#SquadGoals: The Great British Bake-Off Edition

Well, I finally did it. I caved like a chocolate soufflé fresh out the oven. I watched The Great British Bake-Off (Or The Great British Baking Show for us Americans).

Of course I’ve heard nothing but good things about it for a while now (see Molly’s spot on post from last year), and for some reason, on a recent Sunday night (morning?) at 12:30am, I decided to press play on season 1 and it was all downhill from there.

About a week and a half later, I’m nearly caught up with the most recent season and pretty much convinced myself I, too, can make scrummy plaited breads with no soggy bottoms. But one of the main reasons I became obsessed with the show is that every contestant was utterly delightful – there was no animosity between them, and in fact, like Molly said in her post, they’re all helpful and supportive of each other. Of course I had my favorites like any other TV competition show, but there were some bakers who stood out for me more than the others, the ones that I would love to hang out with outside of the tent, the ones who would cheer me on even if the cold, hard reality of my lack of baking skills was slapped in my face like a dough being kneaded harshly against the bench.

Have I gone too far with the GBBO refs? Get used to it, muffins. Here are the contestants from the four seasons (that have aired in the U.S.) that I would love to start a squad with. Do you agree/want to join? Read on to find out.

Ready? Set! BAaakkEEE!

Season 1/Series 4


The moment Glenn popped up on my screen, I was all in. He’s a teacher who kept a positive attitude but knew when to be comically self-depreciating when need be. I just wanted to give him a hug any time he didn’t get the best feedback from the judges. Plus, he’s a gay British man, which is like, my target demo.


The runner-up had a smile that could light up the room. Yes, I realize that is the cliche-est of all the cliches, but it’s true. She was confident enough in her baking and not the type to beat herself up if she didn’t have a good round. And just back to that smile real quick – who wouldn’t want that on a day when you’re feeling shitty?

Season 2/Series 5


Kate had light pink streaks in her hair and that’s why I like her. The end.

JK. But anyone who has pink hair has to be a certain type of bold character to wear it proudly, and Kate is just that. Her attitude was the perfect mix of bubbly and not-so-bubbly in the stressful times, and that’s exactly the type personality I’d be into for my GBBO Squad.

Season 3/Series 6


You know when you’re just minding your business at work and then your peer makes a snarky comment under their breath, and you’re like, “Wait. That’s really funny,” and then you become pals because you both have the same sense of humor? That’s Sandy. Throughout her time on GBBO, she’d have these one-liners that killed me, and had me thinking about them for days later. She once made a David Attenborough joke that only Brits and rando Americans would get, and I couldn’t stop laughing. Case in point: the GIF above in which Sandy describes how her creme brulee should NOT wobble. Rather, it should only have a little wobble, like so:

Tamal & Nadiya

Alright I’m lumping these two star bakers together, because they’re what inspired me to write this post in the first place. Individually, each of these lovelies had me rooting for them from the first episode. Nadiya (as the internet is wont to tell you) had THE BEST reaction faces throughout the entire competition, and it was like she was reflecting what the viewers at home were doing too. She lacked confidence in the beginning and kept thinking she was going to get cut, but she, like Tamal, was a pretty consistently good baker from the get go. Tamal, an adorable, funny, talented doctor, was just a delight to watch throughout the series, and any time Nadiya and Tamal would get screen time together, I basically just wanted to leap through my screen and hug them both at the same time and force them to be friends with me. Is that too aggressive? Yeah, probably for the best.

And the sweet, sweet words Tamal said about Nadiya in the finale was the most precious. I LOVE WHEN PEOPLE SUPPORT THEIR FRIENDS. AND I LOVE WHEN PEOPLE GAIN SELF-CONFIDENCE. FULL CIRCLE. I LOVE NADIYA AND TAMAL!

Season 4/Series 7


Like Kate before her, I knew I was going to like Candice because her lipstick game was on POINT. It’s such a simple cosmetic look, but it gives her “a thing” to be remembered by with audiences watching from home. And if she doesn’t have her own lipstick line yet, that’s probably something she should get on. Another reason I liked Candice is that her accent sounded familiar to me, as if I had heard her speak before. Well, turns out, she just reminds me of Victoria Beckham because they have such a similar accent (and kind of from the same section of England). Made me like her even more.


Benjamina is one of those bakers who is so super talented, but due to time constraints and other factors, just isn’t always the star baker each week. But you know she’s got it. And she’s got a good attitude about the competition too, just like many of the others that have proceeded her on this list.


