Category Archives: television

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.

Travel Through Television

By Connor Brown

Edited by Natalie Grace Sipula

[3.5 minute read]

Over the past year, I’ve spent almost all of my time at home (as most people have), doing my part to flatten the curve and stop the spread of Covid-19 by doing absolutely nothing. Well, not exactly nothing, as I’ve filled the time with a number of TV shows and films I’d been meaning to watch but had previously not had time for. The pandemic certainly freed some time up for me to catch up on these shows. Watching a show or movie can be more than just mindless entertainment; it can be an informative or even educational experience, especially if you watch the right things. By watching American classics and international standouts, I believe my quarantine binge-watching habits have been more productive than one might expect.

With travel being impossible, I’ve scratched the itch to go abroad by watching shows and movies that take place in Mexico and Italy. I speak Spanish, but I know that in order to maintain fluency in a language, practice is essential. As such, I began watching Netflix’s Club de Cuervos, a show about a soccer team in a small town outside of Mexico City. It was not only highly entertaining (I enjoyed it so much I watched the spinoff series it produced), but it also helped me maintain my ear for the language. The show even improved my understanding of the Central Mexican dialect and a variety of accents which are quite prevalent in Los Angeles.

Photo by Ruben Leija on Unsplash

I’ve also been learning Italian at USC for the past couple of years, and by watching a number of classic Italian films on Kanopy, a streaming service for classic and indie films (which all USC students have access to), I’ve bettered my understanding of the language while watching some of the most artistic films ever made. Here’s a tip: if you’re watching a show in a foreign language you’re trying to learn, turn on the subtitles in the foreign language. For me, Spanish and Italian are much easier to understand when I have subtitles on and can read along. If you’re working on your English, try using English subtitles and the dialogue should be easier to understand.

Photo by Tech Daily on Unsplash

Travel needn’t take place abroad as traveling through time may arguably be even more exciting. I was quite young when AMC’s Mad Men and HBO’s The Wire first began airing, and having heard nothing but good things about the shows, I’ve always wanted to watch them. Quarantine provided the time for that. Mad Men is set in 1960s Manhattan. The title is derived from the show’s main focus, which is the advertising industry along Madison Avenue. It’s an excellent period piece, and I enjoyed all seven seasons. It helped pass the time in the early days of lockdown. It also provides fascinating insight into 1960s America and the professional and business world. The show includes important examinations of misogyny and sexism through the story arc of Peggy Olson, one of the main characters and a fan favorite, as well as the social and racial justice movements of the 1960s. It also provides revealing vignettes of American culture. It’s not only an excellent show, with great shots and suave styles, but an interesting look into American history.

Photo by Unseen Histories on Unsplash

The Wire, a Baltimore-based crime drama, is also quite insightful. I just wrapped up the first season and it very deftly handles controversial subjects such as the criminal justice system, drug trade, racial tensions, and corruption. It shows the perspectives of all parties involved, giving the audience the space to receive the information and interpret it on their own. It also has some of the best scene transitions I’ve ever seen, and I eagerly look forward to watching the remaining four seasons. While the show was made in the early and mid-2000s, the topics it covers are still wholly relevant today.

These shows are worth watching, especially if you are an international student that wants to gain a better understanding of American culture, language, and history, just as I learned by watching shows from Mexico and Italy. These shows also help pass the time, because even though schoolwork is a large load on all of our plates, there still isn’t much to do besides staying home, staying safe, and watching shows.

Featured Image by Nicolas J Leclercq on Unsplash

Connor is a junior majoring in History and Italian at the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts, and Sciences. Born and raised in California, in Los Angeles and the SF Bay Area, he has long been interested in experiencing diverse cultures and learning new languages. He is fluent in Spanish and proficient in Italian, drawn to both by his love of history and cuisine. He enjoys adventuring in both the urban and natural landscapes of California, as well as playing and listening to music, and is always happy to recommend the best taco spot to eat at, beach to walk along, or album to listen to. He is a huge sports fan and loves to chat about everything from the Lakers to soccer.

USC Student voices on connecting in uncertain times

By Megan Tran, Sarah Ta, Sarah Selke, and Rachel Priebe

[13 minute read]

Editor’s Note

As the Covid-19 pandemic has continued through the spring semester, wrapping up a year at USC which no one could have foreseen, many of us are left feeling disconnected from our friends and peers who we socialized with regularly before the pandemic. This can be a very isolating feeling, despite the fact that most people are experiencing these exact circumstances at the present moment. Below, ALI leaders have shared their own advice and experiences on how to stay connected with your friends and make your online interactions a bit more entertaining!

