Author: Leona X

Simply put, The Get Down is a little bit of everything I love. It’s a musical, but not where everyone breaks out into song- not that I would mind. It is a musically driven drama relying heavily on hip hop in its earliest stages, at a time when disco was at its peak. Seeing minor characters like Grandmaster Flash and Kool Herc appear on-screen, and hearing Donna Summer hits play in the background, make for a fun music appreciation lesson. Throw in some funk and latin jazz and I’m sold.

The Get Down opens in 1996 New York City, at what appears to be a huge rap concert by a performer we only catch in brief glimpses. The Netflix show was co-created by Baz Luhrmann, whom I loved before most folks (Strictly Ballroom is a family fave). While I’m not head over heels for any other Luhrmann project except William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, I love his aesthetic. There are nods to both Ballroom and R+J as well as others throughout the first episode, which Luhrmann directed. I mean come on, “You had me at ‘hello!’”

Somehow while I was chillin’ under a boulder, I didn’t know much about The Get Down when a friend asked me if I’d seen it yet. Luhrmann’s involvement was the only thing I knew about it when I finally started watching, so imagine my surprise when the rapper on stage opened his mouth and sounded exactly like Nasir Jones. To hear Nas’ voice as the rap-narrator (the lead character, Zeke, as an adult) made my heart smile. By the way, you will want to take heed the lyrics as they help set up certain episodes and key scenes. I didn’t realize who was lip syncing to Nas’ voice until they showed him again at the end- yes, that was Tony winning Daveed Diggs (from Hamilton!). I’m not wild about the lip syncing, but the fact that I love Nas and Diggs makes me forgive it.

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Young Zeke

The show takes us back to 1977 in South Bronx, where it focuses on a neighborhood that is broke and falling apart by the second, as its citizens struggle to cope. While trying to escape the reality of life, a group of teenagers find peace in music and other art. The show’s lead is the young version of the future rap star; a quietly bright Ezekiel “Zeke” Figuero (Justice Smith), whose parents were killed when he was young. He lives with his Aunt Wanda (Judy Marte) and her overly vocal boyfriend, Leon (Brandon J. Dirden), who comes off as borderline abusive. It turns out they both just want to challenge Zeke to work hard. Zeke is a poet and a romantic, in love with his friend, Mylene, who seems to underestimate what he has to offer. You root for Zeke at every turn, in spite of the many mistakes he makes; he’s a kid who has to experience life on his own.

Zeke’s best friends are brothers: Ra-Ra, Dizzee and Boo. They each have very distinct personalities of their own. Ra-Ra (Skylan Brooks) is the idea man who can rattle off facts about random topics. Dizzee (Jaden Smith) is the “weird” graffiti artist who sees the world through a whole different set of glasses from the rest of the crew. Dizzee actually drops a Strictly Ballroom line that is very true to his spirit: “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.”  Boo (TJ Brown Jr.) is the youngest, but seems like the oldest, as he is cautious about every move they make. Their sister Yolanda (Stefanée Martin), is one of Mylene’s best friends.

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Yolanda, Mylene and Regina (l-r)

Mylene Cruz (Herizen F. Guardiola) is the apple of everyone’s eyes, especially Zeke. She is in denial of his love for her because she has such high hopes for her life, but isn’t sure about his own ambition. She lights a fire in him in more ways than one. She has the voice that makes everyone stop and listen, especially when she performs a solo at her father’s church. However, her conservative father, Pastor Ramon (Giancarlo Esposito) is not as excited about her dreams of secular stardom. Ramon wants so badly to distance himself from the colorful ways of gregarious and charismatic brother, Francisco (Jimmy Smits) that he keeps a tight hold on his daughter.

Smits plays the uncle we all want, let’s be honest. Francisco, a city councilman, cares deeply about the community and his family, and he will do anything to protect them and bring them happiness. His willingness to do almost anything causes him to be at odds with Ramon at times. He plays a major role in Mylene getting closer to her dream of being a disco star.

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Franciso AKA “Papa Fuerte”

Then, there’s Shaolin Fantastic AKA Shao 007 (Shameik Moore, Dope), who’s a bit of a mystery in the eyes of Zeke and his friends. We’re introduced to Shao through Dizzee’s clear awe of his graffiti work. We don’t know much about him right off, but as the first episode develops you learn there will be an eternal connection between Shao and Zeke. Shao rocks a fresh pair of red Pumas and he parkours almost everywhere he goes. More importantly, he knows the streets, the dark side, and he knows the one and only Grandmaster Flash.

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Shao learning from Grandmaster Flash

Shao becomes a guide for Zeke, showing him how to make his poetry into music. Between the two of them, there’s apparently nothing they can’t do. Shao is street smart and Zeke has his head in the books; Shao even dubs Zeke “Books,” which he uses as a stage name throughout his career. They both fall deeper in love with music and what they are creating, but no one in Zeke’s life understands this new hip hop movement- no one even calls it that yet! Shao doesn’t have a family so he’s free to give his heart to the music, but Zeke’s loved ones want him to focus on his education and being successful in the community. As Shao and Zeke get closer, and Zeke gets closer to Mylene, Shao becomes a bit Mercutio-like; jealous of her role in Zeke’s life. The Shao-Zeke-Mylene storyline has strong dramatic potential in Part 2 of the season.

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Mylene and Zeke

Plenty of other characters contribute to this world: Mylene’s mother, Lydia (Zabryna Guevara, Gotham) who is torn between letting her daughter be free and obeying her husband; Mylene’s other best friend, Regina (Shyrley Rodriguez), whose experience reminds us just how naïve and sheltered Mylene really is; and washed-up music producer Jackie Moreno (Kevin Corrigan), who promises to create a hit for Mylene. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Fat Annie (Lillias White) and her son Cadillac (Yahya Abdul-Maheen II), neighborhood drug dealers who run the night club, Les Inferno. These actors played the hell out of those roles; Fat Annie is scary!

