Aug 062017
 

This show has an extraordinarily ugly vision of the world. Cruelty is everywhere and everywhere it bleeds into a sadism enabled and sustained by the production aesthetic. Noble ideals like honour and justice predominate in the dialogue and motivate character action, but in this world they serve rather than counter the cruelty. Despite the noble talk, there is no real notion of “the good” that is not childish or foolish, and so becoming adult means becoming cruel and hard.

It took me awhile to catch on to all of this which made watching the show incredibly painful. I kept being disappointed by characters who I thought were better than they were or caught off guard by violence that unsettled me. Eventually, I reached the point where, I watched for plot rather than people: a gigantic machine is in motion and I want to see how it rumbles along and how it finishes.

In terms of characters, I’m attached to only three.

Tyrion: he has money and a powerful family but he wants the pleasure of love and happiness. Best of all, he doesn’t live as if his world was a zero-sum. He wishes these pleasures for others, offers them when he can, and, in doing so, is the only character who is freely, personally good. That he and Varis—a character I could have added to this list but haven’t because he’s minor—have joined forces makes perfect sense. Given the ironic-mythic mode of the narrative, I continue to hope this fool will end up being king, although I doubt it will happen and just hope he survives to the end.

Arya: she has the misfortune of being a child and a woman in a world that tortures both. Her response is to live in a dream. That dream is a nightmare but it is a nightmare in which having nothing and being no one grants power. Because this story is a fantasy, Arya’s dream is real, and in an admittedly bloodthirsty way, I’m rooting for her.

Cersei: she’s a villain. She destroys too many lives, accepts to easily radically violent means to achieve her goals to be anything else. But with Robert, with Ned, later with her father, she speaks tragically of her situation: she, like Arya, has been born a woman and so has been hobbled from birth despite her obvious and extraordinary talents. Unlike Arya, she has not retreated to a dream. She has chosen the world she was given, set her sights on specific goals (that if she were a man would be admired), and within the possibilities available to her, has set to work making a place for herself and her children. I dislike so much of this world that watching her turn its own cruelty and deceit against its institutions and leaders, watching her beat them at their own game is deeply satisfying (and often funny). Foolish as it sounds, I also yearn for her to redeem herself and to use her talents for good.

Saying all of this, it must sound like I hate the show, but having finally read the first book, I feel confident saying that the show and it’s source are together a major work worth consideration. I dislike this world and its perspective on life. Yet, it’s compelling, powerful and, ultimately, I’m not able to dismiss it as an obviously false vision. Which means that despite everything (and as I said in a previous post), I am all in.

 August 6, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with:
Jul 172017
 

This past winter I finally sat down and watched through all the available seasons of Game of Thrones. My reactions were intense and complicated and I haven’t yet taken the time to sort them out enough to write about the show after the first season.

(The short version is that the violence directed at some characters and the religious turn got under my skin and upset me badly. Plus characters I had very strong investments in have either met ugly fates or have gone off the rails. The series is amazing and well done—I’m hooked and all in—but damn, I was wrecked from watching it through so quickly.)

Which brings me to the point of my post: I’ll definitely be watching the new season but don’t have HBO. (I know. I know.) So I have to wait to see it. But this means that, if I don’t want spoilers (and I really really don’t), then what I am going to have to do? Stay off the internet for two or three months?

I may have a problem.

 July 17, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: ,
Mar 222017
 

Iron Fist was a comic character I loved when I was a kid even though he was marginal and even if I didn’t have many issues with him in them. The issue where he was killed (back when people died in comics and stayed dead) completely upset me. So I have some bias toward buy-in when it comes to the Netflix series.

Oddly though, I’m not feeling it, which means that, of the five seasons of television springing from Netflix’s and Marvel’s collaboration I’ve liked only Jessica Jones. That’s not a great record. (And I’ve really not liked Daredevil.)

I’m not done with (and not binging) Iron Fist though so maybe things will turn around. For now I just want to note for future reference that the thing that drives me crazy with the series so far is the sense that Danny Rand isn’t so much a character as he is a mash-up of various possiblities of how to imagine the character.

Contradictory responses and desires are one way to generate the illusion of depth and complexity. But here, the variations in character traits read as confusion because they so often manifest at moments when the shift enables a plot development. So Danny’s naive but menacing when he needs to be misunderstood enough to be confined to a mental hospital, but he’s controlled and cagey when he needs to suddenly have money and cultivate allies. And the difference between the two feel less like personae adopted by a complex character than alternative versions of the character, each appearing when necessary to advance the plot.

This interaction between plotting and character development makes sense, but I hadn’t thought of it so directly before watching the initial episodes of this show.

So maybe more to come about the series…

 March 22, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: ,
Mar 062017
 

The show has been changing bit by bit each season, and at this point it’s become something completely different from what I first started watching.

