing screen time is an experience that I would say is nearly universal at this time. Shows that were released on Netflix last March, such as Tiger King, quickly became trending topics. Suddenly, Joe Exotic was everywhere, and everyone was talking about his zoo full of big cats. As I thought about how to carry out my first session as a Conversation Partner, I reflected on how television has given people of all different backgrounds common topics and themes to discuss, especially over the past year. Of course, students in the United States have rather different streaming options than students studying in China. If you take the time to compare streaming platforms, however, identifying pieces of media that are accessible to people in multiple countries is definitely a possibility.

Of the American TV shows accessible to both me (in Los Angeles) and one of the students participating in the Conversation Partner program (in Beijing), Modern Family stands out as a great choice. The ABC sitcom, set in a Los Angeles suburb documents three very different couples and their families. Many of the relationships between these families were rather tense in the pilot episode, and the show revolves around their growth and increasing connectedness. Rewatching the 2009 pilot episode of the show in 2021 was quite interesting, as the qualities that once made the families stand out have since become great topics of conversation.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash


 Take, for instance, husbands Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cameron (Eric Stonestreet), who in the pilot episode are nervous to reveal their adopted daughter to the rest of the family. This representation in a broadcast network was quite groundbreaking in 2009. Rewatching the pilot episode in 2021 provides an opportunity for having an open conversation about the shifting cultural attitudes towards adoption by same-sex couples and the advancement of LGBTQ+ rights in general. 


 Another relationship that sparks conversations is the one between Gloria (Sofía Vergara) and Jay (Ed O’Neill). Gloria is an immigrant from Colombia and is over 20 years younger than her 63-year-old husband. The pair are far from the average relationship one might have expected to see on-screen in 2009. Gloria’s relationship with the rest of Jay’s family is layered with jokes at her expense about her accent and language barrier in the pilot. In later episodes, she has more open and honest conversations with members of the family about her experience as an immigrant and the challenges posed by not being a native English speaker. Seeing the rest of the family’s growth, compassion, and understanding is a heartwarming component of the show’s trajectory.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Overall, Modern Family is a great television show choice because it succinctly captures shifting American norms and values throughout the 2010s. On a wider level, rewatching the first season has revealed to me how valuable American media can be in sparking conversations with other students. Although students participating in the program might be located all throughout the world due to online learning and COVID-19, identifying which shows are licensed for streaming in their respective countries proves immensely beneficial. If you have a chance, try streaming Modern Family or another TV show and ask Conversation Leaders if they’ve seen these shows!

Featured Image by Jose Rago on Unsplash

Jack is a senior earning an M.S. in Applied Economics and Econometrics through the progressive degree program. Born and raised in Washington, DC, he’s loved getting to spend the last few years in Los Angeles and has driven across the United States five times. From scuba diving to writing movie reviews for the school newspaper, he tries to take advantage of everything Southern California has to offer. He studied abroad in Madrid last spring and is always looking to improve his Spanish.