Who, What, Watch

Words by: Sanjiv Raveendiran, Lara Christensen, Joseph Lew & Chanttel Forbes
Art by: Madison Marshall
  1. Down to Earth with Zac Efron

In Down to Earth with Zac Efron, you are invited to indulge in all things good in the world during a time of uncertainty, chaos and calamity. 

The show follows Hollywood heartthrob Zac Efron, who’s now a rugged, bearded gent, but retains his High School Musical sex symbol status. 

In this series, Efron and his proclaimed “bro”— wellness expert and author, Darin Olien — travel to places known for their health and sustainability. One way to describe the show is as excellent travel porn that’s good for the soul! Efron and Olien traverse the globe, going from Iceland to Iquitos. 

The show tracks countries and communities living alternatively to do their part to address climate change. In Episode One, Iceland showcased their geothermal initiatives which are powering the entire country. 

Episode Two sees Zac Efron meet his friend Anna Kendrick to sample mineral waters from around the world. One of the mineral waters took me by surprise: it’s called Three Bays, and originates from 900 metres below the surface of a hobby farm on the Mornington Peninsula! As a teetotaller and connoisseur of mineral waters, I obviously had to go ahead and buy this in bulk. 

The show’s focus on the perennial challenge of climate change reaches its peak in Episode Six, when we’re given a sobering taste of the horrific natural disasters plaguing nations like Puerto Rico. 

I, too, noticed the series didn’t shy away from demonstrating a more personal outlook on climate change either. In an earlier episode, the show hints at the California wildfires ravaging through communities like Malibu, the neighbourhood in which Darin Olien resides. Despite how close to home this news is, he powers through the production, accepting that the wildfires are out of his control. He later discovers that his home and possessions are no more. Seeing Olien, a generally upbeat and optimistic person, holding back tears and choking up reminded me that climate change is just as much a problem in developed nations, as it is in developing nations.  

Season Two of Down to Earth with Zac Efron, shot exclusively across Australia, is expected to be released next year. This could be a worthy showcase of the bounty of nature we enjoy right here at home, and remind us of our duty to relish, honour and protect it. 

This show reveals that Earth is a place of abundance which could last forever, if humans cared for it appropriately. Since the pandemic has forced us to operate within limited confines, there’s merit to the claim that this period has benefited the climate, with fewer planes in the sky and cars on the road. The real test will be how we continue on this trajectory as we get back to business.

Season One of Down to Earth with Zac Efron can be streamed on Netflix Australia. 

2. Black Widow

Cate Shortland’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) with the solo Black Widow film is ambitious. The new release is part spy movie, part superhero flick, part dysfunctional family drama, and part farewell to the first female Avenger, Natasha Romanoff. 

The film is exciting, touching and funny.  A notable cast of Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, David Harbour and Rachel Weiss are accompanied by  memorable stunt sequences and a soundtrack that makes the movie feel very age-appropriate.

As the film takes place after the events of Civil War, fans are asking — why didn’t we see this sooner? Marvel had the drive to provide fans with two Ant Man films and two Guardians of the Galaxy films well before we were able to see this stand-alone film for the Black Widow.

It is hard to write a review without acknowledging the lack of respect and perhaps consideration that the MCU afforded to Johansson’s character. Being first introduced to Natasha in Iron Man 2, back in 2010, she plays Tony Stark’s assistant described as an ‘expensive sexual harassment’ case waiting to happen. 

In Age of Ultron, she is depicted as a woman who is both steely and reproductively sterile, someone whose main purpose is to calm down and soothe the Hulk with her femme fatale wits. She is painted as a possible love interest for Banner, Rodgers and Clint. Her death in Endgame felt slightly diminished when compared to that of Tony Stark’s, as she ultimately sacrifices herself for her friend: a man who has a family… when she doesn’t. 

As the film is a prequel, restraints are placed on Shortland’s debut because the events shown can’t add to Natasha’s storyline. Where the film fails to develop Natasha’s storyline, it delivers on Yelena Romanoff. Yelena has the same story of abuse and trauma but is given a more emotionally comprehensive script to work with, setting her up for future appearances. The film is able to playfully poke fun at the trope of the female superhero, who flicks her hair and poses as she lands, providing real heart and banter to the sibling relationship. 

The jokes regarding Harbour’s character — the Red Guardian, a retired Soviet Super Soldier — make audiences feel compelled to chuckle along, as he spends his days embellishing war stories about fighting Captain America (which viewers come to realise, never happened). His comical struggle to fit into his suit is reminiscent of Mr Incredible and mirrors the Fat Thor trope that fans witnessed in Endgame. Is this slightly lazy? Maybe. Is it still funny? I think so. 

The stunning locations of Norway, Morocco and Hungary are almost Bond-esque, with the film at its strongest when focused on Natasha’s espionage roots. Since what makes her unique is her background as an assassin, Shortland does well to remind audiences that while she is a superhero, Natasha is a human that needs some ibuprofen after a fight.

More insight is given into Yelena and Natasha’s journey as the premises of abuse and trauma are explored in further detail. Their experience as sisters is mirrored by Nebula and Gamora who experience exploitation by their father figure in Thanos, as well as Captain Marvel, who was also manipulated by her mentor, Yon-Rogg. It seems that the MCU has introduced a number of strong female characters who have traumatic pasts that are linked to the actions of men. 

