“Reign” Is Not the Best Show on TV, but It May Be the Greatest

junio 16, 2017 at 11:44 pm (Television) (, , , , , , , , )

If there is one thing that consistently disappoints me about the CW’s super-hero fare, it is its inability to harness the genre’s capacity for soapy DRAMA.  Set in worlds where aliens are real and there exist people in possession of powers that turn them into gods, it somehow often manages to fall flat.  Perhaps it has something to do with a lack of commitment: a world with superheroes should be drastically different from our own, and yet showing us what that world would actually look like is a step the genre rarely takes, with its most famous creations. Due to their existence as both CW shows and super-hero shows, there’s a certain baseline for its characters and stories, which often leads them to believe that fighting equals drama.

A lack of DRAMA has never been Reign’s problem. Developed by Laurie McCarthy and Stephanie SenGupta (although the latter left early in production, leaving McCarthy as showrunner) The CW’s exploration of the life of Mary Stuart left no stone unturned in its search for plot, using every tool available in order to spice up the lives of their characters. Some of it is taken from real-life history and the tumultuous reigns of its characters.  Some of it is taken from ye olde book of period dramas—lots of political marriages up in here, even for characters who did not exist in actual history. A lot of it just soap opera, with a 16th century bent: somebody being a secret protestant is a plot twist here, which is just fantastic.  Reign, in general, is a lot, which gives it a lot of the appeal of a good Pretty Little Liars episode or one of the better Lifetime movies, where you’re left wondering just how it is the characters arrived at this point.

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“Power Rangers”, Mean Girls, and Why Kimberly’s Slut-Shaming is a Big Deal

abril 8, 2017 at 1:11 pm (ABC Family, Film, Pretty Little Liars, Reviews, sexism, Television, Uncategorized) (, , )

(Spoilers for Power Rangers ahead.)

So in my Power Rangers review, I happened to write the following:

A good amount of time is spent on Kimberly’s angst, and on how her recent actions have alienated her from her social circle, and made her begin feeling a measure of self-hatred. When we’re told what the inciting incident to all this is—she maliciously shared a nude pic of a classmate to humiliate her, it feels a bit out of proportion to her response, but that’s just me an adult and official old person. She believes this makes her horrible, and that’s what matters.

It got some critical feedback, which is good, not only because it means that somebody read the review and cared enough about it to disagree, but also, because there’s a lot worth criticizing in the statement, notably, the suggestion that sharing a nude pic of a friend–a female friend, at that–is no big deal.

Yeah, no.

To be absolutely clear, what Kimberly did is objectively terrible, and Kimberly is right to characterize herself as terrible for having done it*. I know this, I knew it when I watched the film, and I knew it when I wrote the review. Despite this, my main takeaway from that scene, while watching it for the first time and writing about it, is “Kim, you sweet, beautiful overdramatic child.” The terribleness of it doesn’t really come across on any emotional level, and I’ve spent some time since then thinking of why that is the case.

Part of it is my own damn fault, of course, for not immediately seeing all the angles even when made plain and empathizing more about the character I cared about rather than the ones she’d harmed. Another part of it, though, is the way the film deals with that moment and how it characterized Kimberly in comparison to the people she betrayed, and, more in general, with the film’s portrayal of Kim as a mean girl in the larger context of mean girls on film and TV. If Kim’s actions don’t feel as the big deal they are, it is because as terrible as Kimberly’s betrayal of her friends and general slut-shaming (and, technically, illegal distribution of child pornography) are, they are positively dwarfed in that larger context.

Pretty Little Liars starts out with the girls having blinded a classmate, and is steeped in blackmail and murder. Riverdale is headed in that same direction. Mean Girls has Cady manipulate Regina George into altering her body in unwanted, possibly irreversible ways. Heathers was all about murder, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer had its characters slut-shame as casually as they breathed. And it’s not the antagonists that do this–or rather, it’s not only they who do it. It’s (also) the heroes, the ones we’re made to root for, while being all glamorous and pretty and sympathetic, without the self-recrimination Kimberly displays during her confession, in stories where the effects of their actions tend to be downplayed, victims tend to be less affected the more time we’re meant  to spend with them, and forgiveness is granted with disturbing ease. Taken together, it has a definitive desensitizing effect, making the terrible feel not so, or even awesome at times. Mona Vanderwaal may be a killer and blackmailer, but damn if I don’t love every bit of her.