Cool as a cucumber – that phrase was made about Selasi. This dude knows how to bake, knows which flavors go with what, and doesn’t freak out completely if a challenge isn’t going his way. Plus the way he talks I could listen to all day.

Ed. Note: I’m obviously watching all this in a bubble, and don’t know any of the politics or media spectacle or post-interviews any of the contestants have done since the show. All I knew was that Nadiya won and everyone loved her. That’s it. Apparently, when searching for Selasi GIFs, there was a rumored thing going on between him and Benjamina? I’m afraid to dig too deep into it, because in full disclosure, I’m not quite done with this season and don’t want to be spoiled :\

Bonus: Mel & Sue



Mr. Rogers Is Pure In Heart

Every time a disaster strikes or our faith in the good in the world is tested – and it feels like it happens on a weekly basis now, doesn’t it? – the quote from Mister Rogers starts going around:

Like most pithy sayings, it’s popular because it’s true. After every single man-made or natural disaster,  follow-up stories include the first responders and private citizens rushing to help whomever they can, however they can.

I think there’s another reason we see this quote come up so often, though, and that’s because of who said it: Fred Rogers, the beloved host of the PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood was such a deceptively simple show that I’m not sure it could be made now. Fred Rogers, a nice man, comes home, puts on a warm cardigan that his mother made, slips on his sneakers and talks to children. It’s the last part that’s still revolutionary (as much as I love changing into my comfy clothes when I get home). Fred Rogers talks to children, as though they’re real people, because they are. Then he meets people doing their work and learns about the things they know how to do and are interested in. Then he plays pretend in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe.

These are the reasons we keep going back to Mister Rogers when times are tough. Fred Rogers talks to everyone as though they are important, listens to people and is interested in them, and believes in make-believe. Very few people in the media offer this to children, and barely any offer it to adults (our Blog Patron Saint, Amy Poehler, maybe – these figures exist, but they aren’t always easy to find). Let’s look at this a little closer, if only because it’s a positive thing to be discussing at a time full of negative things:

Fred Rogers Recognizes That Children (And People!) Are Important

Right now all episodes of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood are streaming on Twitch. I have kept several episodes from the 1960s and 1970s on in the background as I’ve gone about my work this week, and it’s exactly as I remember from my early childhood in the 1980s and 1990s. Mister Rogers – I know we can call him Fred but he’s Mister Rogers forever to me – offers constant affirmations that his audience is exactly right just as they are. This is probably the genesis of the “everybody is special” movement that some folks like to complain about, but when you watch Mister Rogers you can’t help but realize that that’s exactly true. Every single person is different from every single other person, and that in itself is a wonderful thing.

Sometimes I feel like Mister Rogers was saying these things as much for the parents watching as the kids. Or, could he have seen into the future, the 30-year-olds live-streaming from their desks at work during a particularly dire news cycle.

Scratch that: sometimes he directly addresses the grown-ups, because I think he realizes that adults can feel just as uncertain of themselves as preschoolers:

Adapted for adults, the same message:

As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has–or ever will have–something inside that is unique to all time. It’s our job to encourage each other to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression.

This affirmation that who you are and what you do matters to your community keeps us coming back to Mister Rogers. In sociology terms, he deals in spheres of influence. Maybe you can’t fix the big troubles in the world, but you can make your neighborhood a better place. Fred said it best:

But how do we make goodness attractive? By doing whatever we can do to bring courage to those whose lives move near our own–by treating our ‘neighbor’ at least as well as we treat ourselves and allowing that to inform everything that we produce.

Mister Rogers also realizes that big concepts, like language, aren’t too big for children. They’re actually just right, because children are learning about them for the first time:

With just a few words changed, it’s just the thing adults need to hear, too:

“What matters isn’t how a person’s inner life finally puts together the alphabet and numbers of his outer life. What really matters is whether he uses the alphabet for the declaration of a war or the description of a sunrise–his numbers for the final count at Buchenwald or the specifics of a brand-new bridge.”

Mister Rogers Is Interested In The World Around Him

It’s not Mister Rogers, it’s Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. In every episode, Mister Rogers would learn about different members of his community: artists and athletes and puppeteers, but also folks in those everyday jobs that fascinate children so much. Yo Yo Ma was a pretty cool guest, but so were teachers and trash collectors. We all lost our cool over a mail carrier every single episode (Mr. McFeely was fantastic, after all). This is the cynicism-free attitude I love to see and try to remember to display. We don’t know everything about everything, and sometimes the most fascinating thing in the world is just to understand what someone other than ourselves finds fascinating, or how a stranger fills their time. I don’t get many chances to visit crayon factories like Mister Rogers did, but I can still ask questions and listen to answers. “Everybody is special” isn’t a call to self-importance, it’s a call to remember how important every single person you meet is.

