Netflix series’ third season returns with flair, heart

The highly-anticipated season three of Netflix’s original series “Grace and Frankie” was released on the online platform on March 24 to an eager audience of bingers. 

The show, a quirky take on the trials and tribulations of our golden years, had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to its first two seasons. There’s no doubt that the show has star power, with four huge Hollywood veterans taking center stage: none other than Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston play the series’ main characters. 

While a gang of older actors in modern and high energy plots is not completely unfamiliar, “Grace and Frankie” switches the script. The series’ titular characters, Grace and Frankie, have been left and divorced by their husbands, who have fallen in love with each other, leaving the two proud women to deal with each other.

The series’ first two seasons set the foundation of the show and dealt with reconciliation between all parties. By season three, Grace and Frankie no longer hate their husbands—or each other. Fonda’s uptight, organized martini-drinking Grace, and Tomlin’s artsy, down-to-earth pot-smoking Frankie have learned to appreciate each other, becoming best friends and confidants. And now Robert and Sol—played by Sheen and Waterston respectively—have settled into married life and patched up their families. 

In season three we see these hilariously charming characters grow beyond their archetypes as they encounter even more challenges. The usually proper Grace joins Frankie in launching a new business that sells vibrators designed for older women, and the usually stoic Robert retires and gets cast as the lead in a community musical. All the while Sol, a normally care-free spirit, has trouble leaving his law firm. 

These plotlines are veiled in comedy, yet do not fail to address the issues at their heart—the desexualizing of older women and fears of unfulfillment after retirement. While these issues seem to be geared toward older audiences—and they are, giving our grandparents the representation in media that they deserve—they are not issues that younger watchers cannot appreciate and learn from.

Aside from these important plotlines, season three serves up just as much comedy as before with genuinely funny dialogue and new characters. One episode features Grace and Frankie stuck on the floor for an entire day because “they’ve fallen and can’t get up,” and Frankie and Sol’s son Bud—played by Baron Vaughn—has a new girlfriend who has every allergy you can think of. 

While this season is not without its faults—the characters always seem to solve massive issues in tiny amounts of time—comedy is at its heart. With Netflix continually rolling out new original series, it’s easy for some to get lost in the crowd. 

“Grace and Frankie,” however, is clearly a standout. It’s funny without being cheesy, heartfelt without being soppy and proves that our older generations are just as young as they used to be. Fans are already waiting for season four.

Indie artist tackles issues of mental illness

Singer-songwriter Aimee Mann has been a force on the music scene since her initial debut in 1982 with the band ’Til Tuesday, and the release of her first solo album, Whatever, in 1993. Mann has just recently released her ninth studio album, Mental Illness, ending a five-year hiatus from the industry.

In an interview with The Los Angeles Times, Mann states that Mental Illness is “the saddest, slowest, most acoustic” album she has written to date. Over the years, Mann has garnered a reputation for releasing, almost exclusively, depressing songs. In the interview, Mann commented about her reputation and how it affected her songwriting process for Mental Illness

“If [my fans] thought that my songs were very down-tempo, very depressing, very sad and very acoustic, I thought I’d just give myself permission to write the saddest, slowest, most acoustic, if-they’re-all-waltzes-so-be-it record I could,” Mann said, according to The Los Angeles Times.

The style of Mental Illness is certainly more raw, intimate and unplugged compared to Mann’s signature rock roots. Here, she channels similar vibes to those present in the soundtrack to the Oscar nominated movie Magnolia, for which she received the nomination for best original song. 

None of Mann’s previous work, however, matches Mental Illness—at least in terms of melancholia. Throughout the album, Mann delves into concepts of depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses through the means of characters dealing with a variety of situations varying from heartache to daily life. 

The idea of mental illness continues to be an extremely controversial concept, as its credibility is constantly questioned by society. Many people even deny its existence altogether. 

Mann takes this controversy on by taking common situations that everyone goes through and comparing them to the struggles of mental illness, illustrating just how unbearable the latter can be. The album achieves Mann’s goal of being her most “depressing” work to date, exceeding all previous albums for miles. Mental Illness captures the essence of human struggle with such perfection and beauty.

The album’s introductory song is also its first single, “Goose Snow Cone.” This track deals with the concept of loneliness and feeling homesick—concepts that can resonate with almost anyone. Mann croons about that pit of loneliness that persists, even when in the presence of friends, as well as feelings of insecurity when outside one’s own home. 

“I saw a picture on Instagram of a cat I know named Goose. Her fluffy white face was looking up at the camera in a very plaintive way, like a little snowball, and I started singing a little song about her that turned into a song about loneliness,” Mann said about writing “Goose Snow Cone.” 

