From This Is Us to A Million Little Things, it seems as though NBC has made it their mission to produce dramatic television shows that, if nothing else, pull on your heartstrings. The latest series to join that batch is one that you should be watching: The Village. Created by Mike Daniels, this ensemble drama follows a number of residents, all living in the same apartment building in Brooklyn, who have built a close-knit, family-like bond. They all deal with their own personal issues, but still find time to be there for each other.
Lorraine Toussaint (left) as Patricia Davis. Grace Van Dien as Katie Campbell.
The series stars a number of familiar faces, including Michaela McManus (of One Tree Hill and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit fame), Lorraine Toussaint (The Fosters and Orange is the New Black), Frankie Faison (The Wire), and Dominic Chianese (The Sopranos and The Godfather Part II). The show also stars Daren Kagasoff, who is most recognized as bad boy, Ricky Underwood, on the ABC Family (now Freeform) series The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
What makes The Village such a good show, aside from the fact that it will most definitely force you to shed a few tears, is the fact that the acting is very powerful. When you have three legendary performers such as Toussaint, Faison, and Chianese on one show, you know you’re in for a treat. In addition, the show deals with issues that anyone can relate to. From teen pregnancy, to an amputee war veteran dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, to cancer, to immigration issues, to caring for the elderly, this show certainly has something for everyone. You care for these characters because you either see yourself – or someone you hold dear to your heart – in them. You relate to their struggles and celebrate their triumphs along with them.
Lorraine Toussaint (left) as Patricia Davis. Michaela McManus as Sarah Campbell.
Sure, the show may not pull the numbers that This Is Us has seen in its three seasons, but it does get better as it goes along. There’s also something very endearing about a group of people who aren’t blood-related, coming together to create a stronger family than those who are!
Actress Helen Highfield stars on I Ship It, a series that first aired on CW Seed. The show gained such a following that the network decided to air the second season on television. As for Highfield herself, she’s determined to create a different narrative about female characters on television and movies. We chatted with this funny, free-spirited talent to discuss her hit television series, whether or not she has any regrets, and if there are any dream roles she wishes to take on.
Cliché: First off, thank you so much for taking time out of your schedule to answer my questions. It is greatly appreciated! Now, from what I gathered, not much is written or known about you. So, if you don’t mind, I would like to use this interview as a way for people to get to know who Helen Highfield is! Let’s start with your upbringing. You’re from Ithaca, New York. Would you say you had a relatively normal upbringing? Tell me about that.
Helen Highfield: Of course, thank YOU! Well, I was born and raised in Ithaca, NY – a small liberal university town with a bumper sticker that reads “Ithaca: 10 Square Miles Surrounded by Reality”. And, of course, there’s the more famous one: “Ithaca is Gorges” (cause we have quite a few). I’d say I was pretty lucky to grow up there because there’s a ton of support for the arts and a big mix of people who live there because of Cornell. We Ithacans have a lot of hometown pride.
How did you get bitten by the acting and performing bug? Was it a particular show or film you saw that resonated with you the most?
I always loved going to see theater and watching movie musicals like Singing in the Rain but I was mostly focused on singing for a long time. I sang in several choirs and I got into acting by doing all the school musicals starting in 8th grade. In high school, some friends told me about The Actor’s Workshop of Ithaca, a local acting class they were in, and it sounded absolutely terrifying but I gave it a try and fell head over heels in love with it. I was always a bit of a perfectionist and I remember leaving that first class thinking “this is the first thing I’m willing to be bad at and I think that’s important.”
Tell me about your time in school. Did you ever feel out of place? Were you ever bullied? If so, how did you overcome that and what advice would you give to kids who are going through the same thing?
I was very lucky in this regard cause I had a couple of besties who had the same interest in theater and music as I did and that’s all that really mattered to me. I was never really worried about joining a certain group and preferred to get to know people individually. The best advice I can give is: focus on finding your people. Your people will be kind and laugh with you at the same dumb stuff and share your interests. The mean people aren’t your people.
Since beginning your acting career, you’ve guest starred on a number of highly successful television series such as Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Criminal Minds, and Rizzoli and Isles. Which means you got to work alongside some pretty powerful actors such as Mariska Hargitay, Joe Mantegna, and Angie Harmon. What lessons did you learn from these people in particular that you have taken with you in your life and career?
Unfortunately, I didn’t have scenes with those folks – though I fully geeked out at Chris Meloni (a fellow alum of The Neighborhood Playhouse) on my way to set! I think the main thing I took away (and continue to marvel at) from those first few jobs was the overwhelming sense of community that comes through on set. It’s so exciting to experience how everyone there is happily focusing their job so it can all come together. I think it’s an important lesson to understand that it’s such a collaborative effort and your acting is only one part of a much bigger machine.