And really, the film itself doesn’t help. Kimberly’s victims aren’t really characters, they’re extras whose main quality is being catty in a way designed to draw sympathy away from them and towards Kimberly; they are pissed, and rightfully so, but they do not seem harmed.  And we really don’t get to see pre-epiphany Kimberly, which means we’re left to draw our conclusions from the version we see on screen.* All of which makes the confession scene feel unbalanced, with only Naomi Scott to sell it. As mentioned in the review, she succeeds, to some degree, but perhaps not all the necessary ones.

The thing is, though, that none of that should matter. Kim is clear about what she does, and what she does is terrible. And yet it does. There are a lot of dimensions to Kimberly’s story, and those dimensions all got the short shrift in my review, and my thoughts were expressed in the worst, most dismissive and harmful form–one that I, for all it’s worth, apologize for.

—-

* There’s one moment in the film where we get an unvarnished hint of what Old Kimberly may have been like, and that’s the moment when  she takes pleasure at seeing her former friends’ car wrecked during the Goldar battle, perhaps not considering that she and her friends were a few feet away from being squashed. There are a lot of arguments that one could make about that scene, as it goes on to suggest a whole lot of things about Kimberly’s story arc that don’t really get elaboration, and make it feel as if its missing some necessary pieces rather than simply unfinished, as, say, Trini’s. That said, I’m not sure I see that ambiguity as a flaw, and I hope it’s something the writers either intentionally included or noticed after the fact, and that it gets more development in subsequent films.  It deserves to.

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Division of Interest: Partners

diciembre 6, 2016 at 7:21 pm (Television) (, , , , , )

While the parallels between Nikita and Person of Interest are not as easy to identify as those between Nikita and Alias, they are in some ways arguably more substantive. Produced roughly during the same period, the two series’ takes on the espionage genre not only feature similar tones and (to a degree) aesthetics, but also similar themes and concerns. Their core foci may be different—Person of Interest is chiefly about how technology changes the world, both by making possible and normalizing the surveillance state and by altering the definition of living thing, while Nikita is about abuse and dehumanization, and the possibility of reclaiming that humanity—but both also deal with themes like identity, redemption, corruption, rebirth, and rebirth—more than enough, in other words, to make comparing and contrasting the series both interesting and rewarding—hence what I hope will become a series. This is Division of Interest, and we begin with the two couples (hush!) with whom it all begins.

(Series spoilers for both Person of Interest and Nikita below.)

(Content Notes: Suicide, suicidal ideation)

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The CW’s “Nikita” is a Spy Story about Healing

octubre 27, 2016 at 12:06 am (Television, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , )

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(Series-wide spoilers below)

There’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance required in order to accept La Femme Nikita’s premise on its own terms. The series wants us to believe that clandestine intelligence agency / assassination bureau Section One is necessary in order to ensure the world’s safety, and that its work somehow justifies the monstrous way the group operates. At the same time, everything the series tells us about the Section suggests that such a claim isn’t factual. It obtains its “recruits” via kidnapping and dehumanization, which belies its alleged legitimacy—surely an above-board agency would be able to obtain agents some other, less illegal, way. It lies to and manipulates its people constantly, not because of a need to keep information properly classified, but to keep them compliant. Its oversight appears to include no one connected to any government entity anywhere, or anyone who is themselves subject to oversight. And yet, in order for the series to work, one has to choose to disregard all of this, and believe that the Section lies about everything but is completely honest about its agenda.

It’s hard to understate how significant this is to the series. If the Section isn’t working for the greater good—if that claim is just another one of its countless lies—then the story simply falls apart. There’s no reason to care about Nikita’s fate, or to consider her anything other than a great big fool, in addition to an accomplice to continued abuse. And while mitigating factors exist due to her status as a prisoner and victim, those become much less mitigating once she manages to escape, scot-free, and then decides to return. Similarly, there’s no reason to wish for any of the characters to succeed. And while this element of uncertainty was always baked into the premise’s cake—there is every reason to be just as skeptical of the agency in Luc Besson’s original film—that original version manages to get away with it because Anne Parillaud’s Nikita, by and large, doesn’t care about what she does except insofar as it affects her. It is only in the TV series, where the agency and its manipulation of Nikita (Peta Wilson) became central, that its role in the world becomes truly relevant. And yet, the show proves ambivalent at best on this point, seeming uninterested in providing evidence about the good the Section allegedly does. The largely episodic and insular storytelling