Working Titles

workaholicsWorkaholics (2011–present, Comedy Central)
Workaholics is a jock-y buddy comedy series about some slacker/stoner bros who work for the same telemarketing company and live to cause juvenile mischief, shirk responsibility, and sloppily chase le ladies. It probably sounds questionable, I know! But the show’s brand of ridiculous, inappropriate humor is FUNNY AS EFF. Don’t get me wrong: I do not condone the behavior that Workaholics displays for our entertainment. Rather, I suggest living vicariously through its main characters: Adam, a perma-teen Chyah, dude! kind of dude; Blake, a bizarre long-haired puppy of a guy; and Anders (aka ’Ders), the relatively responsible one who makes sure they all come out of their shenanigans alive and with their jobs. For 30 minutes at a time, Workaholics lets me pretend I’m an immature dude without the consequences of actually being an immature dude or having one in my life. And when it’s over, I get back to reading literature or whatever. —Dylan

exhibitionExhibition (2013)
This drama, directed by Joanna Hogg, follows two artists trying to live together and work together on their art, their house, and their relationship. Watch it if you’re scared to grow up or become an artist. Will it make you feel better? Probably not. Will it make you feel a little more comfortable about growing up or becoming an artist? In a way, probably yes. Exhibition shows that it is OK for life, at any age, to be confusing, upsetting, and strange. Also: The female lead is Viv Albertine, a guitarist in the Slits, which is real-life proof of the cool changes that can happen over the course of a career. —Caitlin H.

our city dreamsOur City Dreams (2008)
A documentary about five artists: Swoon, Ghada Amer, Marina Abramović, Kiki Smith, and Nancy Spero. They work in different mediums, and are at different stages in their lives and careers, but they’ve all chosen to make New York City their home. This isn’t a movie about New York, though—it’s about creativity, hard work, process, desire, and living the life you want. Watching these women work, and seeing the ways they arrived at their chosen fields, is inspiring beyond belief. Our City Dreams has been streaming on Netflix for a while now, and I cannot keep track of how many times I’ve watched it. If I’m uninspired about life or work, it never fails to refresh my spirits or help me discover something new about myself. It makes me feel connected to these women, and all women everywhere who are hustling too do what they love to do and express what they need to express. —Laia

mr momMr. Mom (1983)
Written by John Hughes, this lighthearted look at gender stereotypes stars Michael Keaton as Jack, a man who loses his job during a recession. Jack’s wife, Caroline, once a stay-at-home mom, goes back to work to support the family while Jack bumbles his way through domestic duties like cooking, grocery shopping, and dealing with the explosive aftermath of their baby’s first can of chili. Keaton is effortlessly funny—there’s no shtick with him—which keeps the movie from being the over-the-top, slapstick-y mess that it could have easily been. I saw Mr. Mom for the first time in ninth grade, on one of those rare, lovely days when the teacher’s lesson plan was “Everybody watch this movie and then answer a couple of questions about it that will never be graded.” In keeping with the tradition of using Mr. Mom as an educational tool, my assignment for you is to soak up its warm, ’80s-family-comedy vibes and then decide if you agree with me that Michael Keaton, in this role, is hilarious and perfect. —Amber

crazysexycoolCrazySexyCool: The TLC Story (2013, VH1)
VH1’s biopic of TLC, one of history’s most badass R&B groups, follows Chilli, T-Boz, and Left Eye through grueling rehearsals and into their hyper-accelerated rise to stardom, where the work only gets harder and more complicated. Watch it to see how three intelligent, talented women fought to get their money after being signed to an exploitative contract, navigated the art of collaboration, and got their professional motivation back after ending personal relationships with scrubs. Double-watch it for the KILLER ’90s hip-hop tomboy fashion TLC was known for. (They could wear crop tops like no one ever has, or ever will again.) —Caitlin D.

beauty shopBeauty Shop (2005)
Queen Latifah stars as Gina, a widowed hairdresser, in this spinoff of Barbershop. She’s a star stylist, but her boss, the shady salon-owner Jorge (Kevin Bacon), treats her poorly. Gina gets fed up and decides to open her own shop. Take that, patriarchy! She faces obstacles (corrupt city officials, Jorge) but builds a successful salon with a staff of trusting and funny characters, including Alicia Silverstone as the shampoo girl. Like in Steel Magnolias, there’s something enchanting about watching a group of sharp-witted women trade advice and gossip. Beauty Shop is about trusting yourself, reaching for your goals, and never letting the Man get you down. —Marie

better off tedBetter Off Ted (2009–2010, ABC)
In this supremely smart, satirical workplace sitcom, Ted is an honorable guy working for a comically evil, profit-grubbing corporation. The company, Veridian Dynamics, develops technologies such as weaponized pumpkins, cowless beef, and organic vegetables full of antidepressants. The show aired for just two seasons, which is a travesty, because the surreal jokes hit hard and with almost dizzying frequency (you can still see them all on Netflix Instant). There are also tons of career lessons in each episode. For example, if your workplace tries to cryonically freeze you, you should probably quit. —Amber

shamelessShameless (2011–present, Showtime)
A lot of TV protagonists are trying to figure out what they’ll do with the rest of their lives, but Fiona Gallagher is trying to figure out what to do RIGHT NOW—how she’s going to pay this month’s bills and get all five of her siblings to school on time and keep her drunk dad away. I have six brothers and sisters, and the fierce loyalty the Gallagher siblings show for one another feels familiar, especially when they lie to protect each other. Shameless also focuses on a side of social services that doesn’t get a lot of attention: At one point, Fiona tells Child Protective Services that, despite their good intentions, they’re not helping as much as they think. At the same time, Fiona and her family are never framed as victims. They’re smart, complicated, unabashed problem-solvers who constantly make me question my own ethics. I watched all the available seasons of this show in an impressively short period of time while anxiously chewing my blanket during the extra-raucous and suspenseful parts. —Tova

Office SpaceOffice Space (1999)
How does a soul-sucking job in a cubicle with unflattering lighting sound? Pretty bad, right? Office Space is a hilarious comedy about a guy (played by Ron Livingston, one of my many fake boyfriends) who hates his horrible job and annoying boss so much that he decides, with the help of friends, to embezzle some money from the company. He also falls in love with a waitress (Jennifer Aniston) at a T.G.I. Fridays–like restaurant next to his office. Office Space was always funny, but in the 15 years since its release, it’s become a time capsule—the office in question is a tech company, and no one there understands the internet. The computers they work on are hulking, enormous monsters. Bonus points go to Milton, the saddest sack at the company, whose mumbles about his beloved red stapler caused the desk accessory to have a renaissance in the early naughts. —Emma S.

broadcast newsBroadcast News (1987)
In the ’80s, before women were being told to “lean in” at work, Jane (played by Holly Hunter), the executive producer of a nightly news show, was figuring it all out for herself while being a total boss. Broadcast News is not about how glamorous and exciting it is to work in television—it opens with a frenzied scene in which an assistant desperately sprints around the studio to get a clip for the night’s show into Jane’s hands—and does so right as it needs to go on the air. It’s nerve-racking, and conveys how stressful it is to make live TV. Jane deals with all this pressure in a very relatable way: She sits at her desk, sobs into her hands for a couple minutes, wipes her eyes, and carries on with her day. Rather than suggest that women have craaaazy emotions, Broadcast News shows how an the ambitious, cool, assertive, and in-control exec might cope with her intensely difficult job. —Brodie

coal miner's daughterCoal Miner’s Daughter (1980)
If you’ve never heard of the country music legend Loretta Lynn (and if you haven’t, check out “The Pill” and “Rated ‘X’,” which are important parts of music and feminist history), you could easily mistake this biopic about her life as fiction. It tells the story of Loretta, one of eight kids born in the 1930s to a coal miner in an impoverished Kentucky town. She gets married at the age of 15, has four kids by 19, starts a music career in her 20s, and rises to superstardom in her 30s. Loretta works her ass off and juggles her family and dreams from the very beginning, when she has to bring her kids with her on tour and her husband’s support seriously wavers. Sissy Spacek’s alternately heartbreaking and triumphant portrayal of the singer always brings me to tears. —Stephanie ♦

Literally the Best Thing Ever: The Food Network

Collage by Beth.
Collage by Beth.