-Natalie Grace Sipula, Editor

FUN WAYS TO CONNECT WITH FRIENDS VIRTUALLY

By Megan Tran

The Covid-19 pandemic has really pushed all of us to think creatively when it comes to activities we can do safely with friends and family. Since we may not be able to see each other in person, it’s good to come up with alternative activities to do online to keep our friendships and relationships strong. These activities allow us to still stay in touch with our loved ones from the safety and comfort of our homes. Making the effort to connect with people is extremely crucial in a time like this in order to combat the feelings of loneliness that quarantine can bring about. I have listed some of my favorite activities for remaining connected virtually below!

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Game Pigeon– These games on iMessage used to be all the hype when they first came out but have since been long forgotten. I’ve recently started playing them with my friends and realized I had forgotten how much fun they are! Game Pigeon has a wide variety of games to choose from so you can find the perfect one to play either against one opponent or with a group of friends. Anyone who has access to iMessage is able to play. Cup Pong, Crazy 8, and Sea Battle are just a few of my favorite games!

Virtual Movie Nights– One of the things that I miss the most about pre-Covid life is being able to go to the movie theater. But now there are ways to stream and watch movies with your friends without having to be in the same room! With websites like Netflix Party, you can have watch parties and long-distance movie nights where you’ll be able to synchronize video playback and utilize the chat rooms to share your reactions. I think a current must-see TV show is Queen’s Gambit.

Virtual Escape Rooms– This is something I haven’t personally tried yet, but I’ve been wanting to because it seems so fun! I used to love doing in-person escape rooms with my friends as a fun way to test our teamwork and problem-solving skills. This virtual activity would be best to do with a large group of people to maximize your chances of winning. They come in many different themed adventures, like Hogwarts or bank heist, so it’s easy to find one that everyone will be interested in.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

Zoom Happy Hour- This one is for those of us who are 21 and older only! With the majority of bars closed, most of us miss being able to go out and get drinks with friends on a Friday night. But who says you still can’t? You could host a Happy Hour on Zoom with friends and spice things up by playing a fun drinking game.

Collaborative Playlists– Music is something that always brings people together. Even though we can’t go to concerts or music festivals right now, we can still share our love of music with one another! Collaborative playlists on Spotify are a good way to keep in touch with others. My friends and I have a Spotify playlist where we each add our favorite song for that week, and after a couple of months, we already have such a long and diverse list of songs!

HOW TO STAY CONNECTED DURING QUARANTINE

By Sarah Ta

When self-isolation was first mandated back in March, no one expected that it would continue for the rest of the year. Other parts of the country started opening back up at various times, with varying degrees of success, but Los Angeles county has remained diligent in its efforts to not reopen sooner than necessary to prevent an outbreak. Like many others, I have stayed at home as much as possible to do my part in protecting those who are immunocompromised, and while we all know that it was the right thing to do, it doesn’t make missing our family and friends hurt any less. As the year went on, I found new ways to connect with my loved ones without jeopardizing anyone’s health. Reaching out to friends through social media is still by far the easiest and most straightforward method, but if you’re looking for some new ways, here are a few of my personal favorite methods I’ve been using for the past few months! 

Join an Organization on Campus– This may be a cliche suggestion, but from my personal experience, I can confidently say that joining a cultural organization completely transformed my USC experience. I’ve been a part of the Vietnamese Student Association for two years now, and the community it has given me is irreplaceable. I know that joining an organization virtually is not the same as attending events in-person, but most clubs are still hosting virtual events with their members and would love to have you join them. These events also give you a chance to interact with people outside of a virtual classroom setting. While it can sound exhausting to be in another Zoom call, it’s less like a class and more like a fun group video call. Also, the people who attend virtual club events are also there to meet new people, and once you find the right organization for you, it will feel like you’re hanging out with a large group of friends. 

Photo by Souvik Banerjee on Unsplash

Teleparty (formerly known as Netflix Party)- Like most friend groups, my friends and I love watching movies and shows together as a way to bond or just to relax after a hard week. Quarantine may have prevented us from having physical get-togethers, but it hasn’t stopped us from having virtual ones. Teleparty is an extension that synchronizes video playback so we can easily watch a movie together. It’s completely free, and while it does lack a video call function, that can be solved simply using a separate video calling platform (such as Facetime or Zoom) to chat in real-time while watching the movie. It can support Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, and HBO, so there’s plenty of options available no matter what streaming platform you prefer.

