Give Hugh Laurie a #Chance

Reviews, Tv Series

Well, I binge watched this show that has now been canceled and I am not sure what to do next. I mean, shall I write a petition and ask Hulu.com to pay for another season or something? After all, if I have to tell the truth, I was watching it because Hugh Laurie was playing the part of a doctor, a different one from the one we used to know, not a new House M.D. style, so… maybe, the fact that I was not focusing on the plot that much, should suggest that it was time for the series to have a break. Or maybe not, I don’t know. What do you think?

The Coping Mechanism

In this series Laurie plays Eldon Chance, a forensic neuropsychiatrist from San Francisco, CA who treats his patients in an “alternative” way: he evaluates them from a psychiatric perspective to finally send them to other specialists depending on what he finds out about their lives, their habits and their -of course- mental problems, details that will eventually be passed to the police. Differently than Gregory House, Eldon has a family, although he’s going through divorce, he has a daughter who will get into trouble with the developing of the season, and he has some money issues that will force him to do some stupid things and to get into trouble as well. Father and daughter will eventually find out that they have more in common than what they have been thinking so far.

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Although there is no evidence that Chance was done considering Laurie’s previous works, I can’t help but find similarities in these two characters that are, at the same time, so different. The way Chance makes his reasonings, his mental speeches, the way he processes details, and how he evaluates situations considering all the information he can gather from not only his knowledge but his senses as well, resembles House in a striking way, at least to me. Also, in whatever way you want to put it, some actors can play roles that only fit to their appearance. I will always remember the shock I had when I watched the movie with Robin Williams, One Hour Photo (2005) where, instead of a cool character, he was playing a psychopath molester. No. Nope. No way. Uh, uh. There are actors and actresses who are flexible not only in their art but also in the way they look, and then there are others who simply cannot. Chance seems to fit Laurie’s predisposition to represent smart, wait… wise men, maybe tormented as well, and I believe he was the right fit for this role. (But who am I? I know, I know… ) Chance seems to be not only a well trained doctor, but a person with high values and wisdom. The torment seems to begin when his new patient, Jaclyn, comes into his life with her dark secrets and mental health issues. Moreover, it is not a chance -no pun intended- if this Chance is being accompanied by a sort of strange superhero, D., a huge bear-like man who looks a little isolated, asocial and probably a former mental health patient, who is above all, some sort of martial art skilled fellow, clearly bright but misunderstood, a calculator, with a baggage of knowledge about psychological reactions, combat and tools that make him survive in any case of potential scuffle. Eventually D. will become Chance’s reference point (I’d say a-real-friend) to fix his excruciating situation.

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Chance

Genre: they want to call it crime “drama”, I would go with psychological thriller
Based on: Chance by Kem Nunn
StarringHugh Laurie, Ethan Suplee, Greta Lee, Stefania LaVie Owen, Clarke Peters, Diane Farr
Watched on: HULU
Two Seasons, Twenty Episodes binge watched in: 4 nights

I almost said it all (about the plot) for the first season while trying to depict an image of this character, so please just take note that the second season will focus on Detective Hynes who will blackmail poor Chance and Darius (D.’s real name that will come out eventually) in order to find a serial killer, while they get into even more serious trouble and heavily dangerous situations. In fact, Chance’s life has gotten even more screwed up while he is trying to bring justice to his patients who had to go through abuses and bad management of their conditions under the lead of the authorities. Chance turns into a violent sort of “vigilante” after we found out that violence has maybe always been part of his DNA, because of some mental health issues he may have had as a young man. This features are later mirrored in his daughter who acts in weird violent ways to protect herself, scaring her mother to the point she believes her daughter has inherited some psychological deviation from her father.

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I can’t tell, and actually I can’t even guess, how the series will or would end as it was interrupted after season two, and there is no word on the street about a new season coming anytime soon. For what is worth, it was great to see Hugh Laurie back in the game again and most of all, appreciating his usual way of portraying badass men. Knowledge is power people, never forget this! The more you know the better, oblivion keeps you numb but social, knowing more makes you a little isolated maybe… but again, who am I to judge, so make your choice. Take your chance to grow, if I can say so. Oh and please, give Laurie another chance to play another cool role, I mean do it for yesterday! But first go binge watch the series…

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Remember, remember, the 5th of November

Movies, Reviews

In a couple of days Great Britain will celebrate Guy Fawkes’ Night, a tradition that has not become popular in the United States or better, although it was imported with the thirteen colonies, it died out following the growth and the development of America as a separated unit from the United Kingdom. Differently than Halloween, which has become a deeply felt celebration, the Bonfire Night-being apparently too much related to the Protestant, Puritan celebration of victory over the Catholics- lost importance rapidly until it disappeared.