My grandma used to tell me that if color TV had been around when she a teenager, she wouldn’t have gotten married at 17 and proceeded to have seven kids. Now, every time I, a childless, unwed 20-year-old girl, log on to to Hulu and have my pick of thousands of episodes of hundreds of shows (in color!), I like to think I am honoring her legacy. My love for television runs deep and pure. It’s by far my favorite medium, above film and books. And of all the glorious television available to me today, the true apple of my eye is nonfiction programming on cable.

There’s nothing more relaxing to me than kicking back and watching a bride shed tears as she shops for her wedding gown on TLC. I love to unwind with a couple of bumbling newlyweds as they choose a first condo with 1.5 bathrooms on HGTV, or watch, slack-jawed, as the latest bunch of Real Housewives duke it out on Bravo. But really, these channels are mere distractions for when there’s nothing new for me on the Food Network.

My family didn’t have cable until I was about 10, which means I spent the first decade of my life harboring an intense longing for it. Being the socially adept and outdoorsy kind of kid that I was, I spent my Saturday afternoons on the couch, watching low budget, no-nonsense cooking shows on the local public-access station. These shows weren’t very glamorous, but they taught me things that are still helpful, like how to avoid overcooking noodles and how to tell if a melon is overripe. So on the fateful day that our cable box was installed, I flipped through the channels and then stopped short at the Food Network. And then I stayed there, for years. The Food Network has everything I’ve always loved about lo-budget cooking shows, but better: There are elaborately beautiful sets in the place of messy, badly lit kitchens, and instead of just hosts, there are “stars.”

Forget pop stars—my celebrities are the Food Network stars, human beings who can make you desperate to eat something you can’t even smell, much less taste. I did not even know what mascarpone was before Ina Garten informed me that it is a sweet, creamy Italian cheese often used in place of cream cheese, but I as soon as she had, I knew I loved it. Meanwhile, I can’t even explain to a friend why pizza is good.

When I first started watching, the network mostly featured instructional cooking shows and some short documentaries where bubbly hosts would travel around the country looking for, like, the best funnel cake in America. They still have these kinds of shows, the most popular being Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives with Guy Fieri. Guy got the gig after winning the reality show The Next Food Network Star in 2006. I think he is the offspring of Ed Hardy and a bottle of barbecue sauce. But as much as I want to dislike him, I can’t help feeling inspired by the passion he displays while seeking out and celebrating America’s greatest grease wielders and deep-frying connoisseurs.

You can fulfill all of your deepest entertainment desires in a single day of watching the Food Network. They serve up some of the most multifaceted viewing experiences that money can buy! Like, if for some reason I want to experience the adrenaline rush of the final moments of the Super Bowl, but would also like to admire the beauty and craftsmanship of pastry art, I can kill two birds with one stone with Cupcake Wars.

Only the Food Network can take me to an alternate world where something as innocent as buttercream frosting can induce blood, sweat, and tears.

Another favorite of mine is Chopped, a cutthroat reality show on which chefs are required to make dishes incorporating three mystery ingredients in 20 minutes. That probably doesn’t sound too wild, but YOU trying making a entrée including eel, Fruit Loops, baked beans, and tortellini! (Sidenote: A very fun game to play with your friends when you’re waiting in line is Hypothetical Chopped, where you name three hypothetical ingredients and they tell you what they’d make with them.)

But it’s still the classic half-hour cooking tutorials that really have my heart. Each one of these no-nonsense programs is one part instructional, one part comforting, and one part fun facts. Any time I’m feeling anxious, all I have to do to calm myself is watch this clip of Ina Garten teaching me how to roast a chicken.

When I was in fourth grade, I persuaded my parents to take me to a daylong Food Network convention. I met Bobby Flay and won a T-shirt playing a live version of Unwrapped with Marc Summers. Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but it may have been the best day of my life. ♦

Magic Shows

hookHook (1991)
In this sort-of sequel to J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Robin Williams plays a middle-aged workaholic attorney who doesn’t remember that he was once Peter Pan. After Captain Hook kidnaps his children, the grown-up Peter returns to Neverland to save them. When I was wee, Hook was my lifeblood. I had Hook action figures and bed sheets. I watched the movie on a loop, utterly absorbed in the adventure and fairy dust of it all. Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could not become obsessed with this movie. There’s swashbuckling, gigantic pirate hats, flying people, a Technicolor-goo food fight, adorable kids, a villainous Dustin Hoffman as Captain Hook, a dagger-wielding pixie played by Julia Roberts, and Rufio, Rufio, RU-FI-OOO! All of these fantastic bits are bound together by composer John Williams’s emotional score (basically the sonic equivalent of the twinkle in a child’s eye), Steven Spielberg’s jaw-dropping Neverland, and the mesmerizing level of energy and sincerity that Robin Williams brought to this role. I can’t think of another actor who could have played a grown-up Peter Pan as convincingly as he did. Obviously, it’s extremely bittersweet watching this bangarang movie now, but Williams was a powerful force of light and laughter in my childhood, so I see Hook as a gift—144 minutes of happy thoughts and a reminder of the humor, gentleness, unique talent, and preternatural charisma of a person I deeply admired. —Amber

Bernard's_WatchBernard’s Watch (1995–2005, ITV/CITV)
This British children’s show came out in the mid-’90s. I was sort of too old to be watching kids’ shows at the time, but I was hooked on this one because I could relate to its young hero, Bernard, and his problem of always running late for things like school. Except in his case, a postman with mysterious powers gave him a magical watch that could STOP TIME. Bernard could have used his watch for mischief like stealing or tricking people, but he had a pure, kind soul and harnessed the power of that beautiful and perfect accessory to help friends, old ladies, his parents, or anyone else who needed a life-pause. He even prevented accidents and stuff like that. What a nice boy! I still regularly think about Bernard, but especially his watch. Every once in a while I’ll be staring out my window and catch myself wishing for a postman to bring me that magical object. Seriously, where is it? —María Fernanda

shelley duvall's faerie tale theatreShelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre (1982–1987, Showtime)
As a kid, I was obsessed with this fantasy TV series, which my parents had on VHS tapes. It’s hard to say what was most amazing about each episode: the great acting (by Robin Williams, Susan Sarandon, Christopher Reeve, Pee-wee Herman, and a host of other stars), the low production values (the sets and costumes tended to look like they came from high school plays, though the makeup was usually terrific), or the fairy tales themselves. Some are romantic, some are funny, some are scary, and some are a little bit of everything. And that’s what I still like about them! Duvall’s interpretations aren’t the sanitized retellings we all know—they are often dark and weird, which is obviously better. The whole series is now on Hulu, which means you can watch them all back-to-back. Hooray! —Emma S.

CinderellaRodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella (1997, ABC)
Oh, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella! Do I love you because you’re beautiful? Or are you beautiful because I love you? Actually, I know what it is: I love this made-for-TV musical because the inimitable Whitney Houston plays Cinderella’s fairy godmother, and the songs Houston performs are capable of making a show-tune/’90s-pop glutton like myself salivate. Also, long before Tiana became the first black Disney animated princess, the singer Brandy Norwood was cast as Cinderella in this movie. As a black girl growing up in the ’90s, I didn’t see people who looked like me in fairy tale movies or picture books very often. But then came this movie, with a black princess and a multiethnic cast—the prince was played by the Filipino-American actor Paolo Montalbán, and his parents, the king and queen, were a black woman (Whoopi Goldberg) and a white man (Victor Garber). All of this was enthralling and very special to me, and it underscored the idealistic message that is the heart of the Cinderella story: Anyone can rise above their struggles and have a life full of magic and happy endings. —Amber