“I intended to change the lyrics [of “Goose Snow Cone”], but could never find a phrase to replace the one I started with,” she added. 

This perfectly demonstrates the authentic and intimate quality to Mental Illness.

The powerful imagery and emotion continues in the track “Philly Sinks.” Mann uses this song as the epitome of her album’s concept, giving her listeners an even more stripped down, bare and personal song. 

In “Philly Sinks,” Mann focuses on thoughts of suicide and how easily one can slip down such a path, birthing the actual potential to commit the act and how suicide affects those left behind. Additionally, Mann comments on the death of innocence in our society, alluding to Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, as she possibly sees this loss as a cause for increased suicide rates.

Mann promised to produce an album that would exceed her previous works, which were already believed to be rather gloomy. She has certainly established herself as a dominant presence in the indie music scene, especially when it comes to sorrowful pieces.

There’s no doubt that with Mental Illness, Mann has delivered. No track on this album will leave you with dry eyes.

4/5

Drake’s latest project takes a mellow turn

Just under a year after releasing Views comes Drake’s newest musical endeavor. Labeled as a playlist, the Canadian rapper dropped More Life on OVO Sound Radio on Apple Music’s radio station on Saturday March 18. 

Unlike Views, this playlist arrived with little advanced hype—but it’s no small addition to Drake’s musical repertoire. With 22 tracks, More Life is over an hour of Drake grappling with getting let down by friends, family and lovers, all the while exploring the sounds of black music; this ranges from the United States and his hometown of Toronto all the way to Africa and the Caribbean. 

More Life boasts more of Drake’s brooding, melancholic sentiments, while also offering the mic to various other rap and R&B artists. If there is one thing about Drake, he keeps his lyrics personal and honest. In “Lose You” he ponders over losing someone—or some people—close to him while trying to remain true to himself, saying, “Inspirin’ and never takin’ credit/I know I deserve more, I just never said it/Two middle fingers as I make a exit.” 

With relaxed beats enveloping each track, this playlist seems to scream R&B more than Drake’s usual hip-hop nature. Some critics argue that Drake is worn out, but he assures his audience that this is untrue. In “Sacrifices,” Drake openly acknowledges his opponents, noting, “Niggas see me in person/First thing they say is ‘I know you need a break’/Hell nah, I feel great, ready now, why wait?” 

One track that stands out from this playlist is “Passionfruit.” Musically more upbeat than most of the other tracks, Drake croons in his balmy voice, “Passionate from miles away/Passive with the things you say/Passin’ up on my old ways/I can’t blame you, no, no.”

It seems like Drake is ready to explore other facets of music production through his experimentation of marketing More Life as a playlist. Playlists tend to be made up of songs brought together under an overarching theme or mood. Besides “Fake Love,” there are no standout party anthems, however—something that Drake always manages to include on all of his other albums. The mood of More Life is an air of tranquility and placidity, as evoked by each track.

A review from Slate refers to More Life as “long and meandering, but never exhausting.” This description perfectly encapsulates the playlist. The review goes on to name Views as “Drake’s safest and most unadventurous album to-date.” More Life was a bit safer in terms of musicality, in my opinion. The beats are a bit redundant, and sometimes his raps become monotonous. 

Drake certainly stepped out of his comfort zone in terms of format, though. By playing around with brief interludes from artists Jorja and Skepta and by shifting from an album format to a playlist, Drake’s passion for music remains clear, even if some of the tracks fall flat.

More Life seems like a playlist that will continue to grow on fans with every listen. Drake remains a master of his craft, and only time will tell with what he chooses to experiment with next.

Chance the Rapper first Grammy winner without label

Twenty-three year old newcomer Chance the Rapper took home three Grammys last Sunday. He is the first artist to ever win the award without a record label. (Matt Sayles/AP Photo)

There is much to talk about in the days following the 59th Grammy Awards—from Beyoncé’s show stopping performance while pregnant to Adele’s big wins—but perhaps the most talked about artist of the night is newcomer Chance the Rapper. 

The Chicago native won three major awards on Sunday Feb. 12—best new artist, best rap album and best rap performance—and he did it all without a label, choosing instead to give his music to listeners for free. 

With a career that began when he was just 18 years old touring as Childish Gambino’s opening act, Chance—born Chancelor Johnathan Bennett—has created a total of three mixtapes, the latest of which earned those three Grammy wins.  He then released them online for listeners to stream—completely free of charge. 

Both Acid Rap and Coloring Book have received rave reviews from fellow rap artists, critics and former White House inhabitants (Malia Obama is a fan). In fact, Coloring Book, with its authentic themes of “God, love, Chicago and dance,” beat out some huge names in the category for best rap album, including DJ Khaled, Drake and Kanye West. 

