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I finally got to watch the first ep of season 2 this morning. Overall I feel a sense of relief that all significant characters introduced in the previous season remain in action.

Nicole Beharie as Abby and Tom Mison as Ichabod re-establish their easy, sympathetic chemistry. Their characters each have equal opportunity to rescue and be rescued by each other, a refreshing change from other male/female TV pairs in which the man does all the rescuing of the woman.

Jenny, Abby's sister, has survived so far, giving Lyndie Greenwood a chance to play an important auxiliary to Abby and Ichabod. Even more unflinching and martial than Abby, Jenny contributes a satisfying level of physical ass-kicking, as well as great affection for Abby. Grounded by her relationship with her sister, Abby escapes the Exceptional Woman trope/trap.

John Cho and John Noble return to bolster the main characters with some stellar supporting performances. Cho's sniveling, pathetic Andy, who alternates between helping and betraying Abby, decides to do the former in this episode. I hope he recurs, as I find his status as regretful servant of evil, who nevertheless performs good acts, interesting. Noble's Horseman of War, also Ichabod and Katrina's son [?!], lurks ominously, threatening people in the plummy tones of a classically trained actor, while picking scenery from between his teeth. I'm having a very, very hard time dissociating Noble from his 5 seasons as Walter in Fringe.

All that said, I do have some reservations. First of all, where was Captain Irving?!?!?!?! How dare you deprive us of Orlando Jones for an episode, especially right after he gave himself up to law enforcement? He'd better show up soon, along with his family too. Sleepy Hollow can't just not show a whole third of the characters of color like that!

I particularly want to see Irving's daughter Macey return and get some development. As a wheelchair user since getting into a car crash with her dad and then as a temporary vessel for some demon, she smacked a little too much of the Tragic Tabula Rasa Cripple last season. However, I think her brush with demonic possession could provide a chance for some character development. Maybe she could link up to the demon realm and give Abby and Ichabod some guidance therefrom? Of course, this will probably not happen.

Second of all, Katia Winter as Katrina, Ichabod's wife, just gets the raw end of things. Despite billing Katrina as a main character, the show grievously underwrites her. For example, her fascinating past as a powerful witch who joined a coven dedicated to protecting the town -- this aspect of her character dwindles over the first season as her status as pawn in the struggle between Ichabod and the Headless Horseman grows. Furthermore, where a person with more acting skills, like Nicole Beharie, Lyndie Greenwood or, heck, even Amandla Stenberg [who plays Macey], might add something to the role, Winter can't even muster that. The stereotyped nature of her character just shows up how untalented she is. 

I eagerly await further episodes, however!
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This truncated set of 6 eps provided no particular closure, no interesting character development and nothing particularly interesting. The overall flaccidity of the 6 eps just highlighted the show's problematic aspects even more excruciatingly.

In no particular order, the problems were:
  • Steve. The show never did this character justice. He had great potential, especially as someone with the power of discerning whether people were telling the truth, but the show never really knew what to do with him. Without a tortured past full of secrets like the other agents [or at least not enough of the past for a multi-ep exploration], Steve had no grounding, no motivation, no hook. He also never really had anything to do except for to be Claudia's best friend, to die, to be resurrected and to keep the home fires burning while everyone else ran away on adventures. He was a thoroughly dull and objectified damsel in distress type. I feel like the writers identified him by a cluster of traits -- former ATF agent, Buddhist, gay, human lie detector -- and just had him mention those identities occasionally in lieu of developing an actual personality.
  • While we're on the subject again, let's bring up homophobia, one of the show's perennial failings. In 6.4, Savage Seduction, Claudia and Steve investigate a frat where the brothers are using an artifact to split themselves into two parts: studiers and partiers. Claudia and Steve's quest started promisingly with Claudia grumbling about "kids these days" [even though she was the age of the students] and Steve's revelation that he had been part of a nerd fraternity with "book group and holiday a cappella." Then Steve got a hold of the artifact and turned into two Steves, one of which was usual Steve and the other of which was a painfully swishy stereotype. Where did that come from? Steve had never shown any indication of harboring painfully swishy stereotypes. It could have been interesting if those were his long-buried fears about what he might have to be when he found out he was gay, but nah -- the show just played swishy Steve for laughs. Claudia also made a passing remark that she liked swishy Steve "a little bit more" than usual Steve, which was indicative of the show's whole treatment of Steve's sexuality: it was only ever developed jokingly, with reference to stereotypes, even if Steve was bringing them up to say that he differed from them. The show could not take him as a gay guy seriously and invested way too much prurient energy into his sexuality.
  • Speaking of sexuality, the show also capitulated to cultural pressures of heteronormativity. After five seasons of him being annoyed at her exactitude and her being annoyed at his immaturity, Pete and Myka realized that they loved each other. Well, that was pretty obvious. But why did they have to end up as a romantic couple? They may have loved each other and worked well together, but they were not characterologically compatible, so why did the show hook them up? Boring, boring, boring.
  • Furthermore, racism featured prominently in Warehouse 13's final season. It was like they crammed all the racism that they hadn't gotten to into a single truncated set of 6 eps. There were the gratuitous "g***y" references with the fortune tellers in the Ren Faire ep. There was the trash heap of "fiery Latino" stereotypes in the telenovela ep. Then, in the last ep, Leena, who was bumped off for no reason at the end of season 4, was given a flashback scene in which she foresaw her own death in the Warehouse and then, when Mrs. Frederic said that she would try to prevent it, said to her, "But it's okay." No, you stinkin' show -- do not try to retroactively sell me on the useless death of one of the show's two main characters of color. I won't buy it.





 
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Apparently one appears this fall on NBC. Look -- a trailer. Could be good, could be horrible. There's a whole elaborate mythology built into the source material, which gives the show a chance at some solid worldbuilding and long-term plot arcs, a lack of which contributed to the exhaustion of Supernatural, another show with demons from Hell. I wonder how much of a sense of humor this one will have, as a well-developed sense of camp keeps my current demons-from-Hell viewing, Sleepy Hollow, entertaining. I'll check out an episode and see what happens.
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...and goes, "Hah hah, see ya 'round, suckaaaaaaaahs!" C'est a dire que, at the end of the 1.5-hour season finale, the arrangement looks something like this:
  • Abby's in purgatory.
  • Ichabod's in a coffin.
  • Katrina's in the Headless Horseman's possession.
  • Irving's in police custody.
  • Jenny's in a car wreck.
  • Andy's in the remains of Washington's real tomb.
  • The Horseman of War is in the world.
  • Mick Jagger is in the last 50 seconds of the episode. 
And we have resolved precisely nothing while setting up the second season in a most tantalizing fashion.

This show has really grown on me since the first episode or two. It has the escalating weirdness of Haven, in which the supernatural freakery surrounding a single town ends up piling deeper and threatening the very fabric of reality. But it's much better than Haven because Abby has a family in the form of Jenny and female allies in the form of Jenny and Katrina as well. It's also playfully self-aware and silly, which makes it more enjoyable to watch.

Regarding the presence of Mick Jagger in the tail end of the ep, I refer of course to a clip from Sympathy for the Devil, which has always been one of my favorite songs. I personally have memorized the damn thing in several different versions and let it strongly inflect my narrative imagination, so, because of my unreasoning affection for it, it looms large in my consciousness. I always knew that, as an iconic tune by the Stones, it has also infiltrated the popular consciousness to a certain degree. However, I didn't realize how widely known it was until Sleepy Hollow closed out the last ep of season 1 with the first two lines from the song:

Please allow me to introduce myself
I'm a man of wealth and taste


Though there's nothing in them to suggest that a diabolical autobiography ensues, these lines, of course, introduce a first-person retrospective by the Devil on all the chaos and cruelty he has caused throughout history. The showrunners thus depend on the viewers' familiarity with the song to make the connection between it and Sleepy Hollow, a TV show about protagonists trying to prevent Hell on Earth. I never knew that Sympathy for the Devil was such a part of modern ambient cultural knowledge that two lines from it -- neither of which mention sympathy or the Devil -- would be sufficient to evoke a realm of gloating catastrophe perfect for the cliffhanger end of Sleepy Hollow.

In other news, Mick Jagger claims that Sympathy for Devil has its origins partly in the poetry of Charles Baudelaire, who is apparently leaving his fingerprints all over my life. Wikipedia, the infallible source of all, says:

In a 1995 interview with Rolling Stone, Jagger said, "I think that was taken from an old idea of Baudelaire's, I think, but I could be wrong. Sometimes when I look at my Baudelaire books, I can't see it in there. But it was an idea I got from French writing. And I just took a couple of lines and expanded on it. I wrote it as sort of like a Bob Dylan song."

Maybe he's thinking of Les Litanies de Satan?