In 2016, you began portraying Ella on I Ship It. What drew you to the project and the character of Ella? How do you see yourself reflected in Ella?
I’d actually randomly stumbled upon Yulin Kuang’s (creator of I Ship It) YouTube channel a year or so before I auditioned and I loved her work. When I auditioned, I had this weird feeling that I somehow recognized the character but I didn’t make the connection till the callback that this was the series iteration of her short film by the same name. I loved how messy and determined Ella is. And of course, was really excited about singing in a show – it was my first time recording! There’s definitely a lot of me in Ella. We’re both ambitious and can get kinda intense when we’re going after something we want. We both feel a lot of feelings. Though I think Ella is a lot more impulsive than I am. I think that’s part of what I loved about playing her.
The first season aired on CW Seed and was so popular with audiences that the show has graduated to airing on television? The premiere date is April 10th. Why do you think the show resonated with viewers the way it did?
Yes! Starting April 10th, it’ll be available for 2 weeks only on CW Seed before it moves to broadcast later this year. There’s a lot of fandoms out there but not a lot of content about the fandoms themselves so I think Yulin tapped into something special with this show. Ella is a fangirl who writes fan fiction and in this season, our show takes place in an alternate universe (a popular fan fiction trope) so we get to play with the musical genre in a whole new way. No more nerd rock, just full on musical moments. Our composer, Brian Grider, did an excellent job and I think the music in this season is even better than the last!
According to your website, you say that a career goal of yours is to “play smart, sophisticated, sexy women who have fun with language”. Elaborate on that? What does that mean for you personally?
Haha, yes! I’ve just seen way too many parts for women that aren’t very dynamic or interesting – they just ask the male characters “what do you mean?” to propel the plot. All the women I know are WAY more interesting than what’s largely been portrayed in TV and movies so it’s really exciting to see the shift that’s happening in Hollywood. My current obsession is Pen15. Those characters are so beautifully written and acted and I see the complexity of my female friends in them. I just want to work with great writers who write multifaceted female characters! That’s another reason I loved playing Ella – she’s so honestly ambitious, a quality we still sometimes vilify in women when we really shouldn’t. And as for the “sexy” part… I like the idea of playing women who are at home in their bodies in a way that doesn’t need to be their one defining quality as decided by the (often) male writer. Sexy is just a confidence in oneself.
What is the most surprising self-realization you’ve had?
Oh man, they’re all surprising! But let’s go with the realization that my perception of things is the only thing I can truly control and so I get to have a lot of choice in how I see my life. It’s pretty empowering to realize that I get to choose how I react to life’s ups and downs.
What’s one thing you did in the past that you really wish you could go back and undo, or do differently?
Oh man. I think I’d go back to 18 year old me who’d just moved to NYC to go to acting school and was low key terrified and I’d give her a hug and tell her to breathe. Not sure she/me would listen, but it’d be worth a try!
Finish this sentence: I am most fulfilled when ______.
I’m able to find balance and create boundaries. I’m guilty of putting other people’s needs ahead of mine a lot but I keep learning (and re-learning and re-learning…) the lesson that when I make time for self-care, I’m a much better version of myself to everyone around me. I now literally set alarms to remind myself to eat because I can get the suuuuper hangry!
Are there any particular dream roles that you see yourself portraying? Why do you see yourself in those roles?
When I saw August: Osage County on Broadway, I got really excited to act for a long time and get to play some badass ladies like Barbara. I’d love to play her in that play someday.
Finally, what kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind? What kind of message would you like to get across when all is said and done?
Oooooh this is deep. Ya know, I don’t feel like I have any big ambitions for changing the world purely with my acting. Of course, I’d love to be remembered for a large body of inspiring acting work, but mostly I think we influence the world in much smaller interactions. I think we can all spread kindness daily and inspire those around us by offering ourselves compassion. I was introduced to the Marianne Williamson poem “Our Deepest Fear” when I was in acting school and I just love this line: “As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
Thank you so much for speaking with us!
Thank you for having me!
Be sure to catch I Ship It airing right now on CW Seed. It will remain there for two weeks before moving to the CW Network later this spring! To stay up to date on all things Helen Highfield, follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
Comedian Ramy Youssef first made a splash appearing on The Late Show With Stephan Colbert when he performed 5 minutes of stand up that spoke about his Muslim identity in a witty way that had the crowd laughing 10 seconds in. It is no surprise that he is now executive producing and starring in his own Hulu show titled Ramy, which is set to premiere April 19th. Early reviews of the show have been overwhelmingly positive, making it a show that will be a necessary watch. The series of this magnitude is long overdue and for that reason alone, its arrival is important.