Mister Rogers Loves Make Believe

… and I do, too. As a child I’d spend hours in my backyard imagining I was growing a World War II victory garden or traveling the Oregon trail. My basement was a garden-level apartment I lived in all by myself. Once I was “too old” for make-believe I was in acting classes, where I found the other kids who hadn’t stopped pretending, either. But as Mister Rogers tells us, each person is different. I have never known a child who didn’t love make believe, but I have known a lot of children who need help with it. When I start pretending with some of my nieces and nephews, I see that spark of “I didn’t know I could see things that way!,” the same spark we adults get when a comedian frames a familiar concept in a new way. Some kids get a refrigerator box and instantly turn it into a bus, spaceship and, well, refrigerator box – but one they’re trapped inside on a mail truck on an expressway careening into the ocean. Other kids need an adult to hand them some markers and safety scissors and ask them what they think that box could be. That’s what Mister Rogers does.

In Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, the Neighborhood of Make-Believe provides a ready-made framework to pretend. There is King Friday, Henrietta Pussycat and my grouchy favorite, Lady Elaine. Children know that they’re all puppets and they know that a fun grown-up is making them come to life. This is infinitely better than puppets alone. Kids learn that we have the power to make scenarios and characters exist where nothing did before. Somebody versed in childhood development might tell you that this is teaching cause and effect or concrete versus abstract, but I think pretending is an end unto itself. For the kids and grownups who need a little push to pretend, Mister Rogers teaches us that make-believe is magical, fun, and available to us any time, anywhere.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor

Disasters that occur continents away are still hard to take, and that’s because of something Mister Rogers knew all along: we are all neighbors. While we all have Mister Rogers on the brain, let’s try to heed some of his lessons. Listen, look, and create. Let’s go make a snappy new day.

Questions, Comments, and Concerns: The Pilgrims on PBS

Last night, the Pilgrims aired on American Experience, and we all learned that the Mayflower was a floating piece of garbage that carried miserable people to a land of despair and death. HAPPY THANKSGIVING.

Question: Is Ken Burns Involved?

Ken Burns is behind all of the best American Experience episodes. I also had a semi-crush on him back when I assumed he looked like Richard Attenborough, which actually doesn’t help matters and if anything makes it worse, never mind, let’s pretend I never said that.

[It’s Ken Burns’ brother, Ric, who did this one, by the way.]

Comment: Plymouth Rock is the worst.



Anyone been to Plymouth Rock? It’s a literal rock, and it’s not even that big, and there’s honestly no way they could have known that it was THE rock. A crowd of people stand on a platform above the rock and your mom just wants to get a good picture and you just want to go on the replica boat.

Comment: Governor Bradford Was The Eliza Hamilton Of Plymouth

… in terms of being the person who controlled how it was represented in history. And also the Alexander, in terms of writing like he’s running out of time.

Comment: It’s like practically the ONLY thing to do in 17th century England was go to church and the Puritans were like “oh no, this is too fun and interesting, better make CHURCH less FUN.” (No offense, church.)

I mean I’ve never been at church and been like “wow, this music is too good right now. Everyone’s breath is amazing and I am entertained by this decor.”

Concern: They Were A Straight-Up Cult

PBS even said. Ken Burns’ brother Ric said. America wasn’t founded so much on the concept of freedom of religion, so much as by a handful of religious crazies, plus other people who thought there was maybe gold here.

Question: Is a boat being ‘seasoned’ a good thing?

Because it kind of just sounds like a way to say “an old boat.” Granted, the Titanic was brand-spanking-new, but.

Comment: “Two miles an hour;” “Chamber pots everywhere;” “Voyage from hell.”

But on the plus side: two dogs.

Comment: The Pilgrims were heading for the Hudson river, but look, I think we’ve all ended up in Provincetown by accident a time or two.
Concern: PBS says it’s “necessary to ask who the savages were,” but I think we all know.

It’s the people who rode a poop-boat to go camping because church was too fun in England.

Comment: That moment when the pilgrims find a rotting skull on the beach and it has blonde hair on it:



Question: Did Dorothy Bradford kill herself or fall off a boat?

Anyone’s guess, to be honest.

Concern: 50% of the population died by springtime and Bradford was just like, maybe if I don’t write it in my diary nobody will know?