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Not watching:
  • Dracula. I can't stand the concept of Mina as Dracula's reincarnated wife. Why is this so interesting to modern interpretations? It's boring and stupid, adding nothing to the story. 
  • Once Upon a Time in Wonderland. Jafar finally got a backstory in episode 4, but the whole business is moving too sluggishly for me to care. I don't have enough interest to invest in a mediocre show.
Still watching:
  • Grimm. It's so silly, but I love Monroe and Rosalee. Too bad Nick, the ostensible main character, has no personality whatsoever.
  • Haven. This show just keeps getting weirder. It started off as a Trouble-of-the-week show for the first season, but, ever since we've dug more and more into Audrey's reincarnations and their ties to Haven, the loopiness has become loopier, with time travel, waystations between worlds and secret cabals pitted against each other for the control of Haven. I get the sense that the showrunners didn't expect more than one or two seasons, so now they're plotting themselves up a storm. I fear they might write themselves into some ridiculous corner, but so far everything is hanging together just enough to be convincing at a quick glance. I watch this just to see what the showrunners come up with next. I sure wish Audrey would develop some friendships with other women. If partners and family members from Duke's past keep materializing, why can't some women show up who were friends with Audrey's previous selves? They could advise her.
  • Sleepy Hollow. It's becoming just about as loopy as Haven.


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The premise of Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, ABC's spinoff of Once Upon a Time, is that the human, non-magical protagonist goes on a quest through a magical land to reunite with her boyfriend, who is being held captive by a power-hungry magician who is in cahoots with the power-hungry queen of the magical land. The protagonist uses skills and knowledge gained during a childhood trip to this magical land; also helping her is a thief who is also the queen's ex. Distractingly enough, the protagonist is Alice, the boyfriend a genie, the magical land Wonderland, the power-hungry magician Jafar, the power-hungry queen the Red Queen, the thief/queen's ex the Knave of Hearts. Sprinkle liberally with iconic Lewis Carroll creations; season with threadbare fairy tale tropes, including plenty of sappy bilge about True Love [tm], and serve. Yields at least 15 episodes.

I've just watched the first three episodes of the latest Disney concerted marketing effort of various properties TV show, and I remain uncertain. Once I suppress all my objections to the unholy mashup of bastardized Alice + bastardized Aladdin, I find the Heroic Quest motif interesting enough to follow, especially since it features a female protagonist, which Heroic Quests hardly ever do. It's nothing original, but it's entertaining and less stodgy than the recent live-action Alice in Wonderland, for which we can also put the blame on Disney.

The show will succeed or fail on the strength of its performances, I think. Sophie Lowe does well as an Alice in her teens who accepts nonsense with the same calm aplomb as she did when a child. In the episodes that I've seen so far, she always has her wits about her and always has a plan, usually involving violence and force, rather than cunning. In fact, I kinda wish she'd stop thinking with her weapons, although I do appreciate the portrayal of a young woman as calm, confident and competent. Michael Socha, as the sarcastic, self-interested Knave of Hearts, plays well off Lowe and adds a lot more interest to the proceedings. Alice and the Knave's relationship is one reason I'm continuing to watch the show.

Naveen Andrews, as Jafar, clearly enjoys himself as he strides and lurks and swirls his cape; at the same time, though, he portrays his character as dry, coldly calculating and truly menacing, having already racked up a score of nonchalant murders. Emma Rigby, as the Red Queen, enjoys her power more ostentatiously and hammily, preferring to get her way through manipulation, rather than indiscriminate slaughter. The uneasy collaboration between the Red Queen and Jafar, who have similar goals, but dislike and distrust each other, I find fascinating and yet another reason to keep watching.

Unfortunately, the relationship most central to the show's plot -- that between Alice and Snore Cyrus the genie -- bores me. That's because, over three episodes in which all major players have developed a bit, Snore still remains a cipher. You'd think that being magically enslaved to a series of fickle whims would do an interesting number on a guy, but Snore doesn't seem particularly affected. All he does is exist as a prop to Alice: teaching her swordplay when she asks, making her an origami rose because he loves her, telling her not to rescue him because Jafar has threatened to kill Alice to torture Snore, etc. Now this could be an interesting avenue for development if Alice told him that she would prefer that he actually get a life of his own, rather than become a codependent appendage, However, Snore remains a crashingly dull love object/damsel in distress who has yet to say, do or think anything significant. It sure doesn't help that many of Snore's scenes occur with him + Jafar, and Andrews camps it up in circles around Peter Gadiot, who plays Snore.

The show could really help the vacuity of Snore -- and the character of Jafar too -- by giving them some more backstory. We have extensive history on Alice, and we're learning more about the Knave and the Queen through their past relationship with each other, but our main players of color [don't think I haven't noticed the conspicuous absence of speaking roles for people of color, ABC/Disney!!] have little background. Flashbacks tell us that Jafar has been stalking Snore for years, even when they were both back in PseudoArabianNightsLand Agrabah, and we know how Snore got from there to Wonderland, but we don't know why Jafar is so hung up on this particular genie and also how he got to Wonderland. [Interdimensional flying carpet?] I will gladly stare at Naveen Andrews striding and lurking and calculating and menacing and offhandedly slaughtering for hours because he does so in a talented and sexy manner [despite the unfortunate pencil mustache], but I will not be fully engaged unless we get some history on his character. Until then, I'm going to assume that Jafar pursues Snore because he wants him for his power and his pretty face. :p

P.S. Speaking of tragic facial hair, Snore needs to shave. He looks like a 16-year-old trying really hard to generate a beard.
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I just learned that both Grimm and Dracula are debuting tonight on NBC. I hope this means that they'll be available on Hulu shotly after. As I've noted before, Dracula looks kinda dopey, but I'm curious to see what it does to the most influential modern vampire story, so I'm in at least for the pilot. As for Grimm, I watch for secondaries Monroe and Rosalie, the Wesen couple who have loads more characterization than the completely flat and empty "hero" Nick and his girlfriend, the equally empty Juliette. Further commentary as events warrant.... 
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The second episode addresses two of my criticisms that I leveled at the show based on the pilot.

In one of my complaints, I pointed out that Abbie [I was misspelling it in my initial entry] has no family, friends or support system. This episode builds up her social circle a bit, providing her with an ex, an Army vet also on the force and, more excitingly, her sister Jenny. The ghost of Abbie's mentor shows up and tells her to "remember number 49," where she won't be alone. The scene then switches to Jenny's room, number 49, at a psychiatric institution, where she only pretends to take her meds and, though haunted by [actual] demons, adheres to a strict physical training regimen. The show thus clearly sets up Jenny as Abbie and Ichabod's future ally.

I would dearly love for Jenny to join Abbie and Ichabod in their campaign against the Horsemen. Abbie and Jenny, having been estranged during Jenny's institutionalization, could forge a relationship, dealing with the messes of their past: the pain of being disbelieved when they saw a demon in high school, Abbie's guilt when Jenny was sent to an institution, Jenny's jealousy over Abbie's occupational achievements in the police force, their awkwardness over not having seen each other for years. But Jenny is not an important character; if she was, we would have seen her in the pilot and actually had a conversation or two, at least in flashback, between Abbie and Jenny. Thus the show will not explore the fascinating theme of a sisterly bond forged in the crucible of the supernatural. In fact, Jenny is probably going to die in a episode or two. That said, I will keep watching the show to see where it's going with Jenny, at least until the showrunners kill her off.

In another of my complaints, I noted that the showrunners completely wasted John Cho by killing off his character at the end of the pilot. The showrunners are slightly forgiven for this because John Cho's character is back from the dead, doing the evil's dirty work. I'm glad that he's back, but I am unhappy that a character of color has been reduced to grunt work for white dudes.

The microscopic improvements have me hooked for at least a few more episodes, but the show is still very stupid overall. Apparently Ichabod's wife Katrina was burned at the stake in 1782. HAH HAH HAH HAH that's about a century too late for death due to witchcraft, and, again, I'm going to scream at the TV, "No one was burned for witchcraft in this country goddammit!" In other historical inaccuracies, all the witches in the Revolutionary-era flashbacks have their hair down and loose, an egregious error, especially for the married Katrina, who should have her hair up and covered. Etc., etc., etc.

Speaking of stupid shows, I wonder when Grimm is back?

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Just watched the pilot for Fox's new Sleepy Hollow, which involves Ichabod Crane pulling a Rip Van Winkle, sleeping for 250 years, then teaming up with a WOC police lieutenant, Abby Mills, to stop the Headless Horseman, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. [Previous comments on the trailer here.]