The show is also executive produced by Jerrod Carmichael, whose own series on NBC made waves as it tackled social issues ranging from race, gender, and even school shootings. In its three-season run, The Carmichael Show never shied away from uncomfortable topics, and from the Hulu trailer, Ramy seems to be following in its brave footsteps. The series has 10 episodes and each episode is rooted in Ramy’s real-life stand-up.
Much like his own life, Ramy follows a first-generation Arab-American Muslim living in New Jersey who is struggling to find himself. In the just-released trailer, you can see Ramy speaking with friends about being 30 years old and still grappling with the identity issues that arose from being caught between two cultural expectations. The culture clash emerges from a post-9/11 world that believes the term ‘Muslim-American’ is an oxymoron. In the previews, you also see him questioning whether he’s even a good enough Muslim to be accepted into his own community while dealing with explaining his beliefs to his non-Muslim friends.
What makes this new series so special is that it has never been done before. There has never been a show quite like Ramy that centers around the voices of young Arab-Americans like this. And as Ramy has said in his own interviews, Arabs have never had their ‘pop-culture’ moment. These truthful characters are finally taking the main stage, and the creators promise that they are going to have actual depth to them. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Ramy said his goal with this series is to not display his community as squeaky clean and polished people, nor is he playing into the harmful stereotypes we’re so used to seeing on screen. He’s simply showing his community as they are. “Meeting at our fault lines is much more interesting to me than meeting at shared values. I’m not trying to sell you something. If anything, I’m trying to show you where we are. There is nothing to hide.”
If a Hulu series isn’t enough, Ramy also has his first stand-up special set to premiere on HBO this summer. Between a stand-up special and this upcoming Hulu series, Ramy Youssef is making important strides for his community. Make sure you press play on April 19th to finally see Arab-Americans have their pop-culture moment!
Bojack Horseman is a Netflix original adult animated series, that follows the life of a horse, BoJack. BoJack is a washed-up actor from a 90’s sitcom, struggling to revamp his career in Hollywood. In this animated alternate universe, animals and humans live side by side and even work alongside each other in Hollywood. Though it’s animation, the problems, the characters, and even the foul language are very much real.
With five critically acclaimed seasons under its belt, it has built a cult-like following with a diverse audience and universal praise for tackling serious topics. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, an animated series? for adults? serious topics?
BoJack Horseman is more than what you think and it’s a show you should be watching. Here are three reasons why:
The Flawed Characters Are Intensely Relatable Many of the (well deserved) praise BoJack Horseman receives derives from the compassionate portrayal of mental illness. Furthermore, none of the characters on screen are one dimensional. There is no perfect hero or obvious evil villain. There is no emotional redemption arc at the end of the season that wipes away a character’s previous mistakes. The supporting cast has many faults and we love it that way because we see portions of ourselves in each of them.
Guest Appearances From Your Favorite Hollywood Stars! BoJack Horseman does take place in Hollywood so it only makes sense the show is littered with hilarious celebrity cameos! Season One’s guest list included Stephen Colbert, Olivia Wilde, and Naomi Watts. As the series continued, the stars only got bigger. In the most recent season, there is a hilarious cameo from Mr. Paul McCartney himself, alongside Felicity Huffman, Zach Braff, and Daniel Radcliffe. These celebrities stop by to play exaggerated versions of themselves proving that they too can get in on the joke!
It’s a Comedy With Heart and Smarts The premise of the series might sound far fetched and the visuals of talking animals on screen might seem childish to some, but the show is far from childish. It has been tackling dark themes so well that many have awarded it the title of “The Funniest, Saddest Show”. Before clicking play, none of us would’ve thought that a series with a talking horse would tackle subjects such as mass shootings, women’s rights, addiction, or depression. But it has done just that. Sprinkled in between an amazing theme song and jokes about celebrities, BoJack Horseman leaves its viewers with a new look on life and a deeper look within themselves.
It really is amazing how far we have come as a society when it comes to media representation of the LGBT community. While gay and lesbian characters have long been represented on television and film, the shift to include transgender characters has only recently occurred. Up until the early 2010s, there were virtually no trans characters on our television screens or on the big screen. Nowadays, it has become the norm for shows and films to represent the community in some way, casting a necessary spotlight on their struggles and triumphs. Their inclusion has allowed trans folks to realize that they are not alone, and do not have to feel ashamed to be who they are. For some, just seeing a trans character depicted on screen has literally saved their lives. Here is a list of the top 5 transgender characters that have made a positive impact on our society.