Stylistically this season draws on steampunk and medicalized horror for its aesthetic. The steampunk worked and, when combined with a cleverly deployed flickering camera effect, was genuinely creepy. The horror element turned around medical experiments being performed on various kids by reckless pseudo-scientists bent on “improving” their subjects. The kids don’t understand and are often unaware of what is being done to them, and the resulting story, which I think gestures toward contemporary debates about the medicalization of youthful behaviour, was disturbing and, at times, unpleasant.

Thematically the show is preoccupied for a long stretch with the challenges (and attendant dangers!) of literacy. The scary center of the core plot is a book. Anyone who reads it has their mind opened to reality. Because reality is so different from what the young readers think it is, the change they experience makes them feel nuts. This is an unbelievably perfect allegory of the risk students accept when doing homework.

The anxieties resulting from the medical and educational plot lines often play out in the school’s library, which appears as an important setting for the first time this season. Members of the pack keep finding themselves there, and nothing good ever happens when they do. It’s just violence, mayhem and death.

 March 6, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: , ,
Feb 252017
 

This show proposes that a story might emerge from a mash-up of the popular sensations alluded to by its title and of the familiar monster tales evoked through its choice of characters. However it resists inventing that story. Instead it turns the raw material this way and that considering the initial premise’s possibilities in the light of the various, endless options, and only ever settles on the narrative’s path forward when it absolutely must.

The result is not unpleasant and can even be beautiful if you like late-20th century Goth-influenced takes on Victorian furniture and clothing. The wallpapers are gorgeous. There is velvet and lace galore and even smatterings of glossy leather. Corsets and vests are de rigueur. Everything is cut and coloured—like the actors hair—to read as cool and everything at every moment is macabre.1

The narrative however goes nowhere, lurching from one subject to the next and one genre to the next until the sprawl begins to place a sizeable burden on the “Previously on Penny Dreadful…” introductory montages. I remember one montage that worked through previous events three different ways before things had been sorted out enough to make some sort of sense, and then incredibly—and this says everything about how the series operates—the episode that followed had nothing to do with any of what had come before!

The result is a sense that things are being made up episode by episode, that anything can happen, and that we are expected to watch not for the story but for the style, which is to say, the spectacle of the style and of it’s presentation in ostentatious poses drawn from fashion photography. Any resulting pleasure is a product of the moods this style and these poses conjure, which means the show’s appeal rests squarely in the domain of taste: you either like these moments or you don’t, and if you don’t, there’s very little for you to hold onto.

For my part, I found the stretches between the moments I loved—even though there were many of them—bleak and long. So the season was heavy going.

 February 25, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: , ,
Feb 202017
 

After a season where they were only incidentally students, the kids1 are back in school. They meet incoming freshmen, discover a (gay) werewolf playing for the Lacrosse team’s ‘cross-town rival. They also have to figure out how to deal with a mysterious figure hiring assassins to knock off supernatural teenagers, cope with some kind of were-jaguar or something, and also, Berserkers.

The big news though is that Scott gets a beta, a major event that rejuvenates the established theme of masculinity by introducing questions about mentorship and about boys’ relationships to their fathers. The whole thing works because the young werewolf, Liam, is so convincingly frightened and so desperately needs an older brother/father-figure to help him cope. The moment near the end of the season when he saves everyone by trusting that Scott hasn’t become a monster is pretty great.

Teen Wolf isn’t Sophocles, but at this point, it has established its terrain and generates serious and genuine turmoil under the surface.

 February 20, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: ,
Jan 032017
 

This is the season that broke my binge.

The script and direction are under control in a way they weren’t in the weirdly wonderful first season. As a result, this season manages to gather up loose ends and weave them all tightly back into the fabric of two main story arcs.

In the first of these, Scott becomes an alpha wolf (read: real man). In the second, Stiles overcomes and banishes a mischievous trickster spirit that operated as a second personality. Both arcs signal that fun time is over, and by the end of the season, the group of guys has broken up into a gang of three straight couples (some real, some potential), and the gay characters have either left town or dropped out of sight.

This shift is obviously a let-down and more than earns Teen Wolf a spot on my long list of those TV series in which I have over-invested by rooting for off-story readings that cannot possibly pan out as the show develops.1 Unlike these previous series though, the disappointment I feel this time around is friendly and free from frustration. I like the cast, like the set up, and still like the show.

And yes, if I’m honest, I knew all along that the fun couldn’t last: a mainstream show directed at adolescents, especially one with a break-out star with a budding movie career, cannot (or at least will not) pick apart the seams of contemporary masculinity for very long, even if it’s fun to pretend otherwise while binging. The best that can be hoped for, I think, is for the show to be “cool” and to signify that coolness by being “cool with” gay people.