I don't know where to start on the stupidity, so I'll just make a list of things that pissed me off, in no particular order:
  • When discussing slavery with Abby, Ichabod gets all huffy and says that he was an early abolitionist. Abby says that slavery has been abolished for 150 years, and Ichabod remarks, "Yet here I am in shackles [= handcuffs]." His defensive comment about his progressive abolitionism and his turning of the entire history of enslaved Africans into a comment on his momentarily restrained state both serve as a perfect example of privileged white people appropriating the marginalization of oppressed people for their own whiny rhetorical purposes.
  • No one seems particularly fussed about Ichabod's claim that he was alive during the Revolutionary War. The dude giving Ichabod the polygraph test [hi there, Nestor Serrano -- nice to see you!] listens to Ichabod's comments about "the American colonies," "the Revolution" and "General Washington" and, noting that none of these trigger the polygraph, therefore instantly concludes that Ichabod is from 250 years in the past. Or, you know, he could be a) drugged, b) delusional, c) lying, d) several of the above. A, B, C and D represent much more logical conclusions than a 250-year sleep, but this show clearly demonstrates that it has no use for logic.
  • Ichabod's wife, Katrina, was burnt at the stake as a witch shortly after the Revolution. This inaccurate bit of backstory, along with the egregiously stupid detail that witches were burnt in Sleepy Hollow up through the 1830s, makes me want to throw things at the TV. Nobody was killed for witchcraft around here after the Salem Witchcraft Trials in 1692, and no one was ever burned at the stake for witchcraft in this country. I can't stand it when ignorant people try to drag witchcraft trials into centuries where they don't belong.
  • Abby, like most female protagonists in police procedurals, is an Exceptional Woman with no family, no friends, no colleagues and no support system. Her mentor, Sheriff I-Forget-His-Name, is decapitated within the first third of the pilot. Apparently she grew up in Sleepy Hollow, as she mentions a supernatural experience she had in town with her sister in high school, but we never hear about any family or friends she might have in the area. Characterized as a mentally ill failure who bounces in and out of institutions, Abby's sister is dismissed by the plot as a useless, unreliable failure. The story thus sets Abby up as isolated and in a perfect position to become dependent on Ichabod, the only person who believes her. I bet they're going to pair off and fall in love VOMIT VOMIT VOMIT.
  • On a related note, Sleepy Hollow is apparently a single-sex town. The only woman besides Abby with more than two lines is Katrina, a dead damsel in distress who needs Ichabod's help to be liberated from a dreamland where the antagonists have imprisoned her.
  • As the pilot starts, Abby plans to leave her Sleepy Hollow job for the FBI in a week. She really wants to go, and she claims that she does not want to mess up this opportunity. Her actions, however, tell a different story. Throughout the pilot, she defies her captain's orders: interrogating Ichabod, bringing him to a crime scene, releasing him from the mental institution under false pretenses, snooping in the sheriff's office, etc., etc., etc. The captain responds by talking tough and then doing absolutely nothing about Abby's infractions. At first, I hoped that his de facto leniency would lead to a rare instance in which a police department actually supports a TV character's investigation of supernatural phenomena, but nah. It's just sloppy writing, in yet another pointless sacrifice of logic.
  • Could the show have picked a more boring villain? The Four Horsemen are a fine choice, but the show really hampers itself with the decision to amputate the head of one of them. The Headless Horseman literally has no expression, which means he just stomps around, either axing things or shooting things. If the showrunners wanted to show a modicum of inventiveness, they could have employed body language to communicate personality: a raised fist when victory seems imminent, a jaunty twirl of the axe after a successful kill, even an alteration of the gait depending on the circumstances. But no, the Headless Horseman just plods around, hacking things. Booooooooorrrrrrriiiiiiing.
  • The show commits the unforgivable crime of bringing in John Cho to play one of Abby's fellow officers and a secret agent on the side of the Horseman...and then killing him off at the end of the pilot. This is a multipart offense, consisting of a) gratuitous bumping off of a POC, b) lost opportunity for a cool storyline in which Abby and Ichabod's efforts are thwarted internally by pro-Horseman forces on the force and c) horrible waste of a talented actor.
So there you go...racism, historical inaccuracy, illogical plot holes, lazy sexist characterization, dull antagonists and more racism. Awesome!
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  • Defiance. SyFy. Humans and aliens try to coexist in future terraformed St. Louis. Actually all on Hulu right now for free!
  • Dracula. NBC. Vampires, reincarnation, elaborate dresses and British accents abound.
  • Sleepy Hollow. Fox. Ichabod Crane pulls a Rip Van Winkle and pursues supernatural criminals with modern detective partner, a WOC.
And already-running TV:
  • Colbert Report. Comedy Central. Colbert satirizes current events and is frequently funny about it.
  • Grimm. NBC. Supernatural procedural stupidity slogs on without character development.
  • Haven. SyFy. An Exceptional Woman investigates something rotten in the state of Maine.
  • Warehouse 13. SyFy. Fantasy MacGuffins cause wacky highjinks!
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...have some clause in his contracts that stipulates that, when he guest stars on a fantasy TV show, he has to be A) an exceptionally long-lived character and/or B) one that explicitly tells our protagonists that vampires are bullshit?

In Smallville's Thirst, he played Milton Fine/Brainiac, who fulfilled the B role.

In Supernatural's Shut Up, Dr. Phil, he played Don Stark, a witch with a greatly extended lifespan.

In Warehouse 13's The Living and the Dead, he played Professor Sutton/the Count of St. Germain, a 500-year-old charlatan who, he emphasized, was not a vampire. A + B!

I must say, though, that it's always a pleasure to see him guest star, especially when he plays a charming rogue, which he does with relish [mmmmmm, relish!] and playfulness.

Also he is hot.
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Fox just coughed up an extended trailer for one of its new fall shows, Sleepy Hollow, in which Ichabod Crane is a brooding hunk who sleeps into the present day and teams up with a police detective, who is a Sassy Woman of Color [TM]. Together the two of them track the murderous Headless Horseman, who is one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Wait a minute...they canceled Alcatraz, starring a tough-shit woman and a fat guy of color who kick ass and solve mysteries without having sexual tension, for some genre-confused mess that's already manifesting racist and sexist stereotypes in its goddamned trailer?

Well, Sleepy Hollow certainly looks stupid. I can't tell, though, whether it's in the "so bad it's bad" or "so bad it's good" category yet.

P.S. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow actually concerns a slight, silly love triangle story, written by Washington Irving, in which local dipstick Brom freaks out schoolteacher Ichabod so badly that the latter leaves town, removing himself from the competition for the affections of rich Katrina Van Tassel, who naturally has no personality, agency or function besides that of walking plot point.
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Last year, I observed that Sy Fy hates women of color. I would like to extend this observation by saying that the network is clearly involved in an eliminationist campaign against all characters of color in its shows.

I say this because I recently watched the season 3 finale of Haven, who follows the adventures of Audrey Parker, whose reincarnations are somehow tied to the waxing and waning of the supernatural Troubles in Haven, Maine. The season follows Audrey, Nathan [love interest] and Duke [fifth wheel] as they track the serial killer du jour and learn more about Audrey's past lives. Wheeee.

Season 3 blatantly demonstrates the show's structural racism in its disposal of men of color. A black man, Tommy Bowen, appears early on as a detective from Boston with a personal interest in catching the Bolt Gun Killer [BGC -- serial killer du jour]. He hangs around, making skeptical quips about the Troubles and generally not doing anything, until about halfway through the season. At that point, it is revealed that he is the BGC, or, more accurately, the shapeshifting BGC killed him several weeks before this discovery and has been pretending to be him for a while. So basically the showrunners went to all that trouble of developing a character of color, giving him a name, backstory, arc and significance...solely for the purpose of killing him off. Since the same thing happened to Evie Crocker in season 2 and since there are practically no other named, recurring, developed characters of color on the show [with one exception -- see below], it's very clear that the show runners hate people of color.

My worst fears about Sy Fy's eliminationist program were confirmed in the season 3 finale of Haven. Another man of color, Agent Howard, reappears after an extended absence. Originally introduced as Audrey's supervising agent, he is the person who originally sends her to Haven in the pilot. He is apparently orchestrating events behind the scenes with his mysterious magical powers, as we see him occasionally in the ensuing few seasons, but we know very little about him.

Anyway, in the finale, we finally learn [SPOILERS!!!!!] that he functions as the ageless guardian of the Barn, a magical recharging station into which Audrey is supposed to disappear every 27 years so that the Troubles may temporarily stop. Audrey, Nathan and Duke try to get explanations from him, but Agent Howard remains firm that Audrey has to go into the Barn to stop the Troubles; there's no other way. Well, unless Audrey wants to kill the person she loves [Nathan], which would end the troubles forever.