Dr. Terry Randolph, General Hospital
The character of Oncologist, Dr. Terry Randolph may not be known by many outside of the daytime soap opera community, but that does not lessen the positive impact she has made. Portrayed by trans actress Cassandra James, she is the first transgender character on ABC’s General Hospital. She was first introduced to viewers of the show on June 29, 2018, as the childhood friend of longtime fan fave, Elizabeth Webber (played by Rebecca Herbst). Elizabeth was initially shocked to see that the boy she knew as a child (as well as her first kiss) is now a beautiful woman – the woman she was meant to be all along – and embraced Terry with open arms almost instantly. Speaking on her thoughts of playing Terry, James posted to Instagram: “Terry, like many trans people, struggled to find love and acceptance from her family. Transition is rarely arbitrary. Personally speaking, it took me several long years of self-discovery and soul-searching before I decided to transition. I’m thankful to be telling Terry’s story and grateful to everyone at #GH who were committed to have a trans woman portray Terry.”
Shameless is the longest-running scripted series in Showtime’s history, and in its 7th season, the show introduced fans to Trevor. Portrayed by trans actor and activist Elliot Fletcher, Trevor would become a love interest for Ian Gallagher (played by Cameron Monaghan), an openly gay man and one of the show’s original characters. As a social worker at the local LGBT center, Trevor was fundamental in educating Ian, and simultaneously, viewers of the show, about the trans community. He was the first trans character on the show that was prominently featured and his inclusion opened eyes and expanded many minds as it pertained to the trans community and their place in our society.
Sophia Burset, Orange is the New Black
Netflix’s Orange is the New Black has been credited by many for being the first show to prominently feature a trans character, played by a trans actress, since the show’s inception. Portrayed by the amazing Laverne Cox, Sophia Burset was initially incarcerated for credit card fraud, which she used to finance her gender confirmation surgery. This is a notable struggle that many trans individuals face. Her relationships with fellow inmates and her family were often depicted as complicated due to her being a transgender woman. Despite all of this, at her core, Sophia is a genuinely good person, as long as you don’t get on her bad side. Sophia’s impact on the show, and with fans, as well as Laverne’s critically acclaimed portrayal of the character, garnered the actress a Primetime Emmy Nomination. She also landed the cover of Time Magazine in June 2014, making her the first trans actress to accomplish both.
Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, Pose
Created by Ryan Murphy, FX’s Pose has the distinction of having the largest cast of transgender actors ever for a scripted television series. One of the show’s characters that is truly making an impact is Blanca Rodriguez-Evangelista, portrayed by trans actress and singer MJ Rodriguez. Living in New York City during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, Blanca is the epitome of never giving up in the face of adversity. After being diagnosed with HIV, she takes matters, as well as her fate, into her own hands by forming House Evangelista, a self-selected family that prides itself on providing safety, love, and support to those that have been abandoned by their birth family for being themselves. MJ’s portrayal of Blanca has garnered overwhelming praise from critics and has been called the “breakout star” of the series.
Nomi Marks, Sense8
Sense8 may have ended way too soon, but the popular Netflix series will live on in our hearts as one of the most groundbreaking shows ever produced. Created by sisters and trans women, Lana and Lilly Wachowski, along with J. Michael Straczynski, Sense8 featured a racially diverse cast, in addition to the fact that it tackled subjects that are not normally depicted in many science fiction shows and films, such as sexuality and gender identity. One of the show’s breakout characters was Nomi Marks, portrayed by trans actress Jamie Clayton. Try and wrap your head around this one: Nomi Marks is a caucasian trans woman in a same-sex interracial relationship – and ultimately, marriage – with an African American woman. How’s that for inclusivity?
Joining the list of small screen reboots, Party of Five is officially in the works. Freeform greenlit the series this week and ordered a pilot episode for a Party of Five reboot. The original Party of Five premiered on Fox in 1994 and ran for six seasons. Matthew Fox, Lacey Chabert, Scott Wolf, Neve Campbell and Jennifer Love Hewittall starred in the series as the orphaned Salinger siblings. The reboot has been in development since January. The ’90s Fox drama follows the Salinger kids after losing their parents in a drunk driving accident. From there on, the show deals with difficult life issues like drug abuse, cancer and death. But will the new drama just be an updated take on the same story? Probably not.
Freeform Confirms ‘Party of Five’ Reboot, But What Will Change?
As with any series that is signed on for a reboot some years later, the new Party of Five will take a more modern focus. Instead of the Salingers, the family will be the Buendias children. Like the Salingers, the Buendias will lose their parents, but not due to a car accident. The new Party of Five will shift focus to the current deportation issues, as the kids struggle to keep the family going after their parents are deported. Executive producers Amy Lippman and Christopher Keyser discussed the reboot recently, stating “this new iteration of Party of Five isn’t a retread of the original; it’s a whole new look at kids trying to parent each other in the wake of circumstances beyond their control, yet learning a similar lesson: that families persist no matter how great the obstacles.” With this modern, relevant twist, odds are the new Party of Five might have a chance at becoming as successful as the original series. After all, Party of Five won a Golden Globe in 1996 for Best Television Drama.