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Shao, Fat Annie and Cadillac at Les Inferno

The characters are rich and lively, but the themes are what make you keep coming back for more. It is truly 1977; black kids who idolize Bruce Lee and are excited about an upcoming little movie called Star Wars. The threat of gangs, the presence of drugs and the knowledge of mayhem at a local club, keep these otherwise innocent kids on their toes. The show borders on corny in some scenes with dance battles and nods to martial arts movies, but I love it for nostalgia’s sake. The setting makes The Get Down feel like home to me; something about it is strangely familiar. I’m an ‘80s baby and I’d never been to New York City until I was an adult, but it feels like I know it so well.

Like many people, I grew up watching plenty of movies and TV shows set in NYC, and this show was all of those stories in one: The Warriors, Beat Street, Fame, even I Like It Like That, along with so much more. In 1977, NYC went through major transitions, leaving people of color, especially those outside Manhattan, with little to nothing. fuerteWe see footage, both real and dramatized, with images of the Son of Sam, Gerald Ford, Ed Koch and the madness all over the city at that time. It’s beautifully shot, and serves as a dramatized history lesson. When we see Ed Koch campaigning to a crowd off angry New Yorkers, talking about getting rid of graffiti and removing the “delinquents making racket,” they were in a space that looked desolate and depressing. The scenes that took place near dilapidated, even demolished housing projects, remind me of scenes from R+J, where Romeo would hang out with his friends; it even uses similar score.

The first episode plays like a feature length movie that can’t decide on its plot, but when you start rolling the story completely envelops you and you’re stuck. For a person who doesn’t normally binge watch, I was in a zone. It wasn’t like with HBO’s The Night Of, where I felt pressure to finish it so I could be ready for the water cooler talk; no one I know even watches The Get Down. I voluntarily gave this show my all. I wasn’t ready for the finale. I didn’t realize it was the end until the credits rolled, and I’m not sure how I felt about it. It may seem odd for me to say, but it felt too “wrapped-up.” I wanted another episode simply because I enjoy watching it, not because the story felt incomplete. I don’t particularly prefer cliffhangers, but the way it ended felt so final. It came off like there may not be more, although there is much more story to tell! There is certainly one major burning question: How does Zeke stay true to himself while chasing his own dreams?

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Zeke and the crew at an underground party

As much I enjoy it, The Get Down is admittedly imperfect. Whenever I turn it off, I start asking questions I want it to answer and I tell myself I understand why people don’t like it. I even feel reluctant to recommend it. Then I turn it back on and I’m sucked right back in, and confused on how everyone I know hasn’t dropped everything to make this a priority viewing! I’m already watching the entire thing all over again, and seeing points I had missed the first time around. It’s interesting that a few other shows have come out and are praised for the feelings of nostalgia, but this show is being knocked by people who barely gave it a chance. I realize my reluctance to suggest the show is due to the expected skepticism from others. Shows featuring people of color are not allowed to be artsy, or drop knowledge, or be anything outside the box. I say give us more like this; I can’t wait for more!

Find it on Netflix now.

 

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I felt something when I found out The Good Wife was ending. I was well aware of the universal opinion that it had gone downhill. I personally agree, though not entirely. Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies), who we loved and rooted for in the beginning, had become hard to understand, or even like. So why was I still watching when something was clearly missing? I needed closure but I wasn’t sure I would ever get it.

I’m not very hip- I learned what “ship” and “OTP” meant from my uber cool fanperson buddy, Mint. When I learned what they meant, I shrugged. I couldn’t think of two characters that I ship. Finally, it dawned on me kinda like when Cher realized she loved Josh! My favorite ship/OTP for life is Willicia: Alicia Florrick and Will Gardner (Josh Charles). Yes I know she’s married, but he was the one who got away and so was she for him. Their love was true and he brought out the best in her. Her marriage to the sloppy mess we know as Peter (Chris Noth), kept her balled up like a feeble little wimp, but her affair with Will lit a fire in her belly. I don’t encourage extramarital affairs-they actually make me cringe a little when I see them on TV, but this was different. This was One True Pairing.

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Josh Charles’ last season on the show was certainly the best of the series. The drama had reached an intense peak and this role proved to be perfect for him. Charles and Margulies had incredible on-screen chemistry; seeing them together still makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Willicia was the best “will they/won’t they” of any drama in my opinion. As you can imagine, I bawled when Will died. The tears were mostly because his murder was unexpected and tragic, but also because my favorite TV pseudo-couple would never happen.

So many questions remain unanswered: What if Eli (Alan Cumming) had let Alicia hear that message all those years ago? Watch it again and cry along with me.

What if Alicia and Will had taken a real chance at being together? What if she hadn’t left to start her own firm with Cary Agos (Matt Czuchry), causing Will to possibly despise her in his last days?

"Hitting the Fan"--Alicia (Julianna Margulies, right) and Cary√¢¬?¬?s plans to depart Lockhart/Gardner are suddenly exposed, leading to mass firings and a desperate battle between the two firms to retain clients, on THE GOOD WIFE, Sunday, Oct 27th (9:00-10:01 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network. Also pictured: Josh Charles as Will Gardner, left Photo: David M. Russell √?¬©2013 CBS Broadcasting, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Well he didn’t despise her. He was still in love with her; that’s something we do know. However we will never know what he wanted to say to her right before that moment he was killed. Alicia, girl! I was crying right there with you. Although I knew I would never get these questions answered I continued to miss Will. I missed Willicia. I knew I had to accept Will was gone but I continued mourning him along with Alicia, even two seasons later.

After Charles left the show, it started to stink, just a little. All of The Good Wifers of the world tried to deny it but it was true. The writers had to work around his decision to leave and we felt the pain. The direction felt like it was gone, along with the magic. There were good episodes but as a whole it just wasn’t great anymore. This is a show I convinced people to watch, but it became a show I barely admitted I was still watching. There were episodes when I would shout “What is going on?!” I wanted to text my sister or my co-worker to rant but they had already thrown in the towel. I held onto it, faithfully- even though my OTP could never be.