And you know why he did that? Because they propped up the DEAD BODIES AS HUMAN SCARECROWS SO THE INDIANS WOULD THINK THEY WERE GUARDS. I really did need to use all of those caps.


Comment: The Mayflower was sold for scrap.
Question: What really happened at the real first Thanksgiving?

Sounds like not much. They ate dinner.

Concern: These people sure did like decorating with dead bodies.

Propping up pilgrims as human scarecrows, hanging up Indian heads in the  town square – just bury them, guys. Just be normal. I’m getting serial killer vibes from all of y’all. The ornament adorning Bradford’s wedding was a head on a pike and linen soaked in blood.

Comment: William Bradford married a 32-year-old woman.

See, all of the relatives I’ll have to see this week?

Comment: Sitting here during this discussion of the high price of beaver like:bingley-giggles.gif


“The beaver saved them” – Ken Burns’ brother Ric I guess.

Concern: So, Bradford gets buried in a grave.

Guess the town had all the disembodied heads they could handle.

Comment: Nope, One More Reference To A Head On A Pole Before We Go.
Question: Are we supposed to think Bradford’s journal is legit when a guy just found it in a book store right before the Civil War when there was a “battle” between New England and Southern historians?
Comment: “Somewhere, William Bradford might have smiled.”

But probably not because he’s the kind of man who got married under a rotting head on a stick right?

Everybody Who’s Anybody Is On Sesame Street

I have been waiting YEARS for someone to tell me how to get to Sesame Street. They drop the question in the theme song, but the show debuted 45 years ago today and still nobody has answered it.

When I was 3, one of the kids who hung around Mr. Hooper’s store looked like my neighborhood best friend, and I stewed for days over how she got on the show.

In preschool, Sesame Street led to my first ever wave of nostalgia. On a class field trip, my teacher turned on Sesame Street for us in her conversion van, and I realized that the show was still airing every day without me – when I was stuck playing duck duck goose with a bunch of sticky-handed tots who couldn’t even read yet. Remember, this was 1990, when there were no 24-hour children’s networks or YouTube clips. The only way to get to Sesame Street was to stay home from school.

A few years after that, one of my friends was convinced she was going to be on Sesame Street because of a donation her mom made during the annual PBS drive. Nope, that’s not how you get to Sesame Street either!

And now, as a full adult, I’d like to get to Sesame Street more than ever. Sure, part of it is that it represents a time in life when you could watch t.v. in your pajamas during the day. But mostly, these days it’s all about the guest stars. These clips make me feel as mad as I did in 1990, realizing that Sesame Street dares to go on without me every day:

Comedians Are On Sesame Street!

Jon Stewart delivered the fake, fake news.

Amy Poehler exercised (sort of!) with Elmo.

Ricky Gervais says “stumble” so many times it no longer sounds like a word.

And Cedric The Entertainer makes me wonder whether canteens are more relevant to kids’ lives than I realized. I grew up in the era of juice boxes.

Tina Fey is some sort of a book pirate.

What’s more adorable than Jimmy Fallon? Jimmy Fallon with Elmo. It’s all a bit much  for me.

Maya Rudolph raps, sings and dances with Elmo. Also I think she has a real future in children’s television, if she wants it.

Conan O’Brien does startlingly good dog impressions.

Even Saturday Night Live itself is on Sesame Street.

Actors Are On Sesame Street!

John Kraskinski talks about the meaning of the word soggy, interacts with a non-Elmo Muppet, and is just generally as cute as a bug’s ear.

And he’s not the only cast member of The Office to make the trip from Scranton to… is it supposed to be New York? Steve Carrell teaches us about the importance of voting and snacks.

Melissa McCarthy learns choreography from a penguin with Elmo and it’s exactly as delightful as it sounds.

Jonah Hill is making sure today’s youth are aware of the inexplicable mustache trend that’s sweeping the nation.

Benedict Cumberbatch is just generally rakishly charming, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Tom Hiddleston. See comments re: Cumberbatch, Benedict.

Kristen Bell instructs us on the word “splatter” but does not instruct us on how she has managed not to age since Veronica Mars.

Our hometown hero, Taye Diggs, makes a three-year-old puppet drive him around.

Musicians Are On Sesame Street!

Remember when you couldn’t get away from Call Me Maybe? Well, it even made it to Sesame Street (no Carly Rae Jepsen, though).

Bruno Mars doesn’t want you to give up if you’re the kind of child who is bad at catching balls.

Usher teaches the alphabet and it’s just really, really good.

Even Queen Bey herself made it to Sesame Street, during her Destiny’s Child days.