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Who was Guy Fawkes and why am I even telling his story? Well, I learned about him in second grade, when English started to be taught in Italian primary schools during the Nineties, and my marvelous Teacher Michela introduced us to British English and the culture of the U.K. I remember my first carved pumpkin, my first English pudding, my first Christmas cracker, my first singing of Molly Malone, my first reciting of Auld Lang Syne, my first Tea with milk, my first A’s in English class (lol), my first recital of We Are The World -years after it was released in the US of-ha course-ha, and finally my first Guy Fawkes’ dummy made out of my brother and father’s old clothes.

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His story dates back to 1605, when he and his friends wanted to blow up the House of Parliament in London, but he was caught and imprisoned on November 5th, giving birth to the celebration of the English Thanksgiving for dismantling the Gunpowder Plot. Long story short, what they do overseas (but not here in the US) is to celebrate the 5th of November with fireworks, bonfires, and burning a dummy that looks like Guy Fawkes, while children knock on doors asking for “a penny for the Guy” (yes, this happens not even a week after they went around annoyingly trick or treating for All Hallows‘ Eve). Let’s get to the point now: have you ever watched V for Vendetta? Yes? Good! No? Go watch it NOW!

V for Vendetta

Created by: James McTeigue
Based onV for Vendetta, 1988 – DC Comics by David Lloyd and Alan Moore
StarringNatalie Portman, Hugo Weaving, Stephen Rea, John Hurt
Distributed by: Warner Bros. Pictures

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In a dystopian future ca. 2020, Americans are almost all dead and fascists rule in England. V, a vigilante wearing a Guy Fawkes’ mask, saves a TV reporter, Evey (Natalie Portman) from rape, and forces her to join him not before teaching her something with what I would call harsh but necessary manners. For 12 months, from Guy Fawkes Night’s Eve to the 5th of November of the following year, V “plays games” with Evey in a sort of “Phantom of the Opera style”. But I am not going to spoil the movie so please, watch it and see for yourselves what happens next.

What needs to be said is that the film provides food for thought: “People should not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Basically what I understood from watching it over and over (and again last year after my head shaving madness) is that if you want a revolution, it has to start within yourself in order to have effects on society. People who are the victims of oppression and some kinds of distraction, enforced to live wearing masks, can actually remove them and replace them showing their true self. To remove these masks you have to dedicate yourself, to gain knowledge, to get informed, to turn the lights on and face the shadow of society, but you have to repress and sacrifice part of your social self in order to succeed. Evey’s torturing rituals are painful to watch, but after all that pain there is one big truth that gets revealed to her: “You said you wanted to live without fear. I wish there would have been an easier way, but there wasn’t.” She is at complete peace, without having to rely on someone else’s help, looking for it on the outside because she is has strength within herself. Both V and Evey went through traumas before getting reborn like Phoenixes, burning and raising back again from their ashes. “What was done to me, created me” V says, and no major truth has ever been told.

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My previous studies on Freud may influence my perception of this character, but I found fascinating and tremendously relatable (metaphorically!) that he was imprisoned, used as a lab rat, tortured until he reached a point where he could no longer recognize who he was. He wants revenge and freedom from tyranny detaching himself from what it means to be human, to be a social animal, and he chooses loneliness or better, aloneness over community, sharing, relationships. He has an extremely strong mind, but also a kind heart and a just spirit, and what he does, he does it with a purpose. Today he would be considered a terrorist and a psychopath. Although he is highly intelligent, he does not corresponds to the standards of normality.

Let’s try to look at this man from his characteristics more than from his actions, then. V stands for justice, he wants people to know the truth, to wake up and to pursue freedom from oppression. He sacrifices himself so that people can live in a free world and although he loves Evey, (which is quite understandable) he suppresses his feelings for the greater good. Is there anyone capable of doing something like this as of today? I doubt it. Would we need it? Yes. I mean, would you judge Batman for his actions? No, he’s a hero. Just like V, and sympathizing for him does not mean we are sociopath. Understand? Capish? Very well. Now let’s go watch this movie. Again. After all, it’s a tradition!