Audrey doesn't wish to do that, so she enters the Barn anyway to at least give Haven a 27-year respite from supernatural hell. Nathan, upset, reacts by shooting Howard [part of an incredibly stupid gunfight], bringing the total of significant secondaries who die during this episode to four. And the Black Guy Bites It, disappearing into shards of light along with the Barn. Audrey spends so much time trying to combat the Troubles, but she never notices the most deleterious one of all: the racist vortices of death that inevitably suck in all characters of color who come to Haven.

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I have watched a few SyFy shows recently [Eureka, Sanctuary, Warehouse 13, Haven], and I've noticed that they all share a hostility toward female characters of color. First of all, representation of WOC in these shows is practically nonexistent. When WOC do appear, they always get marginalized and/or straight up murdered.

Exhibit 1: Kate Freelander in Sanctuary. After Magnus' daughter Ashley bit it at the beginning of season 2, the showrunners brought in Kate Freelander as a substitute. Born in India and raised in the US, she was a) a con artist and b) incredibly annoying. Her character was written so that her unethical practices frequently got the crew in trouble, which did not endear her to me and other viewers. Furthermore, the showrunners never wrote her any close relationships with other members of the Sanctuary team, making her an obvious, forced addition, rather than an essential part of the core group. She was essentially written out of the show in season 4 when she was reduced to a recurring character and sent off to Hollow Earth as an ambassador, which meant that she could be away ambassadoring for several eps at a time, and no one gave a shit.

Exhibit 2: Evi Crocker in Haven. She appears at the beginning of season 2 as Duke's hetetofore unannounced wife. Though she acts as if she's interested in being in Duke's life once again, she also appears to be working against him, although I could never figure this out for certain. She mostly hangs out, developing no particular personality and appearing in useless B plots. Unfortunately written without a clear point [or personality], her character dies in an equally confusing, pointless manner when she is shot by snipers during a lockdown of the Haven police station. I guess she was on the verge of revealing important information to Duke when she died, but, like everything else about her character, this was ambiguous, underused and poorly done.

Exhibit 3: Leena in Warehouse 13. A regular cast member since the beginning, Leena runs the b&b where Artie, Pete, Myka, Claudia and Steve live. However, she doesn't even have a last name, which shows you just how little she rates in the showrunners' relative scheme of importance, and she spends most of her time being ignored and/or victimized. Her ability to read auras never provides dramatic tension or influences the plot, while, by contrast, Pete's vibes regularly do. Her most active plotline occurs when MacPherson controls her mind, using her to steal artifacts in season 1. Then, toward the end of season 4, Artie, having suffered a psychotic break, kills her. Leena's death may be reversible by an artifact, but she's still an underdeveloped and marginalized WOC on a network that has a history of racist portrayals of WOC.
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In the latest ep, La Llorona, the titular character, a Central/South American ghost mourning her kids, whom she drowned, kidnaps children. Nick learns this from a Spanish-speaking man who has lost his son. The man speaks no English, and apparently no one in the Portland Police Department speaks Spanish, so, on this flimsiest of pretexts, the story drags in Juliette [Nick's girlfriend] to translate for the man.

I call bullshit. The father of the kidnapped kid knows no English at all, not even enough to say, "Let's communicate in Spanish"? More to the point, the Portland PD, which should be prepared to deal with many nationalities of people and many languages, has no one at their disposal who understands even basic Spanish?! No one is available who knows the primary language of the country with which we share a 2000-mile-long southern border? BULLLLLLLLLSHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT.
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I enjoy Warehouse 13 as an entertaining time-passer with engaging interplay between the main characters. I do not enjoy irrelevant racism in my escapist fare.

For some reason, ep 4.5, No Pain, No Gain, kicked off with Myka and Claudia in yellowface geisha drag over in Japan, where two stereotypes were seated at a kotatsu. The Japanese stereotype invoked Ancient Oriental Mythology and spoke broken English like, well, a Japanese stereotype. The Middle Eastern stereotype forked over the proverbial briefcase of cash for a magical artifact, but, interestingly enough, he was unable to speak. Myka and Claudia nabbed the artifact and returned home with heads full of Japanese stereotypes. Why do people do this lazy shit? Do they think it's funny? It's so contemptible.
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Grimm is back for a second season, and it's still incredibly stupid. The latest episode, Bad Moon Rising, follows our protagonist, police detective Nick, as he chases a gang of coyote Wesen [= therianthropes]. The gang leader kidnaps his teenaged niece, Carlie, who, along with her parents, left the pack when she was very young. The gang leader plans to rape Carlie, as is apparently customary for coyote Wesen to increase the numbers of their pack.

Read more... )
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In the most recent ep of Grimm, Big Feet, a Wesen, or human that can change into a therianthropic form, has been killing people. Monroe, a Blutbad Vesen and friend of Nick [who is a police detective and protagonist of the show], harbors Larry, the killer Wesen, in his house. Larry is injured, but Monroe does not wish to take him to the hospital because then people will recognize him as a semi-human creature and persecute him. "I don't want crosses burning on my yard," Monroe explains to Nick.

No! Grimm does not get to appropriate the real-life terrorism experienced by African-Americans and apply it to fictional bestial characters, especially when the fictional characters are played by straight white men. The show might think that it's being clever by giving a historical resonance to the treatment of Wesen, but it's not. It's using the lived experience of thousands of people as a rhetorical gesture, a shorthand for persecution. That disrespects the violence and suffering that African-Americans have endured in real life and implicitly dismisses their lives as figments of imagination.

Thanks for Fangs for the Fantasy for alerting me to this phenomenon, which is a continuing problem for the series.
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Of course Fox canceled it.

Crap.

It had absolutely no character development, but it sure was entertaining.

Meanwhile, in other news, Grimm has been renewed for a second season [on NBC]. Here's hoping that the show learns how to weave its meta-plot and mythology more evenly in with the stand-alone monster-of-the-week eps. I'd also like some well-developed female regulars, but I think that's asking too much.

Also renewed for another season was Once Upon a Time [on ABC]. How long will the show be able to string out its format of developments in Storybrooke, supported by flashbacks into fairyland? How will it perpetuate forward momentum without having Emma eventually break the curse and wake all Storybrooke residents up to their original fairyland lives? How will it develop sympathetic, fully three-dimensional female characters when all it's been relying on so far are stock types? The answers to all three are "it won't," "it won't" and "it won't." Man, that show annoyed me.
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I just watched the episode, and it was the worst ep of Fringe I've ever seen. We've had eps without one of the three main characters before, but never eps as crappy as this.

This show succeeds on the strength of its triangle created by the three strong main characters, Olivia, Walter and Peter. They all love each other, and their love bridges universes and reaches through time and apparently makes anything possible. They play off each other in an entertaining manner and draw the audience's sympathy and interest. Removing one character temporarily from the triad show the importance of the triad all the more vividly [witness the Peterless eps at the beginning of this season], while removing two of them at the same time, the way Letters of Transit did, removes the show's dynamism and hook. I don't care how awesome John Noble is as an actor [though he is awesome]; Walter alone, as he was for all of about 5 seconds of this ep [until Peter showed up at the very end] cannot carry an ep of Fringe himself.

Having established that this ep was particularly stupid for removing Olivia and Peter for most of it, I would also like to say that it failed spectacularly by eliminating Olivia completely from this ep. [Somehow Anna Torv got top billing in this one, though she did nothing.] What the hell, Fringe?! Olivia is the mainest of main characters. She is the protagonist, the one we've grown attached to and invested in. The unspoken rule of narrative is that every single chapter has to involve your protagonist [prologues and epilogues excused]. This was neither a prologue nor an epilogue, and thus it constituted a completely Olivialess irrelevant tangent. I don't care how interesting an ep of Fringe is. If it doesn't have Olivia in it, it doesn't count. This glaring structural flaw of Letters of Transit left me feeling narratively cheated.

Also the characterization of the Observers as Nazi-like dictators with a lust for power and control contradicts everything we know about these passive, morally ambivalent, wise, yet also emotionally kind of clueless characters. If that's the direction the fifth season is going in, I have better things to watch. I was really hoping for a wrapup to all the plot threads about the shapeshifters and the machine and Peter's reappearance and why he's so important and the holes in the universes and Olivia's "recovering" memories and Walternate's capture of Olivia and how the hell David Robert Jones came back and where the Observers came from, etc., etc., etc., NOT the Fringe team struggling against some cheaply imagined dystopia.
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Hooray! I just found out today that one of my favorite TV shows, Fringe, will be renewed for a 5th season. This will be its final season, a truncated one with only 13 eps, but I think that will give the series plenty of time to address its many plot threads and arrive at a satisfying conclusion.
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Not only is it racist and heteronormative, but it's also static and deeply boring. I dismissed Bones from my repertoire, and I don't miss it. Surely I can do the same with Once Upon a Time.

Wow...