Practical MagicPractical Magic (1998)
The Owens sisters, Sally (Sandra Bullock) and Gillian (Nicole Kidman), come from a line of powerful witches. But with such talents comes a curse: Every man that an Owens woman falls in love with dies. Obviously, that would make dating pretty hard! Sally is no-nonsense and Gillian’s more of a free spirit, but they have a tremendously close bond. When a boyfriend starts abusing Gillian, Sally senses it and goes to look for her. That’s when the real trouble begins! Bullock and Kidman’s sisterly chemistry is the best, and it’s the reason why I like this movie so much—aside from all the cool witchy stuff. Their aunts (played by Stockard Channing and Dianne Wiest) are also AMAZING witches and totally steal the show. —Marie

the outsidersThe Outsiders (1983)
Based on a novel written by S. E. Hinton in the 1960s, when she was a teenager, The Outsiders is a coming-of-age story about a group of teenage boys who face a series of problems and adventures related to the pains of growing up, violence, social differences, beauty, death, friendship, and consequences. It features one of my favorite movie quotes of all time, “Stay gold, Ponyboy”—a reference to this poem by Robert Frost. And the movie really does make you think about the importance of staying pure at heart even though all good things, including youth, come to an end. It’s half angst-y and half melancholic without being overly dramatic, and it makes me think about my life from a new perspective and appreciate it more. It also has a lot of famous actors, like Diane Lane, Patrick Swayze, Emilio Estevez, Ralph Macchio, Matt Dillon, and Tom Cruise, all very young, all looking hot and awesome. —María Fernanda

hemlock groveHemlock Grove (2013–present, Netflix)
This Netflix horror/mystery series is about weird families, possible werewolves, secret angels, mad scientists, psychics, the devil, and other antiheroes who inhabit a down-and-out town in Pennsylvania called Hemlock Grove. One of them is responsible for the murders of two teen girls, and it’s hard to tell which. No character in this series is really “good,” but I tend to like them anyway. I’m also a fan of their gory transformations from human to not-quite-human (nowhere else will you see a werewolf so full of existential angst, I assure you). I’m surprised it isn’t more popular, but I guess it can’t be easy to live in the shadow of Orange Is the New Black. —Arabelle

harry potterHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
Believe it or not, this movie was my first exposure to Harry Potter. I went in thinking it would just be a regular kids’ movie, but after the opening scene, when the great wizard Dumbledore appears and dims the street lights with his magic wand, and a cat transforms into a witch (Professor McGonagall!), I knew it would be something a lot more magical. There is nothing like stepping into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry with Harry for the first time. You have to take a train from a secret platform to get there! The ceiling in the great hall looks and moves just like the sky outside! The staircase is like a real, shifting M.C. Escher drawing! In gym class, students whiz around on brooms to play Quidditch, and people are flying around on brooms. It’s exciting! Since then, I’ve seen the movie and read the book so many times that I know that plot beat by beat. It isn’t even my favorite installment in the Harry Potter saga, but it’s still my number-one movie for escaping reality. —Stephanie

cinema paradisoCinema Paradiso (1988)
My mom rented a copy of this movie for me to watch and dared me not to cry. She won the bet, because I ended up sobbing about four times before it was over. The story begins with a famous director named Salvatore Di Vita. Following the death of a childhood friend, he flashes back to the small Italian town of his childhood. The village is pretty unromantic, but its movie theater and the films shown there provided young Salvatore with an escape into a more glamorous world. It’s a movie about our general fascination with movies—the sway they hold over our perceptions and aspirations, and the way life can change for people who emulate what they see in them. Salvatore’s life doesn’t work out perfectly, the way a movie’s ending does, but it is enriched by what movies taught him to imagine. Maybe that sounds cheesy, but you should really watch it! Just be sure to have some tissues around because my mom was right—you’ll probably need them. —Lucy

enchantedEnchanted (2007)
I usually get annoyed with live-action musicals, but this one is the exception. It follows a seemingly naïve gal named Giselle, played by Amy Adams, as she gets ejected from her problem-free cartoon fairy world, Andalasia, and lands in real-life New York City. Giselle’s story pieces together chunks of the Disney animated princess movies we all know and sometimes hate—a bit of Cinderella here, some Snow White there, a little Sleeping Beauty thrown in near the end—but what makes Giselle lovable is that she’s stubborn and fights for what she believes in. She doesn’t give up on finding the magical essence of “happily ever after,” even in cold, hard realities. —Chanel

Princess_MononokePrincess Mononoke (1997)
This epic anime feature takes place in Japan hundreds of years ago, during the Muromachi period. It follows Ashitaka, the last prince of the Emishi tribe, as he sets into the forest to find a cure for his arm. (While defending his village from a demon, he suffered a magical injury that gave him superhuman fighting abilities but that will also shorten his life.) As he searches for a spirit that might be able to help him, he stumbles into a battle between humans and forest gods and creatures whose fearless leader is Princess Mononoke, a human raised by wolves. The stunning imagery pulls you right into the princess’s enchanted forest. Her world is threatened by industry and war, though (just like ours), and the movie’s message about environmental protection is what I love most about it. The original film is in Japanese, but an English version was released a few years later and was voiced by some of my favorite actors (Claire Danes is Princess Mononoke!). —Stephanie ♦

Out There

broken flowersBroken Flowers (2005)
In this movie, Bill Murray plays an aging Don Juan–type named Don Johnston. He gets an anonymous letter from a former girlfriend informing him that, somewhere out there, he has a son. Cue existential crisis for Don! He goes on a quest to track down his exes (among them Sharon Stone, Jessica Lange, and Tilda Swinton), deduce who sent the letter, and possibly meet his child. Each ex is a fabulously eccentric character unto herself, which plays out really well against Murray’s trademark deadpan style. I also love how the director, Jim Jarmusch, finds new ways to define American settings in his movies, this time turning suburbia into a place of pensive intrigue. This is one of those “the journey is more important than the destination” stories. It also has some of the elements of a mystery, but because Murray is a genius at tragicomedy, it’s that, too. —Anna F.

the diving bell and the butterflyThe Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)
Oh, this is a beautiful movie. Based on the true story of the French journalist and magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby, the plot centers around Bauby’s life before and after a massive stroke that paralyzes him but leaves his mental capabilities intact. He can move his left eyelid, which becomes his only way to communicate (Bauby eventually wrote the book this movie was based on through blinking and the help of a transcriber). It’s a lovely film that shows you how remarkable human beings can be (and how much we take for granted), but it’s grounded by an honesty that never lets things get too syrupy or maudlin. You’re going to cry, like, a lot. —Pixie

maleficentMaleficent (2014)
I’m a fairy tale aficionado, but I’ve never been much of a fan of Sleeping Beauty—I prefer my princesses to be awake and active in their own destinies. Maleficent, the dark retelling of Sleeping Beauty that stars Angelina Jolie, is a different story. Jolie plays the title character, who is ostensibly the villain. As a young fairy, Maleficent fell in love with a mortal, only to watch him horribly, irrevocably break her trust. In her fury, Maleficent curses his child, Princess Aurora, to an eternal sleep. But as Aurora grows up, the dark fairy has a change of heart. She realizes she doomed an innocent being (played as a teen by Elle Fanning), and one she actually likes. The movie is a work of art, including its colorful, mystical fairyland setting and Jolie’s epic-ly horned costume. Its heart, though, is the unexpectedly tender relationship between Maleficent and Aurora. (It starts with Maleficent deadpanning “I hate you” at the giggling baby princess, but ends somewhere nearer friendship.) When you factor in a feminist plot twist near the end, this is a version of Sleeping Beauty that I can happily endorse. —Rachael