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Perception and mental wellness

Reviews, Tv Series

To begin with, why have I used wellness and not health? I will quote what the UNC webpage of Advisory Committee to the Chancellor for Employee Health and Wellness says with regard to this: “According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” So, mental health is the general term to refer to our emotional, psychological, and social …well-being. Mental wellness, as I am calling it here, is yes a synonyms of mental health, but I want to give it a slightly more positive connotation. The way our brain works affects how we think, feel, act and also how we make choices. Mental health is what makes us work properly in our society. Mental wellness, to me, is how we feel and if we feel -fine enough- to work, act, exist …in our society.

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There are several internal and external factors which contribute to a person’s mental wellness, including relationships with friends, loved ones, financial issues, workplace environment, and those that are called “coping behaviors” and skills. I wonder if I am interested in these topics because of my previous studies in psychology, but then I would have to ask why I was interested in psychology in the first place, back in the days. In this case, I would need a couple of years to go through this argument. So, no thank you. What remains though, is the fact that I just needed a word, perception, to be sure I would have binged watched another tv-show. Duh! And yes, the fact that Eric McCormack was the protagonist was a huge incentive because of Will and Grace, that kept me company during my first years at University, many, many years ago. (Oh, and by the way, a brand new season of Will and Grace is now showing on NBC, oh yeah!)

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I am going to introduce the plot of Perception-the series before continuing this digression on mental wellness:

Perception 

Genre: they want to call it “crime drama” …I would add something psychological too, but meh.
Created by: Kenneth Biller, Mike Sussman
StarringEric McCormackRachael Leigh CookKelly RowanArjay SmithLeVar BurtonScott Wolf
Watched on: FOX Italy
Three Seasons, Thirty-nine Episodes watched in: a couple of months.

Dr. Daniel Pierce is a neuropsychiatrist who teaches neuroscience at the (fictional) Chicago Lake Michigan University (CLMU), and his interest in neuroscience stems from his own long history of paranoid schizophrenia (everyone is interested is what touches them the most, I guess). He also works as an expert consultant for the FBI assisting closely a very Special Agent, Kate Moretti, who is a former student of Pierce’s classes back in the days. It is thanks to his hallucinations that, most of the times, he can pick out the clues allowing him and Agent Moretti to solve the crimes they are investigating. Lewicki, Dr. Pierce’s teaching assistant, is a fundamental asset for Prof. Pierce’s mental well-being, because he knows how to handle his crisis and his obsessions. Last, but not least, (considering she was in another tv-show, The O.C. another favorite of mine) Natalie Vincent played by Kelly Rowan, is the most favorite Pierce’s hallucination who manifests herself as a result of his schizophrenia, but who also serves as his counselor, clue collector and, of course, best friend. How the story “ends” in the last episode of season three is up to you to find out. No spoilers here. #Sorrynotsorry.

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One of the things I like the most is when a tv-series’ episode typically begins with a scene of the protagonist giving a lecture (missing academia much?), or introducing a sort of metaphysical problem, concerns, whatever, about an aspect of humanity that usually leads to the development of the plot itself (Grey’s Anatomy is another show that does something similar, I love you Shonda Rhimes). In this case, it is a brain fact or factor that becomes significant within the story, and reaching the end of the episode, the observations that the professor explains to the students about the paradoxes of human perception end his lecture. Brilliant, I know.

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Perception was canceled after the third season and there were controversies saying it passed a wrong idea about the schizophrenic disease. Now, seriously? The big issue for some was that the main character chose to go off of his meds whilst still managing to work and teach his students, having reasonings with his hallucination-friend, sharing the wrong idea that getting off of your meds is okay. Ugh, no. I bet this is not the message, as eventually Prof. Pierce is just an adult who sees that therapy is needed, but cannot be abused. Schizophrenia is a disease, a complex one which needs to be studied deeply, still. Also, not all the people diagnosed with schizophrenia are alike. The symptoms vary and the age when they first appear makes a huge difference for the prognosis. So every time we judge a tv-show, let’s remember the viewpoint and the actual fact that -this is fiction-, with a few hints of reality, yes, but basically fictional stories.

perception-eric-mccormack-1In conclusion, why was this show important, from my perspective? Because it opened a door on the so called “mental illnesses” that can be part of a person’s life without interfering so very much with their social life. I am not saying it does not affect their own lives, because it does, but it creates no harm, no danger for their social behavior if taken good care of and most of all, if responsibly studied and handled. An important part of mental health is how we perceive the world around us. A person with a mental disease may perceive things much differently than another person, but that does not mean it is the wrong way of perceiving it. Wouldn’t you sound crazy if you had X-rays in your eyes and told others you can see through their skin? Indeed. In many cases, therapy can help interpret and detect these perceptions, but these do not necessarily need to be corrected because someone evaluated and categorized them as distorted. They are simply different ways of perceiving the world around us that may make sense to a different being with a different sensibility, and sensitivity, than others. As they say, a word to the wise is unnecessary and If the cap fits, wear it.