You may remember this Katy Perry performance because a bunch of parents got mad that their toddlers, who stopped breastfeeding probably under 2 years ago, were exposed to Perry’s boobs. I really don’t know.

Delightful tap-percussioned group Tilly And The Wall even swung by for kids parents who are a bit more into the indie scene.

Political Figures Are On Sesame Street!

Sandra Sotomayor is hanging out with Abby Cadabby,  melting my cold lawyerly heart, and letting kids know that princess isn’t a job.

Kofi Annan suggests that the muppets resolve their conflict “the United Nations Way”; thereby creating a “choose your own punchline” moment for the grownups watching.

Michelle Obama does a little light gardening.

And lest you think Sesame Street is partisan, Laura Bush reads a book.

Assorted famous people of 1991 are on Sesame Street!

We focused on currently famous folks, but Sesame Street has been hosting celebs since before the age of the remote control. This video features a number of early 90s superstars, but if you search through the Sesame Street archives you can find many more guest stars who were on the show while you were stuck in school, wishing for another field trip so you could hop in a conversion van and get to Sesame Street via the grainy tv set.




Man Crush Monday: LeVar Burton

Today’s Monday man crush is a fellow you may not have thought about since you were reading books written and illustrated by Jan Brett*. I’m talking about the one and only LeVar Burton, the pot of gold at the end of the reading rainbow.

Before we get started, let me just tell you that if you’re looking for a post about liking LeVar Burton ironically, or any 90s nostalgic millennial nonsense like that, this isn’t the post you should be reading**. Levardis Robert Martyn Burton, Jr. is almost absurdly man-crushable – but you don’t have to take my word for it!***

Bringing Reading To Public Television

I know, I know. Public television is already the books of TV. But let’s go back to 1983, when Reading Rainbow started. Most people didn’t have 1000 channels***. They had, like 5 or so, and one of them was probably the local PBS affiliate. Most of the stations were showing 80s mom television during the day (meaning soap operas and talk shows by people who weren’t Oprah). PBS was basically it for kids programming, so this little show about books had a huge potential audience.

The producers of Sesame Street intended for their show to reach kids who weren’t necessarily getting pre-preschool learning prep at home. Reading Rainbow filled a similar role for older kids whose parents weren’t big into books, or maybe just didn’t have the time or language skills to promote reading.

Reading Rainbow had a lot going for it. The awesome celebrity guests – Eartha Kitt, anyone? – kept parents from changing the channel. The show format was almost genius in its simplicity, and the theme song was crazy-good – but the real draw was LeVar as a host. He was upbeat but didn’t use that stupid “talking to kids voice,” and he was enthusiastic about the theme of the episode, but never pedantic. Burton had the same quality as Mister Rogers (and, I’d argue, Amy Poehler in her Smart Girls series) – an adult who recognizes kids as full people.

Bringing Diversity To Public Television

Think about most of the men on children’s programs. So many white guys, right? Look, some of my best friends are white guys. But it’s really important for all kids out there to have a man on TV who actually looks like he could be their dad or uncle.

It’s not only that TV has an over-abundance of white people. People of color are also less likely to be represented positively.  Negative representation does a number on kids’ self-concepts. Remember that bummer of a social experiment where kids choose between white dolls and Black dolls, and all of the kids pick the white doll because they’ve internalized that the Black doll is “bad” and “stupid?” That’s what I’m talking about here. But for 30 years, kids at least had LeVar Burton on PBS – an affable, smart, cool relative- or neighbor-type.

White kids needed LeVar too, especially white kids growing up in predominantly white communities. Familiarity breeds … well, familiarity. That’s why my  inner-city childhood was so great – I didn’t grow up thinking of white people as the default humans. Watching LeVar Burton talk about Chris Van Allsburg books isn’t going to stop racism, but it at least helped white kids grow up thinking of one man of color as a nice, friendly guy who’s into books — and it might be some of the only exposure to that kind of representation that those kids have.


As two ladies who might like Event Television more than actual events, it’s a bummer that we missed out on the huge TV sensation that was Alex Haley’s Roots. But having seen it on cable later on, it really was a miniseries worth the hype.

Burton played the young Kunta Kinte, a young man who is kidnapped in Africa and sold into slavery in the United States. He was only 20 at the time, but Burton was such a pro — perfectly expressing the transition from a young warrior-in-training to a man struggling against the slave system by trying to escape and resisting a name change.

For my generation, LeVar Burton is the man from Reading Rainbow, but for people a little older than us, he’s Kunta Kinte. If you only know Burton from PBS, I suggest you find a copy of Roots and give it a watch.