22183 Ep 301. Deliverables.Out of the Wild (2008–2011, Discovery)
There are few things I love like a reality show with an ill-conceived premise—especially when said show can be binge-watched on Netflix Instant—and Out of the Wild tops them all. A team of people you would not call outdoors experts is dropped many, many miles from civilization (the first two seasons are set in the Alaskan wilderness, and the third happens in remote regions of Venezuela) and they have about a month to get back to it. They have scant supplies, almost no provisions, and only occasional shelter. BUT each person is equipped with a GPS-enabled bailout button, which, when pushed, sends a rescue team to swoop in and take them home. If a contestant leaves early, they get nothing. The ones who stick it out for weeks? Also get nothing! There is no prize involved except staying alive. And acting like a macho freak, snacking on grubs from rotten trees, screaming at other contestants, killing small animals and eating them, and having it all televised. Some of the contestants supposedly have never camped a night in their lives but are total ringers, and inevitably there are poor souls who dial R for rescue within hours of starting the show’s grueling adventures. The Alaska edition is the slightly less compelling one because the cast is boring, and in the final episodes the remaining contestants try to stay alive by, like, capturing rodents and boiling them in soups while bitching to the cameras about having no resources (despite being followed by a presumably well-equipped crew). In the Venezuela season, everyone bails pretty quickly, except a tiny band of survivors who spend the rest of the season stuck in places like swamps, the savannah, and the jungle, trying really hard not to starve to death by eating boiled tree nuts and worms. The producers ratchet up the drama by planting shelters along the way, but they leave almost nothing inside, save for useless things like mirrors to show the filthy contestants how malnourished they’ve become on this fantastically absurd yet compelling show! It’s hard to imagine why anyone would sign up for this “adventure,” or that people believe this manipulated romp through the wilderness somehow proves their character or fitness or essential being, but they do. And they stick with it. They fashion a raft or snowshoes out of sticks and trash, eat some vermin, and go forth. —Jessica

band of outsidersBand of Outsiders (1964)
Like most of my favorite movies by French filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard, this story pretends to focus on male leads, but the main female character is really the one that’s the most fascinating. Two friends, Franz and Arthur, watch way too many pulp-crime movies and convince themselves that they can pull off a heist of their own. Odile, played by Anna Karina (Godard’s collaborator, muse, and lover), is Franz’s classmate. She’s charmed by his and Arthur’s antics, and when she tells them about her rich aunt, the three of them decide they’ll rob her together. Odile is a “good girl,” but one who’s easily persuaded to drop what’s safe and comfortable to go for a potentially dangerous ride. Basically, she fulfills my idle fantasies of wanting to rebel against everything that’s expected of me, and just for the hell of it (not that I’d ever actually commit armed robbery myself). —Anna F.

cosmosCosmos: A SpaceTime Odyssey (2014–, FOX)
This documentary series, hosted by Rookie’s favorite astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, is a follow-up to Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which starred the pop scientist Carl Sagan in the ’80s. The updated version of Cosmos is my favorite thing to happen on TV this year because of how much it has taught me about the universe and our place in it. In every episode, Neil guides viewers through cosmic mysteries such as black holes, the possibility of life on other planets, and the WHOLE HISTORY of the universe, and in terms that are always fascinating yet amazingly uncomplicated (he brings the very same talent to the podcast he hosts, too). At the end of each one, I feel more connected to EVERYTHING, and I’m reminded that even though the unknown can be scary, it’s also packed with exciting possibilities. —Stephanie

myth huntersMyth Hunters (2012, History; 2014, American Heroes)
This is a documentary series in which real-life archaeologists and explorers try to track down objects and places from history to prove their existence (or non-existence). That probably sounds pretty basic because isn’t that part of their job descriptions in the first place? But no: These experts are trying to locate MYTHICAL things that people talked about for ages but don’t have much or any modern proof of—like the lost city of El Dorado, which is said to have been made of gold, or the actual Holy Grail, which is the cup Jesus supposedly sipped from during the Last Supper. (In that way, they’re kind of like Indiana Jones!) In the episodes I’ve seen, no one has been successful in their mission. But it says something about humans and the powerful nature of our curiosity that we don’t stop searching for things like Noah’s actual Ark or the lost city of Atlantis, even when we don’t know whether they even exist. —Julianne

star trek into darknessStar Trek Into Darkness (2013)
I’m a Next Generation Trekkie who was never really into the ’60s version of the Star Trek TV series. No offense to Captain Kirk—it’s just that William Shatner’s portrayal of him is a little cheesy. But now that director J.J. Abrams re-imagined Kirk, Spock, and other characters from the original franchise for the big screen, I’ve had a change of heart. Star Trek Into Darkness, the second Abrams-directed Star Trek movie, centers on Khan, a Starfleet officer who turns out to be a superhuman terrorist (and is played by Benedict Cumberbatch, yay!). Captain Kirk has to capture Kahn to save his own reputation, and of course, the starship Enterprise. Even if you aren’t a Trekkie, the Abrams-style special effects (of the dazzling ilk you see in Super 8, which he directed) and mysterious plot twists (à la Lost, which he co-created) will have you on the edge of your seat. The ending isn’t exactly a cliffhanger, but it hints that in the next Star Trek movie, due in 2016, the universe as we know it could be changed forever. —Stephanie ♦

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Live TV Mishaps

I dislike the word schadenfreude because a lot of times when people use it in everyday conversation they sound like showoffs. Like, OK, we get it, you aced a vocabulary quiz in the eighth grade, BIG DEAL. But I really dislike it as a concept—feeling good about other people’s suffering just sounds straight-up villainous.

Secondhand embarrassment, which I define as finding someone else’s uncomfortable predicament deeply entertaining BUT ALSO deeply troubling, is a similar feeling that I don’t mind indulging in every once in a while because, by experiencing it, you can’t help but imagine yourself in that person’s shoes. Like, for example, when someone in your history class accidentally calls the teacher Mom instead of by her real name. You laugh while also realizing that, under slightly different circumstances, it could have been you.

There is one source of secondhand embarrassment that triumphs over them all, and it is watching someone lose control on live television. Even though part of me knows better, I’m hung up on the idea that being on TV is the ultimate sign that you’ve made it. I frequently fantasize about being the guest on a live talk show, charming the audience with a story that makes me seems really fun and down to earth despite my status as the world’s most glamorous model/pop star/UN ambassador. So when people screw up during a moment that cannot be left on the editing room floor, I take a weird sort of pleasure, like, Oh right, those are people, too.

Among television personalities, I find news anchors to be particularly disturbing because they are just so energetic and pleasant, day in and day out. I hold tight to the theory that the most bright and cheery people among us are probably the ones with the seediest secrets to hide. So, when I learned that two anchors from one of my very own local news stations (CAROL THE WEATHER LADY AND ANCHORWOMAN NICOLE!) had been getting into unscripted, passive-aggressive arguments on-air for weeks, I was thrilled:

(Someone was motivated enough to compile these moments, which I’m thankful for, but please try to ignore the reference to Nicole as “spicy.”)

I love that these women repeatedly go off script to work in thinly-veiled-but-probably-honest jabs at each other, and in an environment as tightly controlled and happy/creepy as a local television soundstage. They couldn’t help but crack! If I had to fake a jolly rapport with someone I couldn’t stand every single day, I can picture the tension slowly escalating like theirs did. As in: “Carol, I’M NO ANGEL, EITHER.”

But sometimes on live TV, a moment so disastrously real strikes that it makes you look around the room, then back at your TV, and say out loud, “Did I just hallucinate that?!” LIKE THIS ONE:

It turns out that the vomit was actually preplanned, as a sort of performance-art stunt by the dude being interviewed, who prepped by eating a half gallon of Blues Clues ice cream for breakfast before the interview. (You can read more about it in the video’s description.) But that still doesn’t make it look any less real for the anchor or viewers like me. If this day ever comes, you know, when I’m being interviewed on the previously mentioned talk show, I probably would NOT be chill about it. Like, this guy is pretty calm. This would be me: “Oh my god! Ah, this is really bad, um, sorry do you need me to clean this up? CAN WE CUT TO COMMERCIAL OR SOMETHING?!”

I would also want the screen to go black if someone ever got the terrible idea to propose marriage to me during the live broadcast of any sporting event:

She was much nicer about this than I would have been (NO ANGEL). I’m always suspicious of dudes who feel the need to propose to women not only in front of an entire stadium of spectators, but everyone watching at home, too. Maybe they do it because the women they’re with really, truly love sports—but I have a suspicion that it’s because they are so afraid these gals will say no that they need the nonconsensual support of thousands of onlookers to back them up. I find it particularly satisfying when the guy gets turned down, as in this case, but I have to say that I hope, too, that a consoling mouse will be there to pat me on the back during my darkest moment, especially if it’s on TV.

