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Writers' Note: Found Family

After a long hiatus, Writers' Note has returned, and on the honorable note of family. This month, BFB writers were asked to pick their favorite story of found family in a piece of media. Whether it be circumstances of school, work or a shared passion, these stories show how deep bonds can form without blood ties.


Nick Z.

I have a long-standing affection for twisty soap operas. The first show I remember really wanting to watch was How to Get Away with Murder, but because we didn’t have cable when it was coming out, I settled on a different ABC drama, Revenge, which was on Netflix. All these years later my fondness endures through my latest obsession with The O.C., a teen drama that aired from 2003-2007 on Fox.


The O.C. starts with the arrival of Ryan Atwood (Ben McKenzie) in the titular O.C. (Orange County), an ultrawealthy suburb in Southern California. Ryan is troubled but gifted, and finds himself adopted by his public defender Sandy Cohen (Peter Gallagher) and his wife Kirsten (Kelly Rowan). He and his adoptive brother Seth (Adam Brody) quickly become friends, and they meet girl-next-door Marissa Cooper (Mischa Barton) and the pretty, popular Summer Roberts (Rachel Bilson).

All of these characters become part of Ryan’s found family, which is very conducive to the soap opera structure: everyone has their own dramatic storyline that often converges with others. That also means that everyone is fully drawn, from the teens to the adults. Yes, everyone gets dedicated screen time to shine, but more importantly, you get to see each of the characters grow and make mistakes as they deal with social problems that invariably arise episode after episode. They navigate the conflict inherent to soap operas, so their relationships with and statuses relative to each other wax and wane. But then, as a season draws to a close, you get the crescendo that everything’s been building to, something that shifts the status quo for the start of the next season, where they’re put through the wringer yet again. Mmmm, whatcha sayyyy.


Sophie

Freaks and Geeks is a quintessential example of found family. This is not the first time I’ve mentioned Freaks and Geeks in a BFB piece, but when I heard the prompt of “found family,” I couldn’t help but mention it once again.


The show centers around two groups of misfit teens who commiserate with their shared experiences of being outsiders. The freaks are rebellious and unconventional. Throughout the season, they form a close-knit bond that transcends their differences, embracing one another as if they were siblings. Likewise, the geeks are academically inclined but oh-so painfully awkward. The geeks find solace in their own circle. As both groups navigate high school, the show depicts how these disparate individuals become each other's confidants. The bonds between these characters mirror the dynamic of a found family. This found family theme is underlined by moments of loyalty and friendship, showcasing how others lean on each other in times of need.

Perhaps the reason why I feel so connected to the show is because deep down I want to be a part of the web of characters. Whether that means I am a freak or a geek, I don't know. The best part of Freaks and Geeks is the combination of the mise-en-scène and the characters. I can appreciate that Judd Apatow didn’t attempt to glorify high school like most high school shows do. Everything is gloomy and I found my high school experience somewhat similar, as I’m sure many others can relate to. The characters, on paper, are not people you necessarily want to root for, but you just can’t help it. Maybe it's that we can all see a little bit of ourselves in them.Freak aend Geeks.


Oliver

Wes Anderson has proven time and time again to be one of the finest filmmakers of his time, but if his output in the past two years (which includes two feature films and four short films) is indicative of anything, it’s that he’s also one of the most productive. Anderson never seems to leave the spotlight, which means it’s never a bad time to talk about his most underappreciated works.


The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou is about Steve Zissou, an oceanographer (an homage to Jacques Cousteau), and his crew’s mission to seek vengeance on the rare shark that killed Zissou’s best friend Esteban. On said mission, they are joined by new members Ned, a man who believes to be Zissou’s son, and Jane, a pregnant journalist.