I spent this last season alone, with no one to turn to. It was just me, Alicia, and the rest of the gang. I didn’t mind though. The series finale aired against Game of Thrones so it hit the back burner for me, but it did close out my night.

eli-dianeThis is the show that made me fall in love with Alan Cumming, reaffirmed my love for Christine Baranski, and made me see Chris Noth as “Evil Big.” Believe it or not, this show made me appreciate Margulies, whom I had previously thought was mediocre at best. Sorry/Not Sorry. It also made me enjoy the law, and prepared me for the political corruption of House of Cards- OK not quite as corrupt. It made me enjoy romance on workplace TV shows, which I often hate (unless it’s Michael Scott and Holly Flax). I will always love the fact that this show featured underrated Broadway talents like Renee Elise Goldsberry, Nikki M. James, and Leslie Odom Jr. (I know it was a small part, but it counts!). I could go on and on about the talent: Stockard Channing, Carrie Preston, Martha Plimpton, Gary Cole, the lovely Vanessa L. Williams, Michael Ealy, Taye Diggs and the always wonderful Michael J. Fox! OK, I can’t name everyone but they had great guest stars- sometimes they felt like a crutch but they usually felt just right. TGW wasn’t afraid to feature people of color and powerful women, while also pointing out those people of color and powerful women. It showed vulnerability and used humor to tell dramatic stories. I’ll miss extending my DVR for my show that often slid for NFL and NCAA Basketball. I’ll certainly miss the halls of Stern/Lockhart/Gardner/Florrick/Agos/Lee or whatever it may have ended up being called.  

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You’re no Will but you’ll do.

As much as I’ll miss the series, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about its finale. Then again, I’m not quite sure how I feel about most series finales. They can’t all be Breaking Bad, let’s just accept it. I’ll love this one because of Will. Yep, Josh Charles came back so we could properly say “goodbye.” Seeing Alicia still seek guidance and validation from him spiritually, made me smile. Sure, she had someone waiting to love her but Will was still number one. The mysterious, witty and sexy investigator Jason Crouse (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) loves Alicia so much it hurts but Alicia told imaginary Will what most of us were thinking: “Jason’s not you.” Damn skippy he’s not! willicia1This show also made me appreciate Morgan but she was right, Jason is not Will. The way the show ended, we’ll never know what her relationship with Jason became but either way, she was free. Will’s spirit told her to go get her love and she finally let go of Peter. Watching Alicia walk away from Peter when he reached for her hand as he resigned from his role as Governor made me feel sorry for him for the first time. More importantly, it made me cheer for her again. We’d seen her hold his hand and stand by his side enough- it was time for her to stand on her own two feet. Then, there’s Jason and his mind games. Maybe he was a good match for Alicia but damn if she was gonna chase him down to find out. Good for you Alicia! Goodbye Willicia, Hello Alicia- finally able to be her own woman for a change.

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Where is the love?

I shed a tear when the show’s credits came on the screen because it’s the end of an era. I was connected to this cast and its characters. The Good Wife may have let me down at times, including some moments in the finale, but it brought me much more joy than disappointment. Alicia is flawed and that’s what made her so interesting. She started off the kind, doting (good) wife, oblivious to her husband’s behavior. Then, she began her journey to discover who she really was, messing up many times along the way. Whatever happened to Alicia as the credits rolled, we know it’s because she made it so.

By the way, seeing her get slapped by Diane Lockhart (Baranski) at the very end- WOW that was worth every minute!

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Yep I deserved that…

 

 

 

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I know it took me a while but this has been quite a week. So…ever since last Thursday when the news broke that Prince Rogers Nelson had passed away, I have heard the same line uttered many times: people will remember where they were when they found out. True- I will remember where I was and how I felt but I prefer remembering so many other moments and feelings.

I remember where I sat when he pointed at me and my sister at his concert in Atlanta in 2004, saying we knew how to jam. *insert high-pitched squeals here* I remember driving a long distance to Cleveland only months earlier to see him with both my sisters and my niece during that same tour. I even remember being with my other sister in a standing room only venue trying hard to get a peek of him shredding on stage in spite of the fact that almost everyone else present was certainly taller than us. Just hearing his voice and knowing we were in the same space- that’s the memory I prefer to have. I’ll even go so far as to say I remember the missed opportunities, when either work, mommy duty, or work AND mommy duty kept me from seeing him perform a few more times- including his final performance.

I have many preferred memories when it comes to Prince. I prefer to remember that he really LIVED!

“I want to live life to the ultimate high. Maybe I’ll die young, like heroes die.”princegif

Prince, as far as I could see, seemed to truly experience life and feel every emotion. He could speak to us through lyrics, poetry, instrumentation, energetic dance moves, and classic meme-worthy facial expressions. He was the greatest performer I ever witnessed and he stood among the ranks of some amazing talent. Beyond the music, he enriched people’s lives through charity.

Prince, the man, did die young like the heroes he spoke of. Fortunately for us, his music will always live on. Little did he know, or at least feel deserving enough to realize, Prince is a hero to many. On top of being such an incredible musical genius, he gave to others, paved the way for others, inspired others through art, and consistently gave voice to the the voiceless- including those who didn’t even realize they had no voice! He broke the rules of conformity and then reached his hand back for others to also break those rules and be “Free” (for “there’s many a man who’s not”). It’s been said many times about Prince, but he helped make it okay to love yourself and be comfortable in your own skin. He touched on–NO, he dug deep into race, gender, sexuality, and religion; with genuine concern for human and animal rights. I think it’s safe to say we wouldn’t have been exposed to the talent of artists like Lenny Kravitz, D’Angelo, Van Hunt, Nikka Costa, Janelle Monae, and countless others, without his influence.