Discord– If you have a large group of friends and struggle to keep all of your group chats organized, this might be the platform for you. Each ‘server’ is organized into ‘channels,’ which allow different conversation topics to be separated. Anyone can create a server, and since a server can only be joined via invite, it can be as private or as public as you want it to be. There is a small learning curve if you’re not used to the layout, but it’s relatively intuitive once you get the hang of it. My favorite part about it is that texting, voice chatting, and video calling is all on one interface, allowing users to easily switch between them with just a few clicks.

Schedule Video Calls– While staying connected is easier than ever, it can also make it harder to actually keep in touch. Reaching out is only a few taps away, but because it’s so accessible, it can be easy to push it off. Before you know it, it’s been months since you’ve had a genuine conversation with the people you care about. Scheduling video calls as you would a regular outing helps carve out space in your busy schedules to sit down and take a minute to catch up. It might seem a little awkward to set up something as simple as a video call, but I can promise you, having it marked into your calendar makes a world of difference. 

Photo by Kate Macate on Unsplash

Send Some Snail Mail– Lastly, if you’re looking for a break from being connected to the internet all day, try writing a physical letter and mailing it to your friends. Receiving a package you ordered online is always something to look forward to, but receiving mail you weren’t expecting is an even better surprise. It’s a more old-fashioned method of staying in touch and definitely a lot slower than shooting someone a simple text, but that only adds to the charm of it, and I can guarantee it’ll brighten the rest of the recipient’s week. 

There are many other ways to stay connected while staying at home, but these five have been my favorite. Wherever you are in the world, I hope these tips can help you feel closer to your loved ones, or at the very least, remind you to reach out and reconnect with friends you might not have spoken to in a while. Best of luck, and let’s all do our part to get through this together. 

DEALING WITH UNCERTAINTIES

By Sarah Selke

When I was younger, I used to hate waking up early to go to school. When my alarm went off, I would try to stay under my covers for as long as I could, but eventually had to rise since every second I lingered in bed was another second wasted. When I wake up now, time is no longer measured in seconds but in weeks. The days fade into one another much the same way we drift into sleep at night. I’m simultaneously surprised by how much time has passed and how little it has in the scope of a season. Perhaps time has always been an erroneous concept, however — we don’t recall things systematically but as asynchronous scenes. We measure things in befores and afters, and perhaps this is the only way we can differentiate the important from the trivial. 

The pandemic is one of those divisive events that exacerbates the arbitrariness of the units we give time. And this is how I say farewell? I ask myself when contemplating the possibility of never returning to campus as a student. Except, to a certain extent, I never did feel as if I had found a home on the grounds that I walked on a near daily basis before. As someone who commuted to USC and therefore didn’t live near campus, it was the bus rides to campus that were the strongest familiarity to me – the only constant from semester to semester.

Photo by Ant Rozetsky on Unsplash

In the face of the future’s uncertainty, I’m reminded of the concept of negative capability. According to the concept’s founder, the English writer John Keats, negative capability is when we are capable of living in doubt and uncertainty without reaching out to facts or reason to justify the actions we take. It’s a mode of thinking that can apply to every stage in one’s life, but especially in moments of transition. You may not be sure of exactly where you’ll be or what you’ll be doing in a few years, but it’s important not to let the unknown intimidate you into avoiding any exploration. After all, many students do not follow a linear path towards a specific career. I’ve had my fair share of doubts and switched plans and come to realize that cutting possibilities out before even trying them is never beneficial. At the same time, I’ve realized that it’s important not to do anything halfway, which can often happen when juggling too many goals at once.

Ultimately, there is no constancy in our lives because nothing ever happens exactly as we expect it to. While I often see every transition as a farewell to something I used to take for granted, I know that ruminating on the past does not lead me anywhere. If you have been struggling with doubts and lack of motivation, I encourage you to set small, tangible goals that may not be inherently useful but once completed will make you feel as if you have accomplished something. I also find channeling any anxieties I have into art – especially music and writing – to be somewhat consoling. If you find yourself fatigued from working too long at a specific task, I highly recommend taking a break to work on something creative to help prevent burnout.

ONLINE FUN DURING THE PANDEMIC

By Rachel Priebe

It goes without saying that the pandemic has been difficult for most of us. With events canceled, online school, and the future being unpredictable, loneliness and stress are feelings shared by most. Fortunately, online events can help give us an escape from boredom, a place to build community, and the opportunity to learn new skills. While USC has many great online events, I’ve also found some other sources that provide a variety of unique activities.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash
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