Star Trek, If You’re Into That

We’re not into Star Trek. Like, at all. But we have it on good authority that people who are into Star Trek are real into Star Trek. So for those people, Burton’s tenure on the sci-fi show is probably one of their favorite things about him. Even if you’re not into space shows, you’ve got to admit that having a career portfolio that spans children’s television, science fiction and historical drama is pretty fantastic.

LeVar Burton Is Totally Cool With Himself

Some of the stuff LeVar did for Reading Rainbow was straight-up silly, which is awesome. He wore medieval regalia and got transformed into a troll, all for the sake of reading. What is more attractive a guy who is so comfortable with himself that he’d rather have fun than look cool? Burton even said “I fly my geek flag proudly.” Honestly, that’s the coolest ever.

Everyone Loves LeVar

When was the last time you heard anyone talk smack about LeVar Burton? NEVER. And as children who grew up with Reading Rainbow become adults, Burton is in big demand. In the past few years alone he has made guest appearances in The Colbert Report, Community, and Wish I Was Here.

There’s An App For That

Do you really think that someone as awesome as LeVar Burton would get left behind the current wave of technology? Please. In the 80s, meeting kids where they were meant going to public television, but in the 2010s, kids are on the iPad. Seriously, if you ever have trouble doing something on your iPad, give it to the nearest three-year-old and they will be able to fix it for you. And then they will refuse to give it back for hours because toddlers LOVE tablets. The Reading Rainbow app promotes reading to kids who are less exposed than ever to tangible books – you know, the kind with pages and covers and stuff. You can read more about it here, but this app – like LeVar himself – is basically a huge deal.


* I get that Reading Rainbow repped all childrens’ books, but why did it always seem like it was Jan Brett’s Scandinavian kinder in knit woolens? Did my first-grade teacher just have one videocassette? Going forward, please realize that my memories of Reading Rainbow might be from one episode watched multiple times.

** DON’T LEAVE. You can still read our other posts. Here’s a Baby-Sitters Club musical libretto, and here’s a live-blog of Sharknado. AND THAT’S JUST TWO OF OUR THINGS.

*** Here’s where I ask you to take my word for it. Actually.

****  ⅔ of which are somehow the same channel listed multiple times. Be better, Time Warner.


Shows You Should Be Watching If You Aren’t Already: Call The Midwife

First things first. The show is called “Call the Midwife,” and the promotional images feature nuns on bicycles. This probably sounds great if you’re into the whole tea-and-twee thing, but I promise there’s a broader appeal to it if that’s not your thing. I’d venture to say if you like Downton Abbey, Grey’s Anatomy, or Orange Is The New Black, you should give Call The Midwife a try.

This show follows Jenny Lee (Jessica Raine – and narrated in the present day by Vanessa Redgrave), a young midwife working in East London in the late 1950s. Jenny lives at a nursing convent, so her colleagues are a mix of old nuns and young nurses. The East End was super-poor at the time, and super-fertile as well, apparently. So, what does this all have to do with Downton, Grey’s, and OITNB?

Downton Abbey

Let’s start with the obvious. These shows are both set in England in the past. The thing is, although the late 50s is usually considered a pretty modern era, the East End was still struggling to recuperate from World War II, and the area had a lot more in common with Downton in the teens and 20s than modern London.

Then, there’s the class thing. Jenny’s from somewhere in the comfortable classes, and she has good intentions to help out in the East End. Like plenty of well-intentioned 22-year-olds before her, though, she can’t help but feel a little judgmental towards some of the less-privileged folks she meets. You can see her journey from sympathy to empathy as the seasons progress. Then there’s Chummy, a nurse from the upper-upper class who seems to only make positive assumptions about everyone she meets. There’s also plenty of screen time given to the patients from the East End, and not all of them are exactly fawning over the upper-class nurses. The nuns, of course, are sort of in a class all to themselves. If you want to see how the upstairs-downstairs thing would play out 40 years down the line – say, when Ethel’s and Mary’s children are adults – you should probably watch this.

Grey’s Anatomy

… or E.R… or Chicago Hope… In many ways, Call The Midwife is a historical medical drama. There’s none of the mystery of House, because – surprise! – all of the patients are pregnant. Nevertheless, Call The Midwife follows a different patient or two each episode. Of course, sometimes a more compelling patient will show up again later on.

I should mention that childbirth is really not my thing, but you don’t see any of the gory details. If you think medical problems and procedures are interesting, but can’t stomach too much blood and guts, this is a good bet.