“Love’s too weak to define…”

My sisters and I were known in our family to be Prince lovers. I honestly cannot remember a moment in my life when I didn’t absolutely love Prince. By the time I was born, he’d had a few albums under his belt and I feel like I’ve always known him. We had his music on every medium: vinyl, cassette, VHS tapes where we recorded all of his music videos (especially from Video Vibrations on BET). By late 1986 we had his music on compact disc- I even remember how fun it was to go back and find the ones that were being re-released on CD, like For You. Man I listened to that like it was really brand new; I was like 8 years old!

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The movies are their own story. I was a baby when Purple Rain was released but when I was old enough to work a VCR on my own, I watched it…a lot. Before anyone raises a finger to judge me or my family, understand that I was a small child moved by the music. I was looking at incredibly talented people of color and women kicking ass! I didn’t see sex. I didn’t see it as an influence over me. I saw Wendy and Lisa as musicians. I saw Apollonia go for hers. I saw Billy running a club while Morris and The Kid led amazing bands. I saw a great Rock ‘n Roll story.

 graffiti2We saw Under the Cherry Moon in the theater, twice- don’t ask me how old I was; you can do the math. When we saw Batman, we already knew all of the songs.  

We saw Graffiti Bridge and practically knew the dialogue having watched the videos multiple times before the movie came out. Sure it wasn’t the best but it was his. He was speaking to us all through his music, despite his uneven, sometimes corny moments. Everyone has a misstep but we loved this one and would defend it to anyone who told us it wasn’t fantastic.

We saw Joffrey Ballet perform a show called Billboards, and it was all Prince music. One of our first CD-ROMs on our home computer was a Prince game where you could tour his studio and unlock the combinations to vaults by knowing the songs. I saw Girl 6 because his music was the soundtrack. I know I’m getting a little redundant but he brought us out. He called to us. My sisters and I have our differences but one very distinct bond we share is a love for Prince.

I remember in 7th grade I had to do a current events project and I wanted to challenge my classmates to name more Prince songs than I could. I was so confident that anyone who could beat me would win $100 from me. Of course I didn’t have $100, but I wasn’t worried because no one could win! I knew Prince like that.

“What makes you a real lover?”

  All this said, the older I got, the more out of touch I became. The analogy that comes to mind is Prince as the uncle everyone loves. He’s fun, he challenges the norm, he’s everything your parents are NOT! My problem is, I stopped checking in on him. I knew where he was and what he was doing but I wasn’t picking up the phone. What do I mean? Well the last album I really KNEW was 3121 and that came out 10 years ago! I bought the next two albums Planet Earth and Lotus Flow3r immediately, and I liked them but they both came out at crazy times in my life so I only kinda knew them. Later, because I’m not that savvy with the digital age, I fell completely behind.  As much as I enjoyed the music I heard from Art Official prince8Age and HITnRUN, I didn’t buy them right away. I downloaded a song or two and re-watched performances on my DVR but that was it. I fell out of touch and I didn’t even realize it. I kept thinking I would get around to it then I didn’t. I would get upset that I couldn’t see him in one of his many pop-up shows but who was I? Am I any different from all of the people I politely smile at (while rolling my eyes on the inside) when they can only name “Purple Rain” and “1999” as if they’re his only songs in spite of the fact that he has released tons of music in the past 30 years? Okay, I’m a little different but in this past week I questioned that.

Without fail, I have always recorded or at least stopped what I was doing for every television appearance I could: SNL, The Tonight Show, Lopez Tonight–I even tuned in to award shows that I abhor just to hear his voice, and all he did was say a few words. Still, I didn’t realize I wasn’t checking in and now, he’s gone. It feels like I missed something. It feels like the kind of passing where you didn’t get to at least say “goodbye.” I feel some kind of way about this timing. I moved to another city and not even two months later he was in my old stomping grounds. I wanted to go back but it just wasn’t realistic. I was reassured I would get to see him in concert again, but now I won’t.

So, like many people I binged on the music video marathons over the weekend (“Partyman (extended)!” “Mountains!” I literally screamed for “Screams of Passion!”) and watched shows I never would normally watch just to hang on him a little bit longer. Then a thought hit me last night. I was in my car listening to “Here,” from the LotusFlow3r set. That song always makes my heart flutter and my eyes misty but I was one step from bawling this time. I hadn’t heard it in quite a while and I realized I just want him “Here” but he isn’t. I realized the music is what I have left, then I smiled. The real thing he wanted us to remember was his music and boy do I have enough memories to last a lifetime.

“My Love is Forever”

For everyone wanting something to remember- remember sneaking to listen to “Erotic City” or to watch “Purple Rain.” Remember being shocked by his ass being out when he performed “Gett Off” on the VMAs. Remember his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and that performance! Remember the Super Bowl Halftime in 2007- the best one ever! Above anything, remember the feeling his music gives you. Feel love, heartache, inspiration, spirituality, unity, acceptance, and so much more! Remember the stories he left us with. I have many more but I would be here all day. I may not get to see him perform live on stage again but when I think about all of the remarkable moments, it makes me feel much better.

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Dear Prince,

” U Make My Sun Shine” and “I Wish U Heaven.”

RIP Prince Rogers Nelson

–Leona X

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I’ve said here before and I will proudly say it again: I LOVE Peanuts. I love the characters. I read the strips as a kid, I have books for my son, and I love the specials and movies. This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of America’s favorite animated Christmas programs, A Charlie Brown Christmas. I watch it just about every year, or at least read the story to my son.

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Charlie Brown and Linus chillin’ at the wall (in the snow).

A Charlie Brown Christmas, which debuted on December 9, 1965, is an animated television special based on Charles Schulz’s comic strip Peanuts. It opens with shots of the children ice skating while the song, “Christmastime Is Here” plays. Charlie Brown and Linus walk together on the VERY snowy roads to chat at their favorite wall. Side note: am I really the only one thinking these conditions look way too bad for these kids to walk around, alone? Maybe I am. At the wall, Charlie Brown confesses to Linus that he’s just not feeling the holiday cheer, although he knows he should. Normally, Linus has some words to perk him up but even he has to admit that Charlie is bringing him down.