Another layer of satisfaction to the sweet, sweet cake of live-TV-gone-wrong is that when something bad does happen, you feel like you’ve won a prize. Sometimes when everything goes wrong, EVERYTHING GOES RIGHT. This is the sort of drama that I imagine TV executives secretly dream of, which gets me thinking that maybe NOTHING HAS GONE WRONG and it’s all staged LIKE THE MOON LANDING. WHICH WASN’T REAL. Take, for instance, the legend of the Shockmaster. In front of a live TV audience, the World Wrestling Federation wrestler Fred Ottman (the Shockmaster), was to make his debut as the newest, most menacing competitor in the land. What happened instead, was, well…

When his bedazzled helmet fell to the ground, he just moaned “Oh god!” like a true fallen hero (and a truly sympathetic symbol of second-hand embarrassment). The WCW tried to re-market him as a klutz, but it didn’t really catch on. I feel that the tragedy of the Shockmaster is actually a metaphor for everything that is wrong about performing masculinity, but I don’t know, that’s just a theory.

Maybe there is some karmic element to all of this, and my love of seeing people fail on live TV will come back to haunt me one day. Maybe when I eventually go on to win American Idol, I’ll get pantsed just as Ryan Seacrest announces my name. Or I’ll slip and fall on the train of my gown as I’m handed the winning rose on the finale of The Bachelor?! But if (ahem, WHEN) my day in the live-TV-mishaps-sun comes, I won’t feel too bad. People at home will be laughing, but I’ll know that at least some of them will feel for me, too. ♦

Action Heroes

Wayne's WorldWayne’s World (1992)
Simply put, this is the funniest movie I have ever seen. Based on an old Saturday Night Live sketch, Wayne’s World is about two dudes, Wayne and Garth, who have their own public-access cable show that they film in Wayne’s basement. There’s a story (a big, bad TV executive tries to make them sell out), but who cares about the plot? Every single thing that happens in this movie is hilarious, and I probably quote it at least once a day, and not always on purpose. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” is inarguably one of the best songs of all time, and its inclusion in this scene only elevates its status that much higher. I could list a million other funny things that Wayne and Garth do, but there’s not enough space for that here. Just trust that I’m not steering you wrong. Wayne’s World! Party time! Excellent! Weee-oooooh-weeeee-ohhh-weeeee-ooooh! —Laia

aliasAlias (2001–2006, ABC)
Spy stories don’t get much more badass than Jennifer Garner as a butt-kicking CIA agent with rad disguises. Garner plays Sydney Bristow, a spy with a triple life (her friends don’t know she’s a spy and most of her fellow spies don’t know she’s a spy for a DIFFERENT group of spies). Because the show was created by J.J. Abrams, who made Lost and Felicity, it has plenty of stunts and plot twists and distant locales but also love triangles and feeeeeelings. By the fourth of five seasons, the spy stuff gets a little bit sci-fi, which might sound corny, but by then you’ll be so obsessed with these characters and their maze of an underworld (Wait, so-and-so is whose daughter?! Is that a clone?!) that it’ll all make perfect sense. —Joe

HannaHanna (2011)
The first thing you need to know about Hanna is that most of its characters are extremely violent, including Hanna, who is played in all her quiet fierceness by Saoirse Ronan. Hanna has never met another living person besides her father, who is training her to be a lethal fighter on an isolated tundra. She has a mysterious mission that will take her to Germany, where she knows her life will be in serious danger, and only she can decide when she’s ready. The thing is, because Hanna’s a teenager, what she’s really ready for is to experience life—to have friends and hear music and see parts of the world that aren’t totally frozen and meet people who aren’t her well-meaning yet intense dad—but that’s not even possible yet, because first she has to (and in the movie, she really does have to) kill people. This might not sound like the kind of character you’d like, let alone feel serious compassion and concern for, but because Saoirse plays her with palpable curiosity and gentleness, in addition to her clear-eyed ability to rip people to shreds, you cannot stop fearing for Hanna’s life or silently begging a higher power to help her make it to safety. —Lena

SpeedSpeed (1994)
I don’t have my driver’s license, so I have no idea what it’s like to be behind the wheel of a vehicle that is speeding down the highway at a trillion miles per hour, but I imagine it feels something like watching this movie. The concept is simple: What if you were on a bus that couldn’t slow down? The details of the plot are a little more convoluted—there’s a terrorist threat, a maybe-blossoming romance, and a hero (played by Keanu Reeves) with a tortured past—but they really serve as padding for a the crux of the movie, which is one wild ride. Despite its being 20 years old, it still induces the same Holy crap, can’t breathe, can’t look away feelings it did when it came out. —Anna F.

Center StageCenter Stage (2000)
As a former ballet dancer, I have a soft spot for any and all ballet-related movies. But even if you have zero interest in ballet, you will still be enthralled by Center Stage, because DRA-MA! The movie follows the lives of six young women and men in the American Ballet Academy’s workshop program. (I say “young people” because you can’t tell if they are supposed to be high school students or college students or what.) All the performing-arts clichés have their moment—there’s an overbearing mom pushing her ballet dreams on her kid, a ballerina who eats “too much” and one who eats “too little” (PROMISE ME YOU’LL NEVER LET ANYONE MAKE YOU FEEL BAD ABOUT YOURSELF FOR THESE OR ANY OTHER REASONS), and the sassy Latina with a terrible attitude who is, of course, a great dancer (this one really bothers me because she is such a bitch with no explanation at all, and it’s like, WRITERS, WRITE SOMEONE WITH BELIEVABLE MOTIVATIONS, PLEASE). But the truth is, believable is not in this movie’s vocabulary. In its BEST scene—a ballet choreographed by the renegade super-hot bad-boy dancer—costume changes happen before your eyes and a motorcycle just appears. The whole thing is completely unrealistic, which is the essence of what makes it great. It definitely earns its place in the canon of great American teen movies of the early 2000s. (Bonus points for having Mandy Moore on the soundtrack.) —Laia

NewsiesNewsies (1992)
My heart belongs to Jack “Cowboy” Kelly, the daring teenage newspaper boy at the heart of this superlative live-action Disney musical. Based loosely on the 1899 newsboy strike in New York that momentarily brought media empires to their knees, the film follows a pack of working-class kids who decide it’s high time they got paid a decent wage for their labor. They commemorate the occasion with uplifting and perfect rally songs (such as this one) that you can fall back on next time you’re feeling lethargic or trodden upon. Most important: There is not a single thing you will not love about a baby-faced Christian Bale playing the charismatic, bandanna-wearing newspaper-carrier-turned-social-justice-activist Jack. See also: the azure-eyed King of Brooklyn, Spot Conlon, played by Gabriel Damon. *fans self with Sunday Times* —Caitlin D.

24 hour party people24 Hour Party People (2002)
If I could choose one superpower, it would be the ability to travel in time. I’d go straight to Manchester, England, in the late ’80s and stay through the ’90s, to see live bands and PARTY! The Madchester music scene is one of my favorite cultural touchstones, and 24 Hour Party People, which imagines what it was like to be there, is one of my favorite films. It stars Steve Coogan as Tony Wilson, the founder of Factory Records and the Haçienda nightclub, two of the most important locales in the Madchester music history. Through him, we get to see the early days of bands like Joy Division, New Order, and the Happy Mondays. Scenes shot for the movie are cut with archival footage of the actual bands, and there is nothing like seeing Joy Division’s Ian Curtis dancing around in an old club, surrounded by a crowd that is feeling it. The movie’s music will get you dancing, too, and wishing you could have hung out with the Factory Records crew. —Meagan

X-Men Days of Future PastX-Men: Days of Future Past (2014)
There are a LOT of X-Men movies (seven, to be exact), and if you’ve never seen any of them, X-Men: Days of Future Past, the newest one, which is in theaters now, is a great place to start. It travels back to the very beginning of the series’s long-running story to review and re-create some of the action. If you’re already an X-Men fan like I am, it’s especially cool to see characters like Professor Xavier and Magneto in their formative years and what early decisions led them to where they got to later in life (but earlier in the series—so confusing!). I know it can be annoying when a franchise messes with a story’s timeline, but trust me on this one! I came out of the theater ready for a serious X-Men movie marathon, to re-see how it all fits together and dream about what might come next. —Stephanie