It is unfortunate that the trajectory of Natasha’s story is so narrow that Shortland’s film can’t help but feel like an afterthought. This feels unfair as the cast and directing all pass the bar. Fans of the MCU can only hope that studios continue to give credit where credit is due by exploring diverse characters that deserve to be seen. But hey, as fans of the Loki series on Disney+ know, perhaps it is never too late to reset the timeline.

3. Solar Power

Bear in mind that the following review refers to ‘Solar Power’ the single, not Solar Power the album.

Maybe it’s the fact that she’s a Scorpio — if you can’t tell already, I fucking love Scorpios — or the fact that her voice was the musical score to my period of self-discovery, but I’ve long held Lorde as a personal idol. Her music, Pure Heroine released in 2013 and Melodrama, released in 2017, came at the perfect times, serving as a soundtrack for the escapist generation — a coming of age guided by the sweet ballads of her pop melancholy and heart-string tugging tunes. 

When Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor — who goes by the moniker Lorde — first came onto the scene, I had just turned 13-years-old. I was a messy ball of teenage angst, under the impression that no one would ever understand me. Lorde’s lyricism and powerful chords resonated with me in a way no music had ever done before. 

“A world alone, we’re all alone.”

Four years later, when I was finally finding my footing as a semi-adjusted teenager, Melodrama appeared. Through high school parties, midnight Maccas runs, depressive episodes and relationship breakdowns, her music accompanied me — a perfect encapsulation of the teenage experience. She eloquently expressed what we all felt — our fears of getting older, of losing friends, losing lovers, and that our teenage years were all the bliss we’d ever have.

“I’ve never felt more alone, it feels so scary getting old.”

Like many of our personal transformations, Lorde’s journey has been interesting to watch. Her three albums offer windows into her evolution, her own coming of age from a trapped teen in Auckland to a carefree summer-loving success. When ‘Solar Power’ first came out, the reverberating response from my friends was that they weren’t fans. They missed her perfectly curated sound — hollow and haunting. But I couldn’t relate. Maybe it’s just the fact that her emotional metamorphosis is so similar to my own, but the song has a strange magnetism that I can’t escape.

In Lorde’s newsletters — a note: if you haven’t subscribed yet you’re missing out — she painstakingly details her creative process. She conjures up images of dinner parties, art galleries, dances and summer evenings — weaving a dreamy, nostalgic narrative. And while some might complain about the unfairness of it all — we are in our sixth lockdown after all — there’s no denying that she’s a master storyteller; this carries through into her music. When I listen to ‘Solar Power’, I can’t help but think of childhood summers long gone, groggy naps in the baking heat, scoops of vanilla ice-cream and lounging in front of the fan in my underwear. 

Although it might not seem like it, ‘Solar Power’ is just as much a song about escapism as her others. And I find escape in it too — when the song reaches its crescendo, I can’t help but dance. “Blink three times when you feel it kicking in.” Another power pulls my body to the sound of the beat, and for a few brief seconds, I’m no longer stuck within the four walls of my bedroom — I can see the beach, smell the salt, feel the warmth of the sun on my skin. ‘Solar Power’ offers a glimpse into another reality, even if only for one golden interlude.

“Come on and let the bliss begin.”

4. Never Have I Ever

I think the two words that perfectly sum up Never Have I Ever would be chaotic and cringy. Now I know this may sound like I’m leading to a colossal Gordon Ramsay-sized roast when a contestant has overcooked a chicken, but it’s quite the opposite actually. Never Have I Ever only makes us cringe this hard because it’s almost like watching your teenage self navigate through high school. I mean everyone has their own version of getting bit by a coyote in front of their whole year level, right? 

Okay, so maybe it wasn’t quite that dramatic, possibly on account of there being no coyotes in Australia, but we’ve all had them. For me, it was forgetting I had my camera on when I entered a Zoom class, allowing everyone to cop an eyeful of my toes. Not the nice, freshly-pedicured kind, but more like the type to make even a person with a foot fetish not indulge in one anymore. Embarrassing moments like these make this show not only comedy gold, but relatable by showing the true reality of high school. Now, I’m not saying no creative liberties were taken. I think we can all agree watching someone through their sky roof is not an average Tuesday night, but relatable in the sense that it’s nice to watch characters (especially our protagonist Devi) deal with themes of grief, love, sexuality and identity — all commonly-faced issues by many teens. 

What adds to this relatability is its diverse cast. For example, usually when a person of colour is depicted on-screen, they fall into narratives that fit into rigid stereotypes. But instead of being the token nerd or just the culturally-diverse classmate who appears once every four episodes (roles in which PoC are usually afforded in coming-of-age films), Devi is an expressive, loud, and impulsive girl surrounded by numerous characters who, too, reject stereotypical norms. One way the show has done this is through the open dialogue surrounding sexuality. Devi is one of the first Women of Colour (WoC) to be portrayed to unabashedly enjoy her sexuality as seen by her quest to lose her virginity, this contrasts the widely-held stereotype that young people of colour are ashamed of their sexuality and thus are less interested in exploring it than any other teen. 

Other characters also don’t let singular issues define them and the projection of their lives, rather they provide hope and inspiration for people like them. We see this through Rebecca (Paxton’s sister). She has Down Syndrome, yet she is seemingly the most well-adjusted character, who has already begun pursuing her dreams and embodies a strong sense of self. This portrayal shows how a person’s disability doesn’t have to define them and they can in fact live happy and successful lives. 

That’s why, overall, this show easily deserves a 5/5 and that’s just the score for Paxton’s abs. With season three on its way, it’s a must watch! 

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