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No Christmas cards?!

When Charlie checks his mailbox, he sees no cards. He sarcastically tells Violet thanks for her card and she tells him she didn’t send him one (Rude!). When he tells Lucy, at her psychiatrist booth, that he feels depressed about the holiday, Lucy suggests he direct the Christmas play at school. Right away, Charlie hopes this plan could boost his spirits. As he heads home, he becomes even more frustrated about the commercialization of Christmas when he sees Snoopy decorating his doghouse to win a contest for money. Soon after, Sally asks for help with her letter to Santa Claus, where she requests cash in “tens and twenties.” Even his baby sister!

It’s worth mentioning that my son repeatedly reminded me that he does NOT like Violet, and dislikes Lucy even more. He would walk up to the TV and point just so I wasn’t confused. I’m pretty sure he thought they were the same mean girl but anyway…

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Jammin’ to some tunes during rehearsal.

When the other kids find out Charlie is directing the play, they immediately show their disappointment. Snoopy even boos him when Charlie arrives. He has little control over the other kids and is shown no respect. Most of them would prefer a modern take on Christmas, with dancing and upbeat music. In an effort to set “the proper mood,” Charlie Brown decides they need a Christmas tree. Lucy offers to take over while he looks for a “big shiny aluminum tree” so Charlie takes Linus with him.

At the tree market, there are many trees that fit Lucy’s description but Charlie Brown wants the one real tree, which happens to be VERY small. Knowing his sister, Linus is reluctant about showing up with the tree Charlie Brown likes. He tells him it doesn’t fit the “modern spirit” but Charlie is convinced that after decorating it, it will be just right for the play. When they return to the auditorium with the tree, the children and Snoopy mock and laugh at Charlie Brown, as they call him names (much to my son’s chagrin). Hurt, Charlie Brown challenges everyone, asking if anyone knows what Christmas is all about.

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Linus droppin’ knowledge.

Linus stands center stage, requests a spotlight, drops his beloved blanket (!), and explains Christmas, as told in the King James Bible. “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

Charlie Brown picks up the little tree and walks out of the auditorium. Inspired by Linus’ speech, Charlie decides to show them all what this tree could do with a little decoration. He passes Snoopy’s award-winning doghouse and takes an ornament. Due to the weight of the ornament, the top branch flops to the side. Feeling sad, Charlie says “I’ve killed it. Everything I touch gets ruined!” He runs off, more upset than before.

Linus and the other kids arrive near Snoopy’s doghouse. Linus admits he liked the tree, gently returns the branch to an upright position and wraps his blanket around the base of the tree.  The kids help him spruce it tree up as Lucy also admits it was a nice tree. When they start humming “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,” Charlie returns asking what they’re doing.  Excitedly, they all shout “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown!” then they all sing together as a group, next to Charlie’s gorgeous Christmas tree.

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“I got you, CB!”

The special was a primetime hit, and even won the Emmy for Outstanding Children’s Program in 1966. As the story goes, no one was a believer when Schulz pitched his idea around. He knew no one thought it would be a success but he pushed forward anyway. In 1965, America was not moved as much by religious messages on TV. The nation was on the brink of a cultural revolution as people continued the fight for Civil Rights, protested war, and pushed for women in the workplace. Who was looking forward to a cartoon with a child preaching from the Bible?

I do understand the skepticism but if we just return to innocence for a moment, it’s hard to deny there is something special about Linus bringing everyone together to honor the meaning of Christmas. Christmas is indeed a commercial holiday so it’s nice to have a reminder that we should appreciate the good things and good people we have in our lives. A Charlie Brown Christmas brings out an innocent feeling in me and I am happy to say 50 years after it premiered, I sat on the couch and watched it with my 21st century son and he enjoyed it as much as I always have. I think Mr. Schulz would be proud.

OK, he really really doesn’t like Lucy!

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I don’t look forward to the release of a film like I used to years ago. It’s too hard to commit to making a trek to the theater knowing there’s a chance I will sit through something that doesn’t live up to its own hype. In the past six months, I looked forward to three films: Straight Outta Compton, The Peanuts Movie, then finally the Thanksgiving gem, Creed. I made a point to see them all and each one evoked a feeling of nostalgia for my childhood, in their own way.

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Adonis and Rocky

Creed reminded me that I onced loved boxing and I really liked Rocky (and Rocky IV). It’s hard to believe I ever found boxing to be enjoyable but I did in my younger days. I think there was something about the hype, the promotion and the glorious trash talk. It’s not hard to understand liking Rocky; it’s a great tale of triumph and love, set against the backdrop of a boxing ring. Creed is what you love about Rocky and much more. It’s a new day for this franchise.

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Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed

The film is about Adonis “Donnie” Johnson (Michael B. Jordan), the son of the late Apollo Creed. Donnie didn’t know about his father until he was a pre-teen. Having recently lost his mother, Donnie was left to struggle through life without either of his parents, fighting it out in juvie and facing the prospect of bouncing from one foster home to the next. All of that changed when Apollo’s widow, Maryanne, (Phylicia Rashad) found Adonis and took him into her home. With Maryanne’s help, Donnie had new hope: he attained an education and eventually started a promising career.