The Magic School BusThe Magic School Bus (1994–1997, PBS Kids)
A lot of what you will need to know to graduate from college with a liberal arts degree, you can learn from The Magic School Bus. I speak from experience. It is my favorite cartoon to rewatch, because I now recognize how ahead of its time it was. Its writers were among those rare wizards who can make hard concepts—educational ones, and ones from life—not just easy to understand, but also fun to learn. The Magic School Bus taught me about things like gravity and the water cycle, as well as how to manage difficult relationships and to be OK with failure and imperfection—or rather, to understand that they are parts of creativity and learning. To this day, I’m guided by some of the show’s key messages: Create, read, build friendships, take chances, make mistakes, and GET MESSY. —Arabelle

The To-Do ListThe To Do List (2013)
The To Do List stars Aubrey Plaza as Brandy Klark, a SUPER serious recent high-school grad with countless accomplishments under her belt (valedictorian, president of the mathletes, self-publisher of the magazine “Womyn) but no notches in it, so to speak. Brandy has never had sex or got it on in any way, shape, or form, which she’s pretty OK with until her older sister (played by Rachel Bilson) convinces her that she needs to be “experienced” before she gets to college. Brandy, overachiever that she is, makes a to-do list of every sex act she can think of and vows to cross them all off in a summer. She tries SO HARD and fails even harder (a lot of times while she is simultaneously succeeding in eliminating something from the list), but she refuses to give up, which is as sweet as it is hilarious. The list of extremely funny people in this movie (Aubrey, Rachel, Alia Shawkat, Bill Hader, Connie Britton, Andy Samberg, Donald Glover, etc.) is long, and seeing them together in scenes like this one is reason enough to watch it—several times! I have liked only one comedy enough to go to the theater thrice for it, and this is it. —Lena

Agents of SHIELDAgents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2014–present, ABC)
You will get sucked right into Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the latest TV show by the awesome Joss Whedon, because it is pure action. S.H.I.E.L.D., which stands for Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division, is a global intelligence and law-enforcement agency pulled from Marvel comics. Like a lot of crime-fighting shows, this one mainly deals with special agents chasing down villains—in this case sent by forces (human and alien!) that are hellbent on destroying the world. You’ve also got the witty dialogue Whedon’s been known for since Buffy, plus kickass heroines like the talented hacker Skye; the pilot May, and the brilliant scientist Simmons. The mystery builds quickly through the first season, and when you get to the last episode, you’ll be screaming for more. —Stephanie

The PaintingThe Painting (2011)
You know how people say you make your own path in life? This beautiful animated film takes that idea literally. The characters are artistic creations of “the Painter,” who has left them in various states of completion. Some people are finished works, while others are just sketches, and the way they’re treated depends a lot on the way they look. It’s a movie about discrimination, the ways differences shape us, discovering your desires, and creating yourself. It’s a good Netflix Instant selection, for sure. Watch it especially if you feel attacked for decisions you’ve made about your appearance. It will help support you on your journey. —Arabelle

Alice in WonderlandAlice in Wonderland (1951)
Each time I see the Disney animated classic Alice in Wonderland, I discover something new. When I was younger, the movie was all about fantasy, dreams, and color, but later in life, I started relating to the characters on a deeper level. When Alice is chasing the White Rabbit, trying to understand who he is and where he’s going, I now can completely understand how he feels—busy as a bee, overwhelmed by what’s happening, and unable to respond to anyone who’s talking (“No time to say hello, goodbye, I’m late! I’m late! I’m late!”). But, like Alice, I’ve had some Mad Hatters and Caterpillars in my life—friends who think nonlinearly and make me question the way I think, too. A lot of the characters Alice meets in Wonderland act illogically, and she finds herself in a lot of confusing and uncomfortable situations with them (like navigating the Mad Hatter’s nonsensical tea party or playing croquet with the scary and unpredictable Queen of Hearts). Now more than ever, I appreciate that Alice is quick on her feet and learns how to adapt to whatever and whoever comes her way. —Shriya

kingpinbox2Kingpin (1996)
This movie was the last time Bill Murray played an unrepentant d-bag, and as much as I love the soulful, yearning-but-tired-of-yearning Bill Murray who’s shown up in all the movies he’s done since this one came out in 1996, I do miss this type of swagger:

He’s not in enough of the movie, but his scenes are all precious gems that make the whole thing worth watching and rewatching. Not that the rest of it is bad—it is actually hilarious, if you like dumb jokes told smartly, which are my favorite kind. It was directed by the Farrelly brothers and came out between their two biggest hits: Dumb & Dumber and There’s Something About Mary. But I think it’s so much funnier than those two. It’s weirder and more surprising, and it contains an infinite amount more Bill Murray, which happens to be exactly the amount of Bill Murray we all need in our lives. —Anaheed ♦

Star Crossings

Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox. Collage by Minna.
Photo courtesy of 20th Century Fox. Collage by Minna.

By now, you may have heard of John Green’s YA novel The Fault in Our Stars. You may also have heard that a big-deal movie based on the book is coming out on June 6. Both are about Hazel Grace Lancaster, a 16-year-old who likes hefty books and America’s Next Top Model in equal measure. After she’s diagnosed with cancer, she meets Augustus Waters, a terribly handsome survivor of the disease, at a support group. Then they do that thing that teens in novels are wont to do: fall in L-U-V.

You can’t help loving Hazel and Augustus as a couple. Unlike in many other teen-romance books, they aren’t hyper-glamorized, plus they’re hilarious. I won’t say much regarding the end of this book, but I will tell you that it made me open-mouth sob uncontrollably, and I rarely cry over books.

In high school, I had seen John Green’s name in my Tumblr feed, where girls fawned over the wisdom in his highly quotable vlogs and his previous YA novels, vlogs and his previous YA novels, Looking for Alaska and Paper Towns. After reading TFIOS two summers ago, I’ve counted myself as one of those adoring fans, so you can imagine my excitement when, in September, I got to fly to Pittsburgh to watch part of the movie being shot. Even better: I got to talk to some of the cast members, like Shailene Woodley, who plays Hazel, and Ansel Elgort, aka Augustus Waters—plus John Green himself! Here’s my account of that extremely rad day.

I’ve never been to a movie set or a press “junket” or whatever, so at the event, I’m as intimidated as any other enormous fan of Green’s books would be. Every time I introduce myself to a producer, another writer covering the event, or really ANYBODY, they say, “Oh, Hazel! How fitting.”

The press group I’m part of is taken to the church where one of the book’s first scenes is being filmed. It’s the one where Hazel and Augustus first meet at the support group, which is held in a cross-shaped house of worship that Hazel calls the “Literal Heart of Jesus.” Augustus, the cutest boy in the room, flirts by aggressively staring Hazel down, and Hazel stares right back in defiance. “Finally, I decided […] to stare back,” she says in the book. “After a while, the boy smiled, and then finally his blue eyes glanced away. When he looked back at me, I flicked my eyebrows up to say, ‘I win.’” I knew right then that I was obsessed with her.

In the movie, the rest of the support group aren’t played by actors, but by real-life teens battling cancer. Part of what makes TFIOS so affecting is its unflinching depiction of terminal illness, which is all around us—in all likelihood, every person you and I know has been impacted by it in some way. It’s a part of everyone’s life, but thinking about it still makes a lot of people really uncomfortable. When TFIOS came out in 2012, there was some controversy over whether the subject matter was “appropriate” for teenagers (the Daily Mail called it “sick-lit”) and whether giving the main character a fatal disease was too emotionally manipulative. I don’t think it ever occurred to these critics that teenagers, like all humans, truly do suffer. Also, reducing the plot to a “cancer story” is deeply offensive. TFIOS is, first and foremost, a love story about two snarky teenagers who also happen to face an illness that affects millions of young people just like them.

John Green drew inspiration for the novel from having worked at a children’s hospital for six months when he was 22 years old. He says that most stories about childhood cancer portray “people living with cancer as mere tragedies, or merely brave,” something he wanted to avoid. “There’s something about characterizing someone that’s merely brave that dehumanizes them,” he says. “People say, ‘Oh, I could never live with that.’ Well, of course you could. And you would, if you had to.”