While it might be a stretch to include The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou in the “found family” category, the cast of characters is so memorable and fun that it would be a shame not to include it. Bill Murray gives a career-best performance as the charismatic but flawed Steve Zissou, and Owen Wilson is terrific as Ned Plimpton, a character so far from what an audience might expect Owen Wilson to play that you can’t help but find it refreshing. The best character in this film, however, by quite a large margin, is Klaus, played brilliantly by Willem Dafoe. Handly one of the funniest and most ridiculous characters ever put to screen, Klaus will have you cackling at every scene he’s in.


Bailey

Mother! That’s mother! She’s mothering! In all likelihood, you have heard some variation of this phrase, just one of many in recent years to jump from the ballroom lexicon to the vocabulary of seemingly everyone. However fun and affectionate this usage might be, its origins are more meaningful and intimate than, say, our universal admiration for Cate Blanchett.


Drag and ballroom, once cultures that epitomized “underground,” have never been more mainstream than they are today. The 1990 release of Jennie Livingston’s seminal documentary Paris Is Burning is arguably when this change began in earnest. It’s a film about many things: queer joy and resilience, the American experience, class and race, fashion and art. It’s also a film about family. For young people who have been cast out and abused by the family they were given, finding their own can be the difference between life and death. This is the story of too many LGBTQ people, and Paris Is Burning captures this reality with a simple eloquence both heartbreaking and heartwarming.

“Legendary mother” Pepper LaBeija shares her hard-earned wisdom with her attentive children. Carmen and Brooke, sisters in the House of Extravaganza, tease each other and laugh with disarming, familial vulnerability on a beach. Their mother, Angie Extravaganza, mourns the murder of her daughter Venus. Two teenage boys, adrift and forever anonymous, literally lean on each other. It would be impossible to watch these scenes and not see the love of a parent, a sister, a cousin. None of these siblings were born to their “mothers” or raised by their “fathers.” They did not grow up in the same house. But out of vital necessity, they built one.


Lydia

NBC workplace comedies have definitively shaped my sense of self. Parks and Recreation is the gold standard for me, as far as great TV friendships (and romances) go, and admittedly, I have been raised to see the world through Leslie Knope’s rose-tinted glasses. As life gradually wore me down, I searched for another show that would satisfy my ratio of bitter to sweet, with vibrant personalities as lovable as they are offputting. I have never worked at a municipal government building, but I did work at a fast-food place, and fast-food is retail-adjacent. Superstore and its odd cast of characters thus truly hit home for me.


The best part of Superstore, as with most great TV shows, is the character development. I genuinely think that every single character is hilarious, but the evolution of those personalities in relation to each other (and how, 90% of the time, they want nothing to do with each other outside of the job), rings true to me. Workplace intimacy is a product of how much people are able to separate their work from their home lives. When you’re spending 10-hour shifts with people you have nothing in common with, commonalities emerge. Home life secrets find an impartial outlet. Hating the man truly brings people together.

Superstore is rife with criticism of all-powerful corporations as well as odd moments of vulnerability. Because they recieve limited support, the coworkers are forced to support each other. The combattant dynamic of Glenn and Dina as Manager/Asst. Manager is on point, and the extensive crop of “uggo” C-actors is dazzling in its portrait of Middle America. A lot of people might find the close-quarters awkwardness of The Office to satisfy their cringe quota, but Superstore develops a brand of ignominy to call its own: screwed-over people left behind.


So, if these are the conditions, isn’t it better to make the most of it? Make a friend. Fall in love. Find a home. The “we’re a family” workplace mentality CAN be harmful, but for some, it’s a necessity. The unlikely support provided by coworkers may not be coming from anywhere else. Superstore strikes a perfect tone of relaying the struggle while pointing out how ridiculous a lot of the struggle really is. Some people need the job, others are just doing it for the bit (Ben Feldman's character Jonah, as an upper-middle-class white liberal, bears the brunt of that angle). But when the forces of nature collide – a pivotal scene involving a tornado in the season two finale being the turning point – all are equalized into the same, shitty little boat. That’s found family.


-Nick Z., Sophie, Oliver, Bailey and Lydia

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