With success and the love of the mother he needed, Donnie finally had it all. However, something was missing: his passion. He would participate in amateur boxing matches in Tijuana but he knew that, with proper training he could be a star. He decided to leave the posh life in L.A. behind to go to Philadelphia where Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) could show him the ropes. Basically, he did the reverse Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

AdonisMichael B. Jordan brought his A-game once again. I feel like I’ve known him for years but I know I don’t know him at all. I remember him as a young troubled kid named Wallace on The Wire, a troubled young high school football star named Vince on Friday Night Lights, and well troubled again (but reformed) as Alex on Parenthood. After his breakthrough performance as Oscar Grant in Fruitvale Station (also directed by Creed’s Ryan Coogler), there was no mistake how much talent we were witnessing from this man. This role is absolutely no exception. There is no one else who could have stepped into these shoes. I may feel a little uneasy watching Wallace/Vince/Alex hop around shirtless and glistening with sweat but I get over it because the acting is so great…yes the acting!

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The bond between Adonis and Rocky is tender but strong. For all of the jokes made about Sylvester Stallone over the years, this latest turn as Mr. Balboa will make the haters eat their words. Stallone reminds you why you love Rocky. He’s passionate, committed and just an every day kinda guy just trying to make it. Adonis revives something that was fading in Rocky and Rocky serves as the father figure he always needed. Jordan and Stallone were a great match on-screen, playing off each other naturally in tense moments and delivering unexpected chuckles along the way.

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This film hits mostly high notes; the dialogue is funny, the story is warm, and the cinematography and editing are top-notch. The blossoming love story between Donnie and his neighbor Bianca (Tessa Thompson) feels a little forced and I wish I could know more about his relationship with Maryanne but the rest of the film makes up for what feels a little missing in its primary female characters. I can’t help but wonder if some critical scenes were cut for these characters but it doesn’t take away from the film overall. Rocky fans will jump for joy at all the nods to the classic films we know and love. Thanks to the excellent camera work, stellar editing and perfectly placed sound effects, it feels like you’re attending actual boxing matches, especially in the final fight. The use of close-ups on each boxer felt like we were in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out in the way we would only dream of as kids!

Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan make a great team. Together or apart, I look forward to seeing more of them. This film truly has something for everyone and it lives up to the hype. Creed is a must-see! Can you really watch this trailer and not believe me?

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My favorite thing about Halloween is the classic Peanuts special, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. It’s magical for me. I am a HUGE Peanuts fan. I remember when I was a kid, I would get so excited every time I saw Snoopy and the gang on TV. So much in fact that any time I saw the “A CBS Special Presentation” logo swirl onto the screen I just knew I was gonna see that wonderful beagle (ABC has had TV rights since 2000). My dad would record all of them, and I would watch them repeatedly.

Sadly, most of them were on BetaMax and when that machine died we just had a collection of tapes collecting dust. Oh BetaMax. Well, fortunately ABC is looking out for me and I can still enjoy this wonderful special every year. I’m so excited to share this tradition with my son, who is exactly the age I was when I realized how much I love that Peanuts gang. I have a collection of Peanuts stories based on the holiday specials, so I built the anticipation by reading the story with him last night.

I always get so excited to hear the “Linus and Lucy” theme song play as the titular sister and brother walk to the pumpkin patch to find the perfect pumpkin for their home. Much to Linus’ surprise (and chagrin), Lucy had plans to carve it into a jack-o-lantern, leaving him very upset as he screams, “You didn’t tell me you were gonna kill it!” That whole sequence gives me such a sense of nostalgia and reminds me that this is Fall.

In the show, most of the kids are excited about going trick-or-treating then heading to Violet’s Halloween party, but Linus has bigger plans. With Sally’s support, he decides to forego the standard kids activities in hopes of seeing the Great Pumpkin! No one has any idea why this is so important to him but Sally, a fool in love, stands by his side. Even Charlie Brown wasn’t going with this silly idea.

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Its-The-Great-PumpkinI only remember trick-or-treating once as a kid, but seeing Lucy lead her pals around the neighborhood to collect goodies always felt close enough. The friends dress as ghosts, wearing sheets with holes cut out for the eyes, but not Lucy. She wears a witch mask to match her personality.

 

Poor Charlie Brown had a hard time with the scissors and ended up with too many holes out of his sheet. I always feel so sorry for him as they excitedly talk about the candies and other goodies they receive, but he somehow manages to get a rock…more than once!

 

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“I got a rock.”

 

At the party, the kids use his head to practice drawing a jack-o-lantern! How is this his life?? Even Snoopy has more fun, escaping into his imagination as a World War I Flying Ace battling the Red Baron.

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Charlie Brown as a “model” at the party.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meanwhile, at the most “sincere pumpkin patch” he could find, Linus awaits his beloved Great Pumpkin, with Sally slowly losing interest and patience. When a shadow appears, and leaves begin to rustle, an overly excited Linus passes out from possibly seeing the Great Pumpkin at last! He opens his eyes to an angry Sally notifying him that there was no Great Pumpkin! It was just Snoopy goofing around. She can’t believe she chose to stay with Linus, causing her to miss out on “tricks or treats.” Linus still doesn’t give up as he spends the rest of the night on the ground waiting for the arrival of the Great Pumpkin.

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Is it the Great Pumpkin?!

As an adult raising a small child, I have to ask the obvious question: “Where are his parents??” Why was it okay for him to sit in that pumpkin patch, then go so far as to sleep there until Lucy finally came to get him at 4:00 in the morning??! I love a child with an imagination but we have to draw the line somewhere. I guess that’s not the case for the Van Pelts!

Even after not getting to see the precious Great Pumpkin, Linus doesn’t give up on his dream. He yells at Charlie Brown the next day insisting that he will try again next year. As crazy as it may seem, this is why I love Linus. He stays true to himself and what he wants out life. If kids can believe in Santa, why can’t he have that magical pumpkin?

While my favorite moment is the opening scene with Linus and Lucy, my favorite nugget is when Lucy is reading a TV Guide with a picture of herself on the cover. Gotta love it!

If you haven’t seen this special I don’t know what rock you live under but do yourself a favor and watch it! ABC aired it Thursday night at 8pm ET so you’re on your own now but hey The Peanuts Movie comes out next weekend (November 6). Yes I will be there!!