Feb. 29th, 2012 07:50 am
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A first season ep of Fringe seems to have more characer development than a first season ep of Alcatraz. Also Fringe doesn't seem to be killing off its characters of color at the same rate.
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...in Once Upon A Time, the less I care about the characters. No one's sympathetic; no one's interesting, and no one's making any progress in the overall plot. It's an incredibly static show, and it's continuing to bore me.
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So the only character of color in Storybrooke [Sidney the newspaperman] has his origins as the "Genie of Agrabah," some sort of pseudo-Arabian stereotype? Way to reinforce that POC are exotic, you stupid show. >:(

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Grimm is such a procedurally stupid show. This episode showed the detective and his Blutbad friend breaking and entering in their investigation. Hey, it's no problem if the police bend the rules, right, as long as they get the right suspects, right? Wrong. This show is so sloppy. Yet I still keep watching it.
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In ABC's Once Upon a Time, which debuted last week, fairy tale characters are trapped in Storybrooke, Maine, unaware of their true identities. Bail bond person Emma Swan must accept her destiny as mother of Henry, who she gave up for adoption as a baby, and Snow White's daughter to reverse this evil curse. On her side are Henry [her kid], Henry's teacher [Snow White] and probably the sheriff. Against her are arrayed Regina [the evil queen], Mr. Gold [Rumplestiltskin] and Henry's therapist [identity not known].

While I don't think Grimm is making much of the fairy tale concept, I think Once Upon a Time has the capacity for greater insight into these stories, as it's showing how they act out in characters' lives, forming sort of primal motivations. So I like the concept, the jewel-toned cinematography and Jennifer Morrison's sarcastic expressions as Emma. I find Lara Parrilla's evil queen broadly overplayed, though she did gain some interesting backstory during ep 2, and Jared Gilmore's Henry borderline annoying. So far I'll keep watching because I think the quality is slightly above average.
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In NBC's new procedural/fairy tale production, Grimm, Nick Burkhardt is the last in the line of the Grimms, apparently NOT collectors of fairy tales, but instead people with the gift to see folkloric monsters as they truly are, though they walk among us looking like humans. Nick develops his new abilities when he senses a wolf-like creature dismembering women wearing red sweatshirts. His skeptical fellow police detective is along for the ride, while his police chief appears to be in cahoots with the monsters. Shenanigans ensue.

This show has very little to recommend it, besides its concept. Even then, the concept isn't much good. If the first ep is any indication, Grimm will use fairy tales as sources of monsters without plumbing the psychological hold and resonance these stories still have over us today.

Furthermore, I find the plotting in this ep jarringly ridiculous. While on the trail of the killer, Nick and his partner are about to give up the search until they realize that the killer was humming the same song that was playing on the first victim's music player. This coincidence causes them to turn back. Fortunately, their hunch that a connection exists between the killer and the first victim is correct, but it's a pretty huge stretch to call a guy humming a popular song a real clue. That's just silly.

Additionally, when Nick and his partner turn back into the house, guns drawn, to find the second, still living victim that the killer has hiding in his house, the killer rushes both Nick and his partner, throwing each of them to the ground. As the wolf-like creature runs away, Nick's partner shoots the man several times in the back, killing him. I do not understand why the creature was shot in the back when fleeing from the scene. I was under the impression that police aren't supposed to shoot to kill unless they are imminently threatened, which they were not at the moment. If a story follows the form of a procedural, it shouldn't be sloppy with the basic rules of the genre. Bad idea.

With nothing original about it and no actors that rise above the level of competency, Grimm is a waste of time.
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So FX network has a new series out this season, American Horror Story. The story concerns the Harmons, mother, father and teenaged daughter, who move into a haunted house in Los Angeles, complete with past murders, creatures in the basement and eccentric neighbors. Among the neighbors is Adelaide, or Addy, a young woman in her mid- to late 30s. She has Down's Syndrome and lives with her mother in the house next door.

At first I was all excited to see an actor with Down's Syndrome playing a character with the same condition in a television show. I suppose I was entertaining visions of Life Goes On, a feel-good sit-com from the 1990s centering around a family in which one of the members had Down's. I'm not here to discuss the complexities of the portrayal of Corky, the young man with Down's, but just to say that, in my memory, the show at least gave him a personality and character arcs, treating him as a well-rounded character.

No such luck for Addy on American Horror Story. Her primary function is to give warnings about ghosts to people, who then ignore her, and also to sneak inside the Harmons' new home and startle them. In fact, the first scene of the first episode has a young Addy warning twin brats who vandalize the house, "You're going to die in there." Naturally they do. Grown up in the present day, Addy continues pestering the Harmons with similar admonitions. From her initial appearance, then, Addy is shown to have unusual insight into the creepiness of the house, in the same way that so many blind characters in TV and literature can't see, but have unusual insight into people's souls [or something]. This subtle display of a compensatory strength -- maybe Addy has intellectual disabilities, but, as a substitution, she can sense ghosts! -- starts Addy's one-dimensional portrayal as a character solely defined and developed by her disability.

The TV show itself presents Addy as a strange sort of disabled object, and the able-bodied characters in the show continue such alienating, abusive treatment. In the first episode, Addie's mother refers to her derogatorily as "the Mongoloid." In the second episode, Addie's mother refers to tying Addy to a chair "again," about which the Harmons make no comment, thus passively colluding with the ableist, demeaning treatment of Addy. We are also shown a scene in episode two in which Addie's mother abuses Addie, locking her in a closet full of mirrors and telling her to "look at [herself]." Though Addy's screams follow us, the camera quickly cuts away, denying the audience any chance to sympathize with a grown woman being manipulated by her cruel mother by being shoved around and locked in a closet. The show doesn't care about Addy as a person, and neither do the characters.

In the two eps of American Horror Story I watched, I also noticed how Addy's mother subtly infantilizes her through controlling her appearance. As I mentioned, Addie is in her mid- to late 30s, so figured because she was shown to be somewhere between 6 and 8 in the initial scene in 1978. Addie now wears the same type of pastel pinafores that she did when she was less than 10. Furthermore, her mother keeps her hair in long curls. I assume that her mother controls these aspects of her appearance because she treats Addie like a stupid child on other occasions, so why wouldn't she continue this abusive attitude with Addy's dress and self-presentation?

I'd watch a show about a woman with Down's Syndrome growing up next to a haunted house, dealing with her abusive mother, if the show focused on the protagonist as a full, rich character who was affected by, but not defined by, her disability. But American Horror Story is not that show, and I will not be watching it any more.

Thanks to Fangs for the Fantasy for summarizing [and calling out various prejudices of] this show.
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  • Bones. I'm rather worried for the start of this season, which is the last one. Now that Brennan is pregnant with Booth's child, I fear that the season might do away with all her character development and just show her as a mindlessly joyous mommy-to-be, in the way that the previous season was all about Angela and Hodgins having a baby, blech.
  • Fringe. Previously extolled.
  • Haven. In this summer SyFy series, FBI agent Mary Sue Audrey Parker investigates people with unusual powers, who all live in the small town of Haven, Maine. Helping her in her quest are police chief/ love interest Nathan Wuornos and the guy who just hangs around being a lovable scoundrel, Duke Crocker. Intriguing hints of an overall conspiracy or mythology rise above thoroughly mediocre acting and predicatable mysteries of the week.
  • Sanctuary. One of my friends turned me on to this Sy Fy show last year. It's about an immortal genius, Dr. Helen Magnus, who preserves, studies, rescues and allies herself with "abnormals," or paranormal, mythological, folkloric beings. Amanda Tapping, as the indefatigably capable Magnus, is an exemplar of feminist heroism, besides being really sexy. The constant time-traveling, season-end cliffhangers and whammy-like game-changing twists [Magnus' daughter dies! Her supposedly dead father comes back! There's a Hollow Earth inside this one! It's invading our Earth!] provide mindless entertainment. It's a silly series, but I keep coming back, even though Agam Darshi as Kate Freelander is a character so annoying and useless that she needs to go away.
  • Supernatural. Why do I even bother with this misogynist drivel? Must be my crush on Jensen Ackles, whose portrayal of the long-suffering Dean continues to attract my eyeballs. Since it burned out its universal apocalypse storyline at the end of season 5, this show has had nowhere else to go, instead just preferring to hang around into irrelevancy. I only watch occasionally.
  • Warehouse 13. This SyFy series concerns two Secret Service agents, Myka and Pete, who happen across a warehouse filled with magical, semi-historical artifacts. They join the quest to snag, bag and tag artifacts when the artifacts are wreaking havoc across the world. Repartee between the two agents, the silly Pete [played by Eddie McClintock] and the more tightly wound Myka [played by Joanne Kelly], provides chuckles, as does curmudgeonly leadership from Warehouse head Artie [played by a dry Saul Rubinek]. Add a computer genius in her 20s, Claudia [played by Allison Scagliotti, who is way hot], always ready with a slick phrase, and you have a low-key, good-natured series.
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Just saw the latest ep now. While, at first, I derided the show for being a rip-off of the X-Files and making a mess of the Boston area setting, I have now come to really enjoy it. The mythology of the show has slowly built over each successive season, creating a rich tapestry of "fringe" events, shapeshifters, Observers, alternate realities and a whole coherent system that we viewers still have much to learn about. The way in which the show builds tension and engagement with each following episode keeps me entertained, as does the vast collection of mythology that the show seems to have only suggestively scratched the surface of.