I’m happy to report that John Green online = John Green in person, lest you thought he was catfishing all his fans with fake wit. He’s the exact embodiment of his enthusiastic tweets, the wise-cracking vlogs he does with his brother, Hank, and his completely accessible overall web presence. The first question I blurt out after shaking his hand is the most self-centered one possible (yes, it’s about my name, ugh). He tells me that he chose the name Hazel because the character was “in between worlds”—youth and adulthood, life and death—and the color hazel is between brown and green. I can feel a dorky grin spread across my face.

Hazel says in the novel, “There will come a time when there are no human beings remaining to remember that anyone ever existed or that our species ever did anything. […] And if the inevitability of human oblivion worries you, I encourage you to ignore it.” Augustus (Gus for short), meanwhile, wants to make the biggest mark he can while he’s still alive. When I meet Shailene Woodley in the church basement, I ask if she sympathizes with Hazel’s worldview. “It’s funny,” she says, “because I [would have] related more to Gus when I was that age. I was like, ‘Oh there’s so much to do, there’s so much to change! I want to be remembered and help the environment!’”

Describing her character, Shailene says, “She doesn’t think she’s special in any way, shape, or form, and that’s kind of what makes her special. I’m inspired by her ability to recognize the faults in the world and to see the wrong in them, but not feel like it’s her job to correct them. Those are important lessons for all of us to learn.”

John Green says working with terminally ill children made him really angry, because he felt they had been denied access to a good life. He dealt with those feelings by writing TFIOS, and eventually came to believe that “the universe doesn’t care very much about individuals, but that doesn’t prevent you from having a good life. It wasn’t impossible for those kids to have a good life just because they died so young. I realized it’s possible to have a good life and a short life.”

My favorite thing about The Fault in Our Stars is the way Augustus and Hazel sarcastically bicker and joke with each other, like when Augustus makes fun of what Hazel asks for when a wish-granting organization comes calling: “You did not use your one dying Wish to go to Disney World with your parents,” he admonishes her. John Green’s characters don’t talk the way people my age actually talk—instead, Green says, his teens talk like real ones “want to think they talk.” Fair enough: If Romeo and Juliet can talk to each other in poetic verse, Augustus and Hazel can convey their love as dramatically as they want. “I’m interested in using text to reflect emotional reality,” Green says. “Now, we don’t speak to each other in sonnets, but that’s a very effective tool for capturing the idea of love that was destined and fated to be.”

What he really hates is when people say real teenagers aren’t as smart as Hazel and Gus. “[That] tends to be something adults say. I don’t think adults give teenagers enough credit as intellectually engaged people. The way teens approach big, important, interesting questions is more interesting than how adults do it, because [teenagers] tend to ask them without fear or embarrassment. They’re willing to ask why suffering exists, or ‘What’s the meaning of life?’ Adults ask those questions under 72 layers of irony for fear of appearing unsophisticated.”

The second scene we get to see is the one where the couple leaves a group counseling session. Augustus asks Hazel if she wants to see a movie, then puts a cigarette to his lips. When Hazel becomes furious, he explains that it’s only a metaphor: “You put the thing that kills you right between your teeth, but you never give it the power to kill you.” In each take, Shailene and Ansel do something a little different. After one, Shailene looks at Green and asks if the scene is “up to your ‘cute’ standards?” Green smiles and replies with a thumbs-up: “Yes, extra cute.”

Although Green knew he was writing a sad story, it didn’t fully hit him how emotionally demanding the plot was until he began watching the movie being made. “I tried to make the book as funny as possible, but it is about dying when you’re young. I don’t know why anyone would read a sad story. It seems horrible. But this is not a sad story. This is a love story, really.”

A lot of people ask him what happens after the book ends, but he says he can’t answer those questions because he just doesn’t know: “When you start giving people answers to things outside the text, it gives the author a power I don’t want to have. I want you to have it. I want you to be making those choices.”

Of course, for those clamoring for more TFIOS, there’s always the movie. Shooting it has proved grueling, especially for Ansel, who recounts one particularly devastating scene in which Augustus becomes intensely ill while driving and calls Hazel to come get him: “I was acting like a four-year-old. It’s the toughest thing I’ve done as an actor.” Nat Wolff, who plays Augustus’s blind friend Isaac, also had a hard scene, in which he had to smash a wall of trophies in anger: “I had to smash a couple of certain points, but in the heat of the moment, I smashed all the wrong spots. Good times.”

One particularly memorable moment on set came when, after a long, tiring day of shooting, Green heard piano music coming from the church sanctuary at 4:15 AM. “I heard this sad and sweet, seemingly improvised song, and I went in and saw Nat and Ansel playing together,” he recalls. “When you’ve been up all night, and you’re so tired, to have this moment of seeing them connect so deeply was really extraordinary.”

For Shailene, The Fault in Our Stars has been a transformative experience. She says the book taught her to live in the present and to be aware of what’s happening around her, rather than worry about the future or feel guilty about the past. “The thing about John Green, and this book,” she says, “is that these aren’t new ideas—it’s just a way of articulating these thoughts we have in our hearts, in words that make sense. People are going to see it and be affected.” ♦

Literally the Best Thing Ever: Before They Were Stars

The only thing better than when celebs are “just like us” is that period in their careers before they were stars. I flip out any time I see a famous actor or singer in an ancient commercial or talent competition on YouTube, or when I notice that a star I know and love today was always right there, in the background of a movie or show I adored as a kid. I don’t know why, but I tend to forget that these people didn’t just emerge famous, from the womb.

The vast majority of performers aren’t offered the most glamorous gigs right out of the gate. Junk food, video game, and tampon commercials can be a young actor’s bread and butter (just ask Brad Pitt, Paul Rudd, or Naomi Watts), as well can be an excellent source of hilarity and/or adorableness years later.

How I Met You Mother’s Alyson Hannigan has a career in television and film that has spanned decades. But prior to bringing Lily Aldrin, Michelle Flaherty, or Willow Danielle Rosenberg to life, she starred in an ad for the over-the-counter antacid Mylanta. To her credit, she is totally believable as a girl who is very concerned with her father’s gastrointestinal issues:

Even better than seeing future stars in commercials is when they pop up in a bit part on a sitcom or movie. When I spotted Parks and Recreation’s Adam Scott in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it role on Boy Meets World, I was overcome by a combination of giddiness and befuddlement. There I was thinking that I understood everything that BMW was, is, and ever would be, and then, one lazy afternoon, while watching a long block of reruns on MTV2, a whole new and magnificent layer to this show was revealed to me—the Adam Scott of it all!

Then there are those budding actors who OWN their tiny roles for the two or three minutes they’re onscreen, which is exactly what Melissa McCarthy does in the 1999 movie Go (and in everything she’s done since). In her feature film debut, the Emmy-winning, Oscar-nominated owner of the finest dimples in all the land plays a somewhat ditzy minor character. During her big scene, she expertly shifts among three or four different emotions in a matter of seconds, and every one is magical:

I’m no expert on the subject of stardom, but from what I’ve been able to glean from Tootsie, practically everyone trying to break into show business is an underdog. Being talented or gorgeous or both is no guarantee of success. There are so many factors beyond one’s control (cosmic timing, the public’s shifting tastes and values, that subtle twinkle in your eye, etc.) that could, depending on the day, work to your benefit or detriment.