Sometimes, Call The Midwife reads as a love letter to the NHS. It kind of feels like that kid in fourth grade who would brag about having an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and you’d be like “you don’t really have to brag about it, I was already jealous of you.” But don’t mind me, I just have a high-deductible plan and am bitter about it.

Orange Is The New Black

I’m sure there’s some sort of analogy there between nuns and prisoners, but that’s not exactly what I mean. I mean, there’s this great, diverse group of characters, and you get to learn about every one. Everyone – nuns, nurses, or  disadvantaged patient – is presented on equal footing. You don’t get the full backstory of every character, but between the writers and the actors, everyone does such a wonderful job of presenting each character as a full, complex person.

If you want to watch Call the Midwife, act fast. Season One is on Netflix, but season 2 is only streaming on PBS through September 3. It watches fast, though, because there are only 15 episodes in all. Both seasons (series, they call them in the UK, because they’re just a bunch of cuties) are available on DVD, so hopefully season 2 will make it to Netflix soon.

Downton Abbey Actors: Unrecognizable in Modern Clothes

It’s Downton Abbey season again! Well, it is if you’re in the UK, anyway.  All of the pre-Downton chatter has me thinking about the actors in real life. Some of them look the same in modern dress – Lord Grantham and Bates, for instance. When I see some of the other actors on a 21st century red carpet, I think they’re from some show I don’t watch. It’s like taking your great-grandma whom you’ve only seen in old photo albums and dressing her in skinny jeans. Honestly, though, some of them are secretly seriously attractive under that ‘20s garb. To wit:

Laura Carmichael – Edith Crawley

While Mary and Sybil carry the title of “Lady”, Edith’s title is “Poor.” As in, “Poor Edith always gets jilted” or “Poor Edith always tries to marry married men” or “Everyone Poor Edith knows dies tragically.” Yes, her sisters dealt  with worse tragedies than her, but you have to admit that there’s a hangdog, unfortunate vibe surrounding Edith. The “Poor Edith” thing isn’t helped by Downton’s stylists. Compared to Mary and Sybil, Edith is certainly the dowdy sister. That’s all TV magic, though. When Laura Carmichael is out in modern-day clothes, she’s every bit as pretty as her on-screen sibs.

Rob James-Collier – Thomas

What a difference a buzz cut makes. While I do think Thomas isn’t half bad looking, you can’t deny that he’s a total dirtbag. Once Rob James-Collier has the layer of Thomas slime scrubbed off, he looks like such a nice guy.

Sophie McShera – Daisy

She’s playing a scullery maid, so this isn’t necessarily fair. Still, the fact remains that Daisy looks pretty plain on-screen. Casting directors must have seen some rough in the diamond, because is actually super-pretty.

Thomas Howes – William

Proof that everyone looks dopier with slicked-down hair.

Siobhan Finneran – Mrs O’Brien

I KNOW, right? Between the weird sausage curl bangs, Victorian spinster dress, and dour attitude, O’Brien is unappealing to say the least. It’s a huge shock that in 2013, Siobhan Finneran looks like she’d play a pretty teacher or nice young mom.

Dan Stevens – Matthew Crawley

Brown hair? Good. Facial hair? Good. A beard that looks like it’s been blasted with spray snow? Not so good. If Dan Stevens would trim up that frizzy beard and hit it with some Just For Men, I’d call his 21st century self a major upgrade.

Lesley Nicol – Mrs. Patmore

The biggest difference is definitely in the downstairs folk, and you have to admit that this is pretty remarkable.At least at first, Mrs. Patmore is that scary boss everyone’s had at least once.  She isn’t even married, but they call her Mrs. anyway, just to show that she’s wed to the kitchen. She’s kind of grumpy and frumpy, but  I can’t snark on Patmore’s hair because it’s exactly what mine looks like with no product or if I’m late for work. Yep, I’m definite downstairs material. Lesley Nicol in her 21st century gear reminds me that sometimes a little hair straightener goes a long way.

Life Lessons From ZOOM

I live my adult professional life by the principles of the late-90s reboot of Zoom. Yes, the PBS children’s show. This wasn’t intentional. In fact, I didn’t even realize I was doing it until I sat down to write a post about Zoom, at which point I discovered that the show had leached into my subconscious and bled all the way through to my working life. Sure, I’ve learned a lot from higher education and on-the-job experience — but everything I really needed to know, I apparently learned from Zoom.

1) Always cheer for your friends.