Anna Torv as Olivia and her other-world alternate shows nuances of talent playing two versions of the same character, both hardened in different ways. I used to think that Olivia had all the personality of cold tofu, but, as the show has gone on, I have realized that much of her character is repressed, but Torv plays the depths beyond that repression very well, with an American accent even.

Usually, I do not really care for main-character romances in TV shows, but I really like the slowly developing relationship between Anna Torv's Olivia and Joshua Jackson's Peter. I assume there must be a lot of underplayed angst because the characters have been thwarted by so many things -- not knowing if the other reciprocated, Peter having sex with Alternate Olivia instead of Real Olivia, Peter's erasure from the main timeline -- but the actors do a good job of downplaying their emotions so that their actions speak loudly than any maudlin score.

Speaking of Peter, I am very distressed that he hardly appeared in this ep, only as "the man in the mirror," and I hope that he becomes reintegrated in the cast soon. I really like the way that Olivia, Astrid, Walter and Peter work as a family-like unit and as a Fringe team, and I wish that Peter would be back to sustain that group chemistry.
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I had never watched Die Hard (1988), with Bruce Willis and Alan Rickman [yay!], before, so I watched it streaming last night. ‘Tis a silly film – are we really supposed to believe that Willis’ character, John McClane, routs the baddies while not wearing any shoes? Come on now!

I also noticed that Die Hard seems to share with Fatal Attraction a reactive misogynist hatred of the independent woman. The specter of independence raised by Holly, John’s estranged wife, who dares to use her maiden name and separate from her husband for her career, is ultimately subsumed into the patriarchal family mode. In fact, the whole movie sets up a situation wherein the wealth and success of the Nakitomi Company, where Holly works, brings the terrorist attack upon itself. Therefore, we can see Hans Gruber [Alan Rickman, yay!] and co. as narrative punishment for Holly’s proto-feminist attitude. She’s so uppity, being a successful career woman and having a Rolex, that she deserves to be smote with the degradation of victimhood at the hands of the terrorists. But she learns her lesson; by the end, she’s using her married name again, happily signifying that she belongs to the manly-man action hero of John McClane. What a load of sexist crap.

Also this weekend I watched a weird three-part miniseries, Tin Man, the SyFy Channel’s story inspired by The Wizard of Oz. I really liked looking at the world, a combination of majestic Vancouver forests and glitzy, vaguely 1930s cities where everyone wears weird hats. Grey machinery mixed with verdant landscape in a cross between steampunky dystopia and wildlands utopia. However, I felt that the pace was rather draggy, especially in the middle episode [middle episodes of trilogies almost always suffer from sluggishness]. I liked the fact that a sisterly bond between the Dorothy equivalent and the Wicked Witch equivalent redeemed the Witch equivalent’s character, but I disliked the fact that monkey bats came out of the Witch equivalent’s heaving cleavage. That was just SILLY.

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Popular serial turned agreeable time-passer, Dresden Files the TV show follows Chicago wizard Harry Dresden as he uses his for-hire services to solve crimes, occasionally in collaboration with a magic-unaware police detective Murphy. Available on Hulu and mildly entertaining, this one-season show of necessity strips out lots of the mythos and back story that apparently makes the novels by Jim Butcher, upon which the series is based, so interesting.

However, I discovered an interesting thing just now. Guess who does the audio book readings for the Dresden Files series? JAMES MARSTERS!!!!!!! That's hot. Must track down one of these.

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Kinjou and I were talking about it last night on chat while I was watching the pilot. Our color commentary follows: Read more... )
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All righty, so I've been watching Brimstone. It's a canceled show with John Glover [the awesome! also gay!] as the Devil goading on some guy with a fascinating nose. The guy is Ezekiel Stone, who went to hell for killing his wife's rapist. Now back from hell, he has a second chance at life on earth if he can round up 113 escaped souls and shoot out their eyes, sending them back to hell. Read more... )
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You know why? Because, all too often, characters with disabilities appear in pop media as one-dimensional fictional entities, lazily "developed" by having what I call compensatory strengths. Such compensatory strengths are supposed to sort of narratively cancel out the characters' disabilities, but this never happens. In fact, the compensatory gifts just highlight the characters' disabilities even more so that the characters, instead of being well-rounded, interesting individuals, end up being portrayed solely in terms of their disabilities.

To get an idea of what I'm talking about with compensatory gifts, look at a few characters from comics and movies. The X-Men's Professor Xavier, who has mobility impairments requiring the use of an electric wheelchair, "compensates" by having a mutation that allows him to basically move mentally among all the mutants on the globe. Another comic superhero, Daredevil, gets blinded by radioactive waste, but conveniently compensates by developing his non-sight senses to superhuman levels. Another character with blindness, from the movies this time, is Ivy, protagonist of M. Night Shyamalan's 2004 movie The Village, who is blind, but somehow sees the goodness in people instead. As you can see, in each of these cases, the characters' super abilities are directly tied to their disabilities. In fact, their super abilities all offer workarounds for their disabilities, effectively canceling out the characters' disabilities.

In an especially egregious example of compensatory endowment, Daphne from Heroes has the power of superspeed. Somehow her zippiness  "compensates for" and overrides her cerebral palsy, which is a disability so shameful that, when she loses her speed and has to go back to wearing leg braces [THE HORROR!] and using crutches [OH WOE!] in 3.10, "The Eclipse, Part I," she hides from the entire world in ignominy.  In Heroes, Daphne's CP is equated with tragedy, limitation, reclusivity, sadness and rejection. Her compensatory gift, super speed, provides her with glamour, adventure, riches and happiness. Yet, though she may seem to have some interesting contrast between her past, disabled self and her current, speedy self, she really doesn't. Heroes, like all other lazy pieces of pop culture artwork that use the trope of compensatory strengths, shows no interest in exploring the psychological flux that might realistically go along with great strengths in one area and great deficits in another. Nope, Heroes just wants to make a dramatically compelling character, so it gives Daphne a tragically crippled [I'm using this word because you can see the show thinking it] past. Wow. That's so deep.

What the lazy shorthand of compensatory endowment ignores is the simple reality of actual people with actual disabilities, to wit: Amazingly enough, people with disabilities don't necessarily go around bemoaning the fact that they have disabilities. In fact, people with disabilities are much more likely to bemoan the ignorance, stupidity and inaccessibility of people and institutions. Some people with disabilities even accept that they have disabilities and, instead of "overcoming" them or "compensating" for them, accept their disabilities as a fact of life and go on about their business. And, stupendously enough, when you take a look at the types of lives that people with disabilities are living, they're not, at base, fundamentally different from the lives of people without disabilities [although people with disabilities do daily battle with ableist people and institutions that may not be apparent to people without disabilities].

Ya know -- sometimes characters with disabilities are just your average, normal, run-of-the-mill people who DON'T feel the need for pity-based super-endowments given to them by lazy, paternalistic, condescending creators to soothe the supposed horrid angst that characters with disabilities have over not being people without disabilities. Newsflash to dipshits: Creating a disabled character with a "compensatory" ability is not inspiring, unusual, original or desirable. By making a character's notable traits the narrative inverse of his or her disability, you still end up defining the character by his or her disability, and that is a dehumanizing, reductionist simplification demonstrating only your limited, shallow imagination and your inability to see people with disabilities as people first.
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1. Joss Whedon. Just because he was behind a clever movie [BTVS], a generally awesome TV show [BTVS], two better-than-average TV shows [Angel and Firefly], an acceptable movie extension [Serenity] and an intermittently witty but mostly flaccid Web movie [Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog] does not mean that his latest outing, Dollhouse, is automatically wonderful.
  • In point of fact #1, his quality has been going downhill ever since BTVS.
  • In point of fact #2, Dollhouse so far is a silly TV show on par with Fringe in that both shows contain silly premises, unconvincing, murky universes and leads with all the acting ability of lukewarm tap water.
  • In point of fact #3, Dollhouse so far is actually worse than Fringe because it lacks the emotional warmth and accessibility that major players John Noble and Joshua Jackson bring to Fringe.
2. Alan Moore [and Zack Snyder]. V for Vendetta is overrated; for a comic book, it has art equivalent to the poorly mimeographed ads in the back of my childhood Archie serials that wanted me to send $1.25 to a PO box in New York so I could get a box of "hilarious" practical joke devices. Watchmen is overrated; for a story about a whole world on the brink of collapse, it conveniently disregards the female population, except insofar as they are defined by sexually abusive relationships with wankers. And both Alan Moore and Zack Snyder are overrated; both of them are too busy staring at the magnificence of their own egos to register the fact that the world contains individuals besides tragic, conflicted, chisel-jawed men.