Although he’s certainly had the chance to sign with many major labels, Chance decided to stay independent, which allows him to “offer my best work to people without any limit on it” and work more creatively and freely. Plus, Chance has said that he doesn’t want to be a part of the record labels’ “dick-swinging contest” to get the most and best rappers.

And his refusal to sign with a record label hasn’t hindered Chance in the slightest. He’s written for and learned from West, collaborated with Lin-Manuel Miranda and toured with Macklemore. 

“I honestly believe if you put effort into something and you execute properly, you don’t necessarily have to go through the traditional ways,” Chance said.  

So how exactly does this 23-year-old rap genius make a living? The answer is simpler than expected—by selling concert tickets and merchandise. That’s it. Being an independent artist comes with some seriously dedicated fans. Who wouldn’t appreciate being able to legally and easily download quality content straight to their iPhones and computers?

Although he doesn’t come without his fair share of history, everything about Chance seems to be genuine: his love for his new family—as he has a young daughter with girlfriend Kirsten Corely—his dedication to producing meaningful music and his determination to tell the truth. 

In fact, Chance is an active fighter against gun violence in his hometown of Chicago and is a part of the My Brother’s Keeper campaign, which strives to address the challenges faced by young black individuals and to promote racial equality. 

As for the rapper’s next move, it could be anything; he’s independent, after all. But for now, he’s followed up his Grammy wins with the announcement of his spring tour, which will be sure to keep Chance out of record labels’ reach.

Netflix turns classic children’s books into mesmerizing series

From the outside, “A Series of Unfortunate Events” may seem like a grim and unforgiving Netflix series that annihilates any signs of happiness. The opening credits even beg the audience to “look away” in a tune sung by Neil Patrick Harris, who plays the infamous Count Olaf. But these first signs should not deter you from watching the fantastical adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.

Fans of the book series will certainly be pleased with the Netflix series. Contrary to the dull and underwhelming 2004 A Series of Unfortunate Events film, Netflix revamps the series and gives it the full adaptation it deserves.

Harris plays a comedic yet disturbing Count Olaf who will stop at nothing to gain the fortune of the Baudelaire orphans—three innocent and clever children who just lost their parents in a terrible fire—by using various disguises. The series is successful in translating the intellect Snicket gives to each of the children, making them daring and strategic no matter what sticky situation they find themselves in. 

Violet—played by Malina Weissman—is the inventive elder sister, whose mind works strategically and is always trying to think of new ways to solve the trio’s problems. Klaus—played by Louis Hynes—is the middle child who uses the extensive knowledge he gains from various books to help Violet save their lives and their fortune. 

Then there’s the sharp-toothed Sunny—played by youngster Presley Smith—who offers much-needed comic relief. Smith’s baby language is translated into well-executed and smart phrases that only Violet and Klaus can comprehend.

If the gloomy atmosphere isn’t enough to remind you of the orphans’ miseries, Lemony Snicket himself—played by Patrick Warburton—is there every step of the way to always remind you of the horrible suffering you are voluntarily watching. Warburton brilliantly plays a deadpan version of the narrator/author, dropping hints on the upcoming fate of the Baudelaire children; Warburton portrays the excellent wit that made the original series so likable—even by a much more mature audience.

In fact, Netflix seems to perfectly capture the attitude of Snicket’s books, beginning each book adaptation—The Bad Beginning, The Reptile Room, The Wide Window and The Miserable Mill for a total of eight episodes—with Snicket’s small message to his beloved and deceased Beatrice, which appears in each book. 

For someone unfamiliar with Snicket’s humor, it may be difficult to appreciate the show for its irony and satire. If you look below the surface, however, there are many details to pick up on. The children are much smarter than the adults, especially the banker Mr. Poe—played by K. Todd Freeman—who has an uncontrollable cough and brings the orphans from one guardian to the next. Despite the Baudelaire's constant warning to the adults around them that the sea captain or big-eyed scientist is in fact Count Olaf in disguise, they refuse to believe the siblings.

The melancholy tone of the series is also satirical. The Baudelaire’s constant stream of bad luck may seem repetitive, but it only works to emphasize the show’s ironic message that the world—especially today’s world—is a horrible and unforgiving place for children to grow up in. 

The one big flaw within the series is the somewhat flat and awkward portrayal of the Baudelaire orphans by the young actors. For such intellectual children, their intelligent dialogue and cunning wit does not seem to translate well across Weissman and Hyne’s portrayal of their characters. 

Despite the show’s encouragement to “look away,” Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events” should be watched with full-attention and great delight both for its accurate representation of the original series and for its refreshing attitude.