 

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Quantico. Oh Quantico. My first thought while watching the pilot was, why are all of these people so attractive? They don’t all do it for me personally but they are quite attractive people, well at least the folks who get speaking lines anyway. That’s all fine and dandy for some TV shows but FBI recruits? I am quite happy to see a few people of color, and I am especially happy to see that the lead who’s kickin’ ass is a woman of color (Priyanka Chopra). I love her character, Alex, in spite of some annoying traits. The question I had to ask and answer for myself: am I really supposed to just toss out all ideas of reality? ALL of them? Yes. Ok I got that out of my system.

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Alex (Chopra) and Ryan (McLaughlin) right before you know what…

I know I’m not the only one distracted by the abundance of good-looking people, but am I the only one preparing for the worst? What am I calling the worst? The syndrome that destroys so many good network dramas: steamy love and/or sex storylines. I know workplace romance is a thing but I would love to make it through a drama on broadcast TV that is not ruined by it. I enjoy a good ship and I love an OTP (Willicia for life! Shout-out to The Good Wife at its peak) but I love them in my mind.  I just don’t need to see the love triangles and quadrangles so early into a show that started off pretty promising.

 

The writing in Quantico isn’t award-worthy and the acting isn’t going to jumpstart careers. However, the production value and dynamic editing make up for what could have been borderline mediocre. I enjoy the show so far but in the first two episodes alone, there was a quickie in the car, a line about the man “we both loved,” and more hot, sexy flirting than anyone needs while training for the FBI. Shouldn’t they be focused on the job at hand? I don’t mind characters getting action- we all got needs!- but this is the very downfall of shows that start off solid then lose focus. For a couple of weeks they teased what looked like fantasy role-playing between Alex and her colleague Ryan (Jake McLaughlin), and I was happy when we made it through episodes 3 and 4 without the romance. Well, episode 5 (“Found”) stopped the teasing and brought the noise- double time! There wasn’t just one, there were two sensual moments between characters who can’t seem to resist each other. Is this what we have to expect for the rest of the season? Judging by the promo for next week, the answer is yes.

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Alex (Chopra) and Ryan (McLaughlin) after their first encounter.

It’s disappointing but I get it. I know you have to target certain demographics. Men 18-49 aren’t going to watch a show with a female lead who isn’t incredibly gorgeous and getting some, so let’s target those women! Well guess what, women can’t get anywhere in life without finding love first. Hence, a decent action-oriented drama starring a woman of color supported by beautiful people who are all going to get it on. I know it’s just a show but still, I would hate to believe sexy time is really the only way to get FBI work done.  There has to be another way!

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When Being Mary Jane aired as a movie, I scoffed. I don’t know what it is about Gabrielle Union, but I never got IT. We want and need a pretty black woman to play the lead role so badly that we’ll take whatever mediocrity we can- sorry/not sorry. So, I said “Nah.” Besides, it’s BET and I have standards, after all!

 

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Mary Jane (Union) with married beau Andre (Omari Hardwick).

That movie then became a series that offered up more mediocre storylines- at least judging by the promos. Here we go again, the gorgeous successful woman (Union) sleeping with the married man. Zzzzzzz… I was that cynic; the one not unlike those who thought Scandal was nothing more than a show about the gorgeous successful woman sleeping with the married man. (Come on, the first 2 ½ seasons of Scandal were good!) Cynical as I was, somehow I was convinced to give it a shot and it turns out there really is more to this show, well once you suffer through the movie and trudge through the first season.

 

The second season digs deeper into various issues: Mary Jane’s mindset behind the affair, her questionable choices in romantic partners, her treatment of her family and friends and her blind ambition to have a glamorous career. Through her family and associates, the show also manages to boldly explore the concerns of the average middle class person of color: drug addiction, teenage parenthood, coming out to your family, whitewashing yourself to get to the top, and even the alarming rates of suicide in professional black men.

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Mary Jane at the SNC news desk.

As the host of a cable news show, Mary Jane covers stories that delve into conversations we would not normally expect to hear discussed on television and I really do appreciate it. Mary Jane the character is an enigma though. In her fictional world and in our real world, it is hard to tell how one should feel about her. She’s strong, which is admirable but she’s tough to the point that she is quick to be cold to anyone who hurts her. Basically, I don’t know how she has friends and Union pulls it off well. Not surprisingly. Let’s face it, she seems like a mean girl.

 

 

Last week was the season 3 premiere and BET did a half decent job building the anticipation; the smartest part being that they focused on the guest star they needed ever so badly. When Loretta Devine steps on the scene as Cece, she delivers everything you wanted and more. It is unexpected, dramatic and perfectly delivered. I don’t know how long Cece’s story arc will last but I am hoping I get her for at least a couple more weeks. She is in a word, everything!

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Cece (Loretta Devine)

The show has some talent, let’s not get it twisted; Margaret Avery, Richard Roundtree, Richard Brooks (Cleveland’s own!), Lisa Vidal— they do what they gotta do. STILL Ms. Loretta Devine gave me absolute life! I don’t know how invested I am in the direction they’re taking the show right now, but I am so invested in this character and everything Ms. Devine brings to the screen.

The show is worth a watch if you have the time. If you don’t have time or enough interest to start from the top, do yourself a favor and watch the first two episodes of the third season. I’ll let you know how much more Cece there is…stay tuned.

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I’ve been listening to the podcast Denzel is the Greatest Actor of All Time, Period. featuring W. Kamau Bell and Kevin Avery.  The podcast has been going for almost a year but I just heard of it for the first time a couple months ago. When I started listening, it was pretty random. I jump all over the place when selecting episodes; listening in no particular order.  In fact, the first one I listened to was the episode where they discussed the film Heart Condition (which I just learned was AKA Black Ghost). This was truly a very random choice, but I was curious.