The people who need to be notified of these not-God individuals -- namely, the Whedon wanks on Television Without Pity's Dollhouse forums parsing every moment of dialog looking for "Jossian greatness" and the Moore/Snyder posse who seriously believes that the Watchmen movie is on par with The Godfather trilogy [seriously?!] -- are not going to listen to me. However, if you happen to be of reasonable sanity and you wonder what all the spooge in a teacup is over these not-God individuals, rest assured that you are not missing anything in avoiding either Dollhouse or Watchmen. I'll keep you updated on the off chance that Dollhouse improves. Anyone associated with #2, however, is a lost cause.

To conclude, the following people are God.

1. David Bowie...or, more precisely, his Area. That is all.

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Watched the premiere of Dollhouse just now. I'm very curious about the concept of programmable people, but, so far, the show itself is rather dull because the trite script allows no development for sympathetic characters and also because Eliza Dushku has even less acting talent than Anna Torv on Fringe, which I didn't think was possible. [However, watching Anna Torv kick ass is ALWAYS entertaining.] Besides which, the show was much more interested in establishing that Eliza Dushku, in fact, does have boobs and less interested in delineating the rules and hierarchy of the programmable people project. As much as I think the backstory on Fringe is a steaming heap of vaguely crapped-out doo-doo, I find the characters' personalities and pasts entertaining enough to watch the show so that I can learn more about them. I do not give two shits about anyone in Dollhouse yet.
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So I just finished watching seasons 1 and 2 of the BTVS rip-off British supernatural soap opera Hex.Oh look...a plot summary.  )
Despite the fact that it's largely lush-looking drivel, there is something compelling about Hex. Like BTVS, Hex ends up focusing on a destined warrior. The character study of Ella is the most interesting thing about the show. Like Buffy, Ella comes from a long line of fighters. Like Buffy, Ella is also gifted with physical and magical strength, but her destiny and her powers separate her from her peers. Both Buffy and Ella are very lonely; they both yearn for friends, family and people to understand them. But Buffy differs from Ella because Buffy has a loyal cadre of friends -- Willow, Xander, Giles and various hangers-on -- and a family [Joyce and Dawn]. Buffy derives strength from her faith in her family and friends. They are her saving grace.

But Ella is different. She wants what Buffy has -- friendship, security and love -- but she hasn't found it. She has tried to satisfy her passion through killing various demonspawn, but that still leaves her unfulfilled. She tries to satisfy herself with Leon, but their love, based on tenderness and friendship, seems too dull and unexciting for her. She tries to satisfy her passion through sex, as represented by her crappy and wholly unconvincing fling with the block of wood named Malachi, but that also doesn't work. Only after she has tried and failed to fill the void in her heart does she realize that she actually really does appreciate the love she shares with Leon. Season 2 leaves her strengthened because Leon has literally cauterized the wound by her heart, a physical representation of the way that their love has helped her to stop dissipating her energy and desire.

Ella is different from Buffy because Ella doesn't run on strength; she runs on fear. She fears being alone; she fears not being like other people; she fears her magical destiny. Because she fears her core identity so much, Ella is easily manipulated...hence her relationship with the Block of Wood. Though a stalwart killer of demons, she's also incredibly needy, which makes her a social fuck-up as she blunders through her friendship with Thelma, her love for Leon and her crush on Malachi. She simultaneously exploits all three of them to try to force their approval, then hurts them, then abases herself trying to make it up to them. Her weakness is her neediness, her hopeless lack of love in her life. Because her desire for acceptance overwhelms even her destined path, her abject wishes for happiness always conflict with her duty, making her triumph as demon slayer always in doubt. Since she spends so much of season 2 either losing her shit or barely hanging onto it, one wonders whether she'll ever develop the internal strength that she needs to carry out her mission.

I don't like Ella that much. I wish she would stop whingeing, trembling and rolling her eyes and just buck up and start kicking ass. That said, when I view her as an intensely lonely character, flailing around in her attempt to find friendship, she becomes sympathetic, more sympathetic than Buffy, who always seemed impervious and uncorruptible to me.
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I just discovered a tragicallly truncated series, cut down in the bloom of youth as was American Gothic: Journeyman. It's about a man who involuntarily time travels to the recent past, no earlier than the 1960s, to fix people's lives gone awry. Guided by his fiancee who supposedly died but really disappeared because she's a time traveler too, Dan tries to figure out his powers and keep his family together. His wife and son find his unpredictable disappearances rattling, to say the least, and his cop brother suspects him of being mentally unstable. Meanwhile, a rogue FBI agent and an astrophysics professor may know more about time travel and others like Dan than they are letting on.

Grounded by a performance balancing both grit and heart from the understated [and very hot] Kevin McKidd, Journeyman derives much of its power from the tragic irony inherent in the protagonist's situation. He is surrounded by a close-knit group of loved ones, including his cool, smooth and sexy ex-fiancee Livia [played with calm and witty competence by Moon Bloodgood], his on-edge, brittle, but still devoted wife [played by Gretchen Egolf], his pig-headed cop brother Jack [Reed Diamond, successfully doing a jerk with layers who has a weak spot for his brother], nauseatingly cute son Zach, his boss at the paper, etc. Dan bounces to the past to bring together old flames, protect siblings, reunite parents and children, etc., but all of his exertions to keep families together end up tearing his own apart. In the present, all of Dan's friends and family forgive him again and again, but his new vocation forces rifts open between him and others. The series starts slow, but, around ep 5, all the plot threads start coming into play, rewarding viewers with an emotionally involving, increasingly suspenseful ride of 13 eps.

Okay, I lied. While canceled due to the 2007 writers' strike, Journeyman ultimately does not suffer from its abortion. I would have liked an entire season to wrap up all the promising, thrilling interconnections, but the eps we do have stand on their own as engaging, high-caliber TV. Watch it on Hulu because time travel is awesome!!!
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I watch TV shows exclusively online because a) I'm not tied to a specific airing time and b) I can stream them in the background while working. Interestingly enough, I find that many TV shows work perfectly fine without the images as radio shows because the clearly differentiated voices and the overdetermining music provide enough clues as to what's going on so that actually seeing the screen isn't necessary. Forthwith, my current slate:

Bones. I watch this primarily for the great chemistry between David Boreanaz [Seeley] and Emily Deschanel [Bones]. After a flaccid, frankly  boring start to season 3, the quality has picked up, both in the writing and in the mysteries. Though I find the increased prominence of the earnest, lonely, overanalytical and geeky psychologist Sweets charming, I'm still bitter at the writers for dispensing with Zach at the end of Season 2. His out-of-character departure ruined the wonderful rapport between the "squints" on Bones' team.

The Colbert Report. Amusing mild parody. I enjoy watching how much fun Stephen Colbert has with his character.

The Daily Show. Amusing mild parody. Jon Stewart's straight-man mugging STILL hasn't gotten old for me.

Fringe. Painfully stupid, chronically incoherent and blitheringly underpsychologized, this simplistic show is one that I love to hate. I also like listening to it because it's so anvilicious that I don't even need to look at the pictures. Will never be forgiven for its mangling of the "Boston" setting.

Heroes. You know, back in season 1, I used to like this show. However, I think it hit its peak with the season 1 ep, "Company Man," focusing on Noah Bennet and family. Since then it has imploded on itself repeatedly, reformatting character development multiple times, introducing and dropping characters at alarming speed, creating plot holes so large that they could expand and engulf the universe and, msot criminally, turning all the characters into impetuous, stupid morons. Like Fringe, it requires no brains or even eyeballs to appreciate its schlockiness.

House. I actually really like this show, mostly because I really like watching Hugh Laurie act like an arrogant genius bastard. Brilliant comedy!

The Office. I watch this not for the plot or even the characters, but because its small moments accurately capture the combination of zealotry, awkwardness and puzzlement characterizing white-collar at-work interactions. The characters' strange antics aren't so amusing as the other characters' often deadpan reactions to said antics.

Psych. I'm conflicted about this show. It's a comic detective show about a guy who pretends to be a psychic for a police department. It would be a slight, silly diversion, except for the fact that the fake psychic's reluctant partner and best friend is a black dude who suffers slapstick indignities and gets ordered around by the fake psychic all the time. Very Stepin Fetchit. No new eps until January, by which time I will probably have conclusively determined that it's a racist cesspool and therefore left it alone.