The fact that any of our favorite celebrities of today are able to make a living acting, singing, writing, directing, or whatever is a remarkable feat in and of itself. And that’s why I love seeing the powerhouse actor/dreamboat Idris Elba playing an interstellar pizza delivery man on a weird-ass ’90s show called Space Precinct, international treasure Cate Blanchett chilling with a genie in a Tim Tam commercial, and the Oscar-nominated actor Bradley Cooper as himself, an aspiring actor in the audience of episode after episode of Inside the Actors Studio:

Seeing how far people like Cooper or Tina Fey or Beyoncé have come has even made me reflect on some of the unexpected and radical changes that have occured in my own life. Six years ago, I never would have thought that anyone (aside from maybe my mom) would read anything I’d written. I’m not Beyoncé, but seeing her and all these other famous folk before they made it to the big time reminds me that no matter who you are, the future holds a lot of spectacular possibilities. ♦

Through Thick and Thin

broad cityBroad City (2014–present, Comedy Central)
Some of the most affecting High Cultural Artistic Television expands your worldview—it makes you aware of perspectives and narratives and ways of being that are not your own. I’m all for that, but I recently discovered a show that’s rad in just the opposite way: I actually become myself more fully when I watch Broad City. Never have I ever seen such a joyous, open portrait of a friendship between two girls as this one of Abbi and Ilana, the show’s sloppy/perfect heroines, both of whom I want to befriend/marry/take some kind of weird spit-oath of everlasting partnership with. What other TV best-girlfriends would music-video-dance to Drake (while one inexplicably wears a Missy Elliott costume) to celebrate a paycheck; wear super-excellent sluts’ garb to a tony rich-people restaurant; or understand the agony of hooking up with skeezer DJs or hot dudes in terrible improv troupes? Broad City is like no show I’ve ever seen because it’s like watching scenes from my own best-friendships unfold—and, until now, I thought that a space-cadet life like mine was decidedly NOT suitable for television. This show makes me feel OK about the fact that I am consistently unaware of flashing the entire subway (and that I don’t care when I’m apprised), don’t know how to pronounce aubergine, am currently crushed out on a guy with a goatee and Transitions sunglasses, and haven’t changed a lightbulb in my apartment since 2013. (I’m writing this from the grim shadows of my living room, in fact.) This show is the real goddamn deal. Abbi and Ilana for life. *spits in palm, proffers it to their faces on my laptop screen* —Amy Rose

squarepegsSquare Pegs (1982–1983, CBS)
Most people would say Carrie Bradshaw was Sarah Jessica Parker’s definitive television character, but for me, it has always been Patty Greene, the high school student she played on this EXCELLENT ’80s TV show. As Greene, Parker was a brainy freshman with curly hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Along with her best friend, Lauren Hutchinson, she embarks on a single-minded mission to become POPULAR. This is slightly difficult for both of them because they are pretty nerdy, and the harder they try to garner favor with the cool kids, the nerdier they seem. But Square Pegs‘s true plot involves the friendship between Patty and Lauren, who stay thick as thieves through every bumbling boy-chat and awkward lunch-table interaction. It’s such a sweet and funny show, and a pretty realistic portrayal of teen life, especially for network television. The soundtrack is also killer, with a theme song by the Waitresses and music by then-new bands like the B-52s and the Clash. Bonus: cameos by the likes of Devo and Bill Murray! The suits at CBS, sadly, didn’t get the show, and canceled it after one season. But you can still watch episodes on the internet! —Julianne

mister lonelyMister Lonely (2007)
Mister Lonely deals with one of the most interesting questions in life: How do you find your own identity while also trying to fit in with the rest the world? The movie follows two parallel stories: In the first, a lonely Michael Jackson impersonator meets a Marilyn Monroe lookalike in Paris, and they retreat together to a commune for celebrity impersonators. The other storyline is about a group of nuns who come to believe that their faith in God protects them from death when they jump out of planes. The overriding concept is that there is beauty in creating a world for yourself, rather than try to fit neatly within the confines of a larger society. I think that is the glorious message in most of the director Harmony Korine’s work—that you should create your own community and just forget about everyone else. —Eleanor

love at twentyLove at Twenty (1962)
Love at Twenty is a five-part series of short films by the directors François Truffaut, Andrzej Wajda, Renzo Rossellini, Shintaro Ishihara, and Marcel Ophüls. My favorite segment, Antoine et Colette, was directed by the king of my heart, Truffaut. It barely crosses the half-hour mark, but it wrapped me up completely. It follows Antoine, a teenager living on his own in 1960s Paris. He goes to the youth orchestra and falls in love-at-first-sight with one of the musicians. He returns every day, hoping to see the girl again, and a mess of a crush ensues. It gave me a subtly achey heart, and a crush of my own on Jean-Pierre Léaud, the dreamboat of all dreamboats who plays Antoine. The other four films in the series are equally tender. —Allyssa

badlandsBadlands (1973)
Sometimes a really close relationship—maybe platonic, but more often than not romantic—has its own moral code. You feel like you and the other person are on a different wavelength from the rest of the universe. You have a private language or secret hideaway, or play by different rules. You might also be more willing to turn a blind eye when the other person does something you would, under all other circumstances, consider unforgivable or really, really fucked up. That’s the sort of relationship 15-year-old Holly and 25-year-old Kit have in Badlands. The trailer gives it away, so it’s not really ruining anything to say that, together, they kill a lot of people. One of the things that makes this movie a masterpiece (though after the first time I saw it, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about anything else for at least a week) is that it makes you feel so much a part of their world—a terrible but tender, naïve, and sometimes beautiful place—that you constantly forgive and fall in love with them. —Lena

me and you and everyone we knowMe and You and Everyone We Know (2005)
The first four or so minutes of Me and You and Everyone We Know constitute one of my favorite opening scenes of any movie ever. You see a close-up of a photo of a man and a woman facing a sunset, while Miranda July’s character recites an imaginary conversation between them, beginning with: “If you really love me, then let’s make a vow, right here, together, right now. OK?” Then we go to a house where a real man and woman are packing up their stuff as they prepare to separate. The man suddenly runs into the front yard and sets his hand on fire in front of his kids. The scenario sits somewhere between profoundly heartbreaking and strangely amusing, which is a place where July (who wrote, directed, and stars in the movie) shines. Watching all of this unfold, I barely understood what this movie could be about, but I felt immediate and deep empathy for all of the characters. Me and You and Everyone We Know finds togetherness in loneliness. It follows people of widely different ages and social strata, and their private moments of embarrassment and discovery lead to beautiful and very real-seeming connections that show how lives can interweave in mundane but magical ways. —Eleanor

togetherTogether (2000)
When I saw Together, I was completely alone. I had just moved to a new city for college and didn’t know a soul. I picked it up at the school library because I liked the cover, which promised ABBA would be in the soundtrack. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the story, but it turns out neither do its young protagonists. It’s set in 1975, when Eva and Stefan’s mother moves the three of them to her brother’s ramshackle commune in the suburbs of Stockholm, Sweden, to escape her abusive husband. At the commune, the three of them are completely pulled out of their comfort zones. Their mom thrives, but Eva and Stefan struggle to fit in with the very different lifestyles and unfamiliar ideals of their new roommates. When I watched it, I related to both sides—part of me wanted to commit to my new habitat, but another was hesitant about succumbing to the unknown. Like the characters in the movie, I eventually realized that a little love and togetherness could eventually help me feel at home. —Cynthia

to wong fooTo Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar (1995)
This was my favorite movie when I was four, and as an adult I still find myself wishing Noxeema, Vida, and (my favorite) Chi-Chi—drag queens played by Wesley Snipes, Patrick Swayze, and John Leguizamo, respectively—will come brighten up my day, or at least take me on a road trip. The story starts with Vida and Noxeema, the older, more seasoned queens, winning a trip to Hollywood. They take the younger “princess” Chi-Chi under their wing and cash in their free plane tickets to get a convertible big enough to transport the three of them across the country from New York, but it only makes it as far as a small town called Snydersville before it breaks down. While learning to accept and respect one another, the queens and the princess forge some unforgettable bonds with the people of Snydersville. It’s a heartwarming film, and it will always be a staple of my movie nights. —Brittany

onceOnce (2006)
This musical love story is about a guy known only as Guy. He makes his living busking on the streets of Dublin, when he isn’t fixing vacuums in his dad’s shop. Guy meets a Czech immigrant known as Girl when she brings in a busted vacuum cleaner. Eventually she reveals that she’s a musician, too, and Guy teaches her to play “Falling Slowly.” Girl helps Guy write and record a demo, and an intense musical partnership, fraught with romantic tension, blossoms. Their songs, which are on the movie’s excellent acoustic soundtrack, tell stories of romance gone wrong, and make sappy ol’ me long for Girl and Guy to get together (I won’t say whether they do). Once made me cry a few times, but not in a bad way—it just put relationships into a new perspective. —Stephanie ♦