And that’s what’s happened here in spades.

 January 3, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: , ,
Jan 022017
 

On the surface, Season Two throttles back on the guys-in-the-locker-room gayness of the first season, while doubling down on Scott and Alison’s romance plot. There’s also some kind of killer lizard on the loose, a menacing grandfather up to no good, and a dive into lore through subplots that lays the groundwork for future seasons. Which is a lot of ground for a single season. Of all of this, my favourite sub-sub-plot involves a mid-teens rich kid giving his girlfriend a key to his parent’s place. It’s a silly but sweet fantasy vision of what it’s like to be a grown-up that turns out to play a vital role in the resolution of the central storyline.

That all said, no matter how far you pull back on the throttle (and the writers are clearly trying to do so), it’s hard to quell the anarchic, queer connotations unleashed in the first season in one go. And it’s going to be that much harder if you make the villain a frequently shirtless Abercrombie model who also happens to be one of the guys. Or if you let a running joke be about how Stiles knows everything about how Scott looks. All of which is just my way of saying that this season remains ripe for willful misreading even if the low-hanging fruit is gone.

The season’s highlight—and when googling for images I discovered it is a scene that has driven the internet into a frenzy—takes place in a pool and involves Stiles, Derek and the lizard monster. The lizard is afraid of water (don’t ask), so Stiles treads water for hours at the center of the school’s pool holding a helpless Derek in his arms and saving them both from the increasingly frustrated lizard.

The internet believes this is love, and I concur.

Writing this post (and the last one as well), I realize how ridiculous everything about this show sounds. And it is. But is also too much damn fun. And “Sterek” must be celebrated.

So:

(You’re welcome. But enjoy it while it lasts. I’ve seen the next season and there is trouble on the horizon.)

 January 2, 2017  TV Logs Tagged with: , ,
Dec 222016
 

This adaptation of the first half of Leviathan Wakes is an odd combination of imagination and shyness. It leaps forward, building the world in detail but pulls back from the narrative, hitting the main events while fiddling with the character relationships that wove them into a story in the book.

Nothing here is great, but nothing’s a failure either. Instead, everything feels provisional, like a long test run made before the decision to commit. I like the choice of actors for Holden and Avasarala, and think Miller has the most unexpected and effective haircut I’ve seen in a while. Surprisingly, that’s enough to have my hopes up for season two.

 December 22, 2016  TV Logs Tagged with: ,
Dec 222016
 

I have a complicated history with this show. I over-invest in the best parts, and gripe about the rest.

The best parts are easily identified: anything centering on the gloriously bitchy Pam or on Eric or on Lafayette (*snap*) or on Jessica (“I’m a virgin again!”) qualifies. These characters represent (or in some cases aspire to) a sophisticated and fashionable cosmopolitan ideal that I love.

Across the seven seasons of the show, this ideal has survived in a narrative space nestled between two other strata of society. Above the cosmopolitan, sits the soulless bureaucratic, commercial and political interests of the Vampire Authority, the Fellowship of the Sun and the various Senators and Governors that come and go. These interests operate like weather. They set conditions the cosmopolitan characters work around and cope with. Occasionally they kick up a storm and do damage. The cosmopolitans can’t escape this strata but keep their heads down and try as much as they can to do their own thing and to stay out of sight.

Beneath the cosmopolitan ideal are the provincials. They’re Bon Temps and they know little about the world. They mistake folksy common sense for wisdom and often wind up tolerating the inevitable ugliness of ignorance.

A folksy character like Sookie is, at her best, open-minded and full of unspoiled life. At her worst, she is just the small-town outsider’s version of open-minded and acts like a square and a scold. The show, which is deeply Rosseauian in its approach to noble Bon Temps (a stance that comes from the source novels) usually doesn’t distinguish between these two ways of being and treats them both as “spunky.” This is deeply annoying. 1

The provincial is not simply a function of place though. Bill is, to my mind, the worst of the rubes and nearly unbearable to watch. He’s seen the world, and yet he rejects it, choosing instead to embrace folksy values (from a previous century) and weds them to extensive political ambitions. Worse he speaks continually about love. He’s awful.

The cosmopolitans are nothing like Bill. They know how to live (even those who are dead) and aren’t fooled by the folk or sucked in by the organizational tools. They are fabulous.

 

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m rooting for Sookie, Jason, Sam, Tara and the rest of the gang. And I adore Arlene. But face it: she lives in a small world, and she and her friends are all convinced that remaining small is a kind of victory.

In my True Blood, a series that exists only in my head, events take place in the bigger world we’d find if we followed Jessica after she got over Hoyt and left Louisiana or if we visited Pam and Erik in their new digs in Tokyo or maybe Hong Kong.

In that world, I am Ginger.2

 

 December 22, 2016  TV Logs Tagged with: , ,