Supernatural. Even though this show suffered a largely plotless third season and even though it suffers from such misogyny that it kills off all female characters or makes them disappear, I'm still a loyal fan of this show who will be watching it through the bitter end of season 5. Actually, it's more accurate to say that I will be watching JENSEN ACKLES AS DEAN WINCHESTER through the bitter end of season 5. Ackles and co-star Padalecki consistently use their nuanced portrayals of the brothers to turn the occasional mediocre script and hammy line into a sincere, layered portrayal of fraternal devotion. Also, in case you haven't noticed, I think Ackles is hot. With an angel charging Dean with aversion of the Apocalypse, there seems to be an interesting plot for season 4, so I'm excited about the show on a structural level again, which I haven't been since the end of season 1. Let's hope that the Apocalypse doesn't fizzle like the demon war that was supposed to happen after the Winchesters opened up the gate of Hell.
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The much-vaunted Fringe is an X-Files knock-off concerning FBI agent Olivia Dunham, mad scientist Walter Something-or-Other and his annoying genius caretaker son Peter. They run around Boston and environs investigating things like synthetic diseases that dissolve your skin and murderous psychopaths who feed on the pituitary glands of dead prostitutes. They get regular help from a band called Massive Attack company called Massive Dynamic and regular encouragements from their director, who thinks that these "fringe science" events are all part of a weird Pattern.

All the characters neglect to notice the most sinister evidence of the Patten. Namely, it has messed up the very fabric of the Boston metro area! Suddenly, Harvard allows mad genius' labs to a) take up the whole cellar of a building, b) remain untouched for 17 years and c) house Holsteins without special permits! Creepy ornate mental institutions appear on pastoral grounds in Essex County! The Fenway suddenly boasts an elevated highway! Stoughton apparently has a riverside or seaside warehouse section! And viewers across the state hurl their TVs or computers across the room in frustration!

Did I mention that I don't care about any of the characters and I don't know why they're so interested in this Pattern?

Verdict: It's a third-rate X-Files with no sense of place. May stave off boredom during really slow days at work, but don't expect anything truly interesting.
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This weekend, I returned to one of my guilty pleasures, the glamorous, cliched, convoluted and opaque BBC series Hex [2005-2007]. This gorgeous trash heap of magic + soft-core porn features fallen angels, lesbian ghosts, witch burning, time traveling, demons in the guise of priests, kinky nurse fairies, blah blah blah, all taking place on the isolated grounds of Medenham Hall, a boarding school populated by 6 sexy students, 2 or 3 teachers and gallons of moody mist.

Anyway, one of the tired plot devices trotted out by Hex is that of the fast-forward Jesus baby. As the result of a Divine Screw between a supernatural male and an ordinary female, the fast-forward Jesus baby develops alarmingly fast from conception to birth. Read more... )
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Witchblade, the thoroughly mediocre and yet strangely compelling combo of cop drama and supernatural hooey that ran for two summers in 2001 and 2002, comes to DVD at the end of July. Hooray! I have a special place in my heart for that show, having watched it when it first came out, perhaps because it is simplistic enough to listen to and pretentious enough to be laughable. I've been surviving on crappy bootleg DVDs for years now, so I will be able to replace them with shiny good ones.
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I finished American Gothic with equal satisfaction and disappointment. My satisfaction came from Lucas' masterfully done fake death and the neverending tension of the denouement between Lucas, Caleb and Merlyn. 

My disappointment lay in After American Gothic, I have several options.

I've always wanted to see Nip/Tuck, and season 5 is on Hulu. I want to see if Julian McMahon can do a better job than he did in Charmed.

Roswell's angle of powerful half-aliens living among us has intrigued me for a long time, since I've engaged in an epic on the same subject, so there's season 1 of that on Hulu.

Select eps of Outer Limits, an hour-long attempt at a modern Twilight Zone, are also on Hulu.

Though I've already blasted New Amsterdam as boring, it's still so bad that I can't look away. Season 1 continues on Hulu.

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Having been American Gothicked out, I skipped over the pond to investigate the BBC's Hex. The British show seasons are usually 6 to 8 eps, 1/3 the size of American show seasons, so I watched the first season, eps 1-6, before, as the reviews commented, the cast switched around and character development went out the window.

On a more thematic note, I have a huge objection to the Divine Screw narrative line, despite having co-created a decade-long saga predicated on just this exploitation. You know the story: Some all-powerful dipwad wants kids and decides to rape a human woman. The woman may resist, but the Penis of Doom cannot be stopped. The dipwad rapes the woman. She conceives a son, always a son -- the Dipwad is convinced of it. The woman may try to abort the fetus or to kill herself, but her attempts avail nothing against the Son of Dipwad. The woman gives birth to Son of Dipwad, who inevitably takes after Dipwad Dad. The expendable woman, having served as an incubator, is pretty much abandoned by Dipwad, and who cares what happens to her next? All focus shifts to the glorious Son of the Penis of Doom, who naturally fulfills his destiny and destroys the world.
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If you want to see a show driven by the power of all-around masterful performances married to a strong, character-driven storyline, check out American Gothic, now available at Hulu. It is an ensemble story of sweet Southern corruption in which forces both good and evil fight for control of a young boy's soul. 

On the good side there's recent Yankee transplant Matt Crower, played with quiet self-possession by Jake Weber, who is such a dry and gentle character in Medium, haunted by his wife and child's death in a DWI accident he caused. There's also Gail Emory, investigative reporter, played by Paige Turco with brooding dignity reminiscent of Yancy Butler at her best, returning to town to look into her parents' suspicious deaths 20 years ago. The boy himself, Caleb, is played by 10-year-old Lucas Black in a startingly intense performance [I love those little, low, dark eyebrows!] that's pretty realistic for a TV depiction of a 10-year-old boy.

On the evil side there's schoolteacher Serena Coombes, played with sexy, slimy relish by Brenda Bakke. And there's Lucas Buck, played by Gary Cole, who is my latest favorite actor. I first noticed him as the Boss From Hell in Office Space, Lumberg, but here, in the starring role, he really gets to show how hellish he can be. As the classic devil, Buck's character operates on fear, doing good things for people, then asking them to pay him back, or else they meet gory demises. He also has an unnerving habit of popping up whenever someone is thinking about disobeying him. He creates a black hole of influence that it seems impossible to escape from. 

The cheesy special effects and fast-motion weather hammer this point home, but Cole's eternally genial front really makes the character work. Even when he's threatening you, Buck does so in a gentlemanly way, which makes his cruelty even more effective and insidious. Cole plays Buck with a certain broadness that comes from his comedic experience, but he also projects such charisma and power that Buck always remains a magnetic and menacing presence. It's a magnificent performance.

Not a perfect show, by any means, American Gothic suffers from a dearth of fully fleshed female characters. While all of the male characters have multiple dimensions, the women remain kinda flat. Gail's the Plucky Gumshoe archetype, and Merlyn, Caleb's dead sister, is the Pure Moral Compass archetype. Tertiary characters are also problematic. In Damned If You Don't, for example, Carter Bowen and family do a favor for Sheriff Buck, which entails letting an escaped con into their house. Said con goes after 15-year-old Poppy Bowen. Wife Etta Bowen ends up dead. I strongly objected to the way that Poppy was portrayed not by the con, but by the SHOW itself, as a Lolita-licious sex object.

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NBC tries so hard to pump up interest in the pilot of Bionic Woman [redux], but its sluggish script, murky plot, dank sets, Keanu-Reeves-worthy "acting" [i.e., standing there like a piece of lumber], plethora of unidentified characters and lack of chemistry between anyone except for Jamie Sommers and Sarah Corvus [who keep eye-fucking each other every time they meet] kill it. You can watch past eps here, but why would you want to? Well, I suppose they're a good cure for insomnia. How can such a fertile concept of bioethics, body modification, the construction of disability and "freakdom," infiltration of the military into civilian life and the technological disenfranchisement of women end up so damn DULL in execution?
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Pushing Daisies is still blooming. I still enjoy it for all the reasons that I enumerated in my first review. I also enjoy it because of its aesthetic choices. The show characterizes its personalities with the use of extremes. For example, Emerson the PI just doesn't enjoy knitting; he carries knitting needles everywhere, lines his desk drawers with self-knitted socks and ogles knitting pop-up books. Olive the waiter just doesn't have a mild penchant for paisley; she has an entire house decorated in it, from wallpaper to rug to upholstery. The use of bright, obvious extremity telegraphs information about personalities definitively, quickly and humorously. I am trying to pursue such a stylized means of character development in some parts of LHF, so I watch Pushing Daisies' use of exaggeration with interest.

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