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Heart Condition (1990)

I remember seeing Heart Condition when I was a kid but probably have not seen it again in 20+ years so I couldn’t remember how I really felt about, or if I felt anything at all. I was an 8 year old with a little crush on Denzel and a curiosity about Bob Hoskins, having seen him in Who Framed Roger Rabbit? All I could even remember about the movie was:

  1. Denzel’s character dies, and comes back as a ghost (A Black Ghost!) who talks to Bob Hoskins. Awkward note: I thought Denzel was a drug dealer or pimp but he was a lawyer – oops!
  2. The movie theme song was “Have A Heart” by Bonnie Raitt and…
  3. Yeah I got nothing else. I think I remembered a joke or two that I found unfunny.

Well in this podcast they rip the film to shreds and it is hilarious. It left me wanting more so what did I choose next? Well The Preacher’s Wife, of course. I had to know what there was to say about it. It was really fun to listen to their comments, and almost made me want to watch it again. Ok no it didn’t.

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Training Day (2001)

I always knew I thought Denzel was a good actor, then I realized as I continue to listen to this podcast that I might be a “Denzealot.” When I hear them debate over the so-called eras of Denzel or when they aren’t sure what year a particular movie was released, I feel myself wanting to yell “How do you not know that?!!” When Sasheer Zamata was on talking about Training Day and said she had never seen it, I liked her a little less. Ugh! How am I so fiercely in love with Denzel without even knowing it? Could he be my favorite actor? I know there was a time when I thought he could be, but I guess he is. I love me some Robert DeNiro but he has too many stinkers in his filmography for my taste.  I think Denzel Washington really is my favorite actor. How else can one explain having enjoyed Heart Condition, The Preacher’s Wife, and yes, Carbon Copy.  I even liked The Bone Collector. The only Denzel film that I have seen as an adult and can openly admit was utter trash is Out of Time- oh wait Virtuosity! There is nothing redeeming about those movies but give me some Mississippi Masala and The Mighty Quinn all day!

I was just listening to the episode they dedicated to Denzel’s son, John David Washington. Within that episode, they read parts of a list that someone compiled ranking all of Denzel’s films, including those that were made for TV. I can honestly say I have not seen them all but it did get me to thinking about my own list. On the debut episode, Kamau asked Kevin on the spot to list his top 5 Denzel films, as they do for most of their guests. Kevin’s list looks nothing like mine but Kamau and I are close. It took me no time to think of what I consider the awesomeness that is Denzel. Now I pose the question to you: Who do you consider the greatest actor period? Can you rank the films they have done or least the ones you have seen?

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Malcolm X (1992)

Here at Fandom City, we love making lists. It’s just what we do! So I would love to see some feedback. There are so many great actors out there: mainstream, indie, foreign stars, male and females of all backgrounds. Who gets you excited to sit down for 2 hours? Who gets you out to theaters? Now I will admit Denzel hasn’t gotten me to the theater in a few years. As a mother of a toddler, a theater outing is a rare occasion…but I still love him. I am a loyal Denzealot! Check out my list below. I based these on the film as a whole AND his performance. I can watch my Top 5 anytime, no matter what’s going on.

Disclaimer: this is my opinion and I don’t care if you disagree with my list.

Denzel!! Ooh Denzel 🙂

  1. Malcolm X
  2. Training Day
  3. Philadelphia
  4. Mo’ Better Blues
  5. Remember the Titans
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Mo’ Better Blues (1991)

Wait, there’s more!

  1. Inside Man
  2. The Great Debaters
  3. A Soldier’s Story
  4. Man on Fire
  5. Glory
  6. American Gangster
  7. The Book of Eli
  8. Antwone Fisher
  9. Flight
  10. Devil In A Blue Dress
  11. The Pelican Brief
  12. The Mighty Quinn
  13. Unstoppable
  14. Mississippi Masala
  15. Much Ado About Nothing
  16. John Q
  17. 2 Guns
  18. Carbon Copy
  19. Taking of Pelham 123
  20. The Bone Collector
  21. The Manchurian Candidate
  22. The Preacher’s Wife
  23. Heart Condition
  24. Out of Time
  25. Virtuosity
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Crimson Tide (1995)

Denzel Homework ( I got work to do!)

  1. Courage Under Fire
  2. Crimson Tide
  3. Cry Freedom
  4. Déjà vu
  5. Fallen (never finished it)
  6. For Queen and Country
  7. He Got Game (never finished it)
  8. Ricochet
  9. Safe House
  10. The Equalizer
  11. The Hurricane (never finished it)
  12. The Siege

Probably not gonna happen

  1. License to Kill (TV Movie)
  2. Death Wish
  3. Hard Lessons
  4. The George McKenna Story (TV)
  5. Power
  6. Flesh & Blood (TV)
  7. Wilma (TV)
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Image from Dr. Hell No – Season 2, Episode 3

On this past week’s episode of Black-ish (Dr. Hell No – S2. E3), Dre (Anthony Anderson) was nervous about Pops (Laurence Fishburne) needing a medical procedure for his heart. Rainbow (Tracee Ellis Ross) was trying to comfort him, so she hugged him and they pecked on the cheek. Hmm. In case you didn’t know, Rainbow is Dre’s wife. Now I’m not saying they had to go into a full on makeout sesh but a comforting peck on the cheek? It was the kind of peck that Europeans and pretentious Americans hand out to people they see at networking events and cocktail parties. You know, that incomplete kiss that’s more air than flesh. Hmm.

I would have let it go but not too long later, when the doctor tells Dre that Pops had a successful surgery and everything is fine, what does Dre do? He promptly kisses the doctor square on the mouth. Huh? Why would you have lip-to-lip contact with this person you don’t know but air peck your wife in a moment of comfort? Even worse, when they are hanging with Pops in the hospital room, his ex-wife Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) comes in, makes a smart comment then tells him she’s happy he’s ok- followed by what? You guessed it. Lip-to-lip kiss!! They hate each other and they get mouth action??

Dre and Bow- what’s the deal? Should we be worried…?

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