Remember how every time they were playing a game, all of the kids would cheer for everyone who was competing? They’d be all “Go Zoe! Go Jared! You can do it, Zoe! You got this, Jared!”. At twelve, I thought that no real kids actually did this — you picked who you wanted to win, and that was that. There was a lot more smack talk in my childhood.

Now that I’ve grown up, I realize that I take a Zoom approach to other people’s success. As long as it’s one of my people getting ahead, I’m happy. That’s not to say I won’t work like crazy so that I’m the one getting the good project, or the promotion, or whatever. But, if a friend or colleague is recognized, that’s almost as good as a victory for myself. You aren’t in competition with your friends or even your co-workers, is I guess what I’m saying. It’s good to be happy for people. ZOOM Games taught me that.

2) The zip code in Allston is 02134.

    True story: I had to mail something to Boston a few months ago, and didn’t have the exact address. I was able to look it up on Google maps because I had an approximate zip code, thanks to that damn theme song that is still in my head after 14 years.

3) Sometimes you just need to learn something by watching people.

I’m talking about ubbi-dubbi. I could lapse into ubbi dubbi this second. But ask me to explain how to do it, and it would be super confusing. However, if you watched a few clips of the Zoom-ers speaking it, you could ubbi-dubbi with the best of them. This definitely happens in the adult world — when long, step-by-step instructions fail you, sometimes the best thing to say is “hey, can I watch you do that once?” and you’ll get it.

4) If someone has an idea, you have to listen to them for instructions. If you’re giving instructions, you have to make people listen to you.

I wish someone had told me that 90% of being an adult with a professional job was just being kind of pushy so that people would do what I need them to do. Since Zoom was a kids-only show, one of the Zoomers would be the one to explain the rules of a game or how to do a craft. Unlike real children, the other Zoom kids listened with rapt attention. I definitely try to do that when someone’s telling me something important. But when you’re the one giving orders, you have to speak loudly and clearly and look the other people straight in the face, just like Keiko and Buzz did – unless you’re working over email, and then you have to do the email equivalent of that.

5) Positivity And Perseverance Will Keep Your Team On Track

While the “being pushy so people do what I need them to do” thing does come up a lot, I much prefer it when people just respond to teamwork. It’s not a cool trait at all, but I’m plucky,  like an adult American Girl doll or a character from a Haley Mills movie. No kidding, one of my higher-ups praised my “can-do attitude” when I took over a book series. Well, you can thank PBS afternoon television for that. Zoomers didn’t give up, even when they were losing or really, really struggling.  And when you’re working with other people – whether a production staff or the other kids on your balloon toss game – your positive attitude translates to everyone else. My work is deadline heavy, and as the editor in charge, I can’t say “this is awful, we’re running so late, and by the way it’s your fault because you forgot to do part of your job.” It works much, much better to let everyone know that we can do this, and that as the one responsible, you’re going to do everything you can to get the job done.

6) Crowd-Source Your Content

PBS knew that adults couldn’t always come up with fun kid activities, so most of the games and recipes were sent in by kids. I can’t prove this, but I feel like it was almost always Stephanie M. from Toledo, Ohio. This is definitely the way to go in most real-life professions, too. I mean the “getting feedback from your target audience” thing, not so much the Stephanie M. thing.

7) Sometimes People Way Older Or Way Younger Than You Have Really Great Ideas

When you’re a kid, the difference between an 8 year old and a 12 year old is HUGE. Zoom spanned a pretty wide age range — you know those kids would not have been hanging out together in real life. Still, everyone learned from each other. If you’re starting out in your career and are way young compared to everyone else (that’s me!), or if you’re working with people half your age, don’t just write off those youths or fogeys. Caroline’s ideas weren’t always bad, you know.

8) Always have a healthy snack after school

Or after work, whatever. Or in the late afternoon, if you keep healthy snacks in your desk drawer. 9 times out of 10, when I hit that mid-afternoon slump, it’s some sort of blood sugar situation and a handful of almonds or an apple perk me right up (sometimes the only answer is caffeine. Zoom didn’t teach me that one. Also you know who couldn’t have nuts? Zoe. She was allergic). Thanks, Cafe ZOOM.

9) It’s OK if you show up in the same outfit as somebody else. Or everybody else.

Whatever, it was a good t-shirt.

10) Learning is cool.

My mom was an elementary school science teacher when I was a kid, so my childhood was all dissecting owl pellets and growing crystals. Although it was no Bill Nye or Beakman’s World, Zoom helped emphasize that learning new things is cool. When you’re working, that means jumping in headfirst to learn about a new task, field, or emerging technology. Props to Zoom Sci for that one.