“We live in a kingdom of bullsh*t”

Reviews, Tv Series

8966767_origI knew I was in love with this TV-show since episode one. Elliot, the main character, is a genius. I was hooked when at the end of his mental digression he goes “F*ck society” but he responds “nothing” when the doctor asks him “what is wrong?”, as I recognized myself in those words, something I always wanted to scream out loud, to wake people up. Then I remembered that I read somewhere something like “you can’t explain to people something they are not ready to understand”, and I just isolated myself in my world, or almost so, where I could at least relate to a TV-show, feeling less weird. Elliot’s sessions at his shrink‘s are basically the literal representation of what most of us is thinking right now. Or not? I mean, at least we should. I completely lost it during episode nine, when it was clear that his dissociative identity disorder could relate to Fight Club because the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind started to play. I love that song, and at the same time it reminds me of part of my past I do not love as much. Meh.

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Raise your hand if you have ever felt alienated, when you should feel like you belong to society because after all, you are a human being, but you actually feel detached, different, wrong. Although you try to survive, day by day, you cannot find your spot in a world that does not reflect the socially accepted and advertised picture they taught you since your first second on this planet: a beautiful place, where peace reigns and people are allowed to go to war to bring peace to those areas where it is needed. Crazy? yes. Fair? No. Just a big fat lie. A lie they sugarcoated making it sound beautiful to your ears. They made you believe there is no better place than Earth, that life is worth living and if you kill yourself you are automatically sent to hell. Wow. Where is YOUR mind?

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So here is why a TV-show may be interesting for people who felt, or still feel, isolated and different: from a certain point of view, it makes you feel less lonely. Still, you have to keep in mind it is just a show. A fake representation of reality, where characters may actually be telling the truth, hidden behind a magnified distorted rendered version of it, just to let people, and in this case spectators, stay in that bubble someone else has created for us all. Whether you agree with saying “f*ck society” or not, whether you felt different in a world of clones or not, this is a TV-show that is worth a view.

Mr. Robot

Genre: they want to call it “psychological thriller”
Created by: Sam Esmail
StarringRami MalekCarly ChaikinPortia DoubledayMartin WallströmChristian SlaterMichael CristoferStephanie CorneliussenGrace Gummer
Watched on: TV (Xfinity On Demand)
Two Seasons, Twenty-two episodes binge watched in: two weekends.

Elliot (Rami Malek)is a young programmer who works as a cyber-security engineer at Allsafe, a NYC based IT company.  At first he appears to be a typical nerd, until we realize he is constantly debating with a sort of alter ego, dealing with social anxiety disorder, and depression. Elliot’s thought process seems heavily influenced by a distorted representation of reality which makes him become some kind of vigilante hacker by night. This is how he “knows” people he gets in contact with, by hacking their social media profiles gathering information. He eventually gets recruited by a hacker group whose leader is Mr Robot (Christian Slater) with the purpose of destroying one of the biggest and most important companies in the world, E-corp, which is also the main client of Allsafe, in order to cancel the global debt. Trying to fight the demons in his head, using drugs to detach from reality, and having Angela -a long time friend- by his side, Elliot struggles to do what he thinks is needed in a corrupted society he does not fit in. What happens with him, his family members and everyday drama, is left for you to watch and grow fond of. You’re welcome. 

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“Is any of it real? I mean, look at this. Look at it! A world built on fantasy. Synthetic emotions in the form of pills. Psychological warfare in the form of advertising. Mind-altering chemicals in the form of… food! Brainwashing seminars in the form of media. Controlled isolated bubbles in the form of social networks. Real? You want to talk about reality? We haven’t lived in anything remotely close to it since the turn of the century. We turned it off, took out the batteries, snacked on a bag of GMOs while we tossed the remnants in the ever-expanding dumpster of the human condition. We live in branded houses trademarked by corporations built on bipolar numbers jumping up and down on digital displays, hypnotizing us into the biggest slumber mankind has ever seen. You have to dig pretty deep, kiddo, before you can find anything real. We live in a kingdom of bullsh*t. A kingdom you’ve lived in for far too long. So don’t tell me about not being real. I’m no less real than the f*cking beef patty in your Big Mac.” Season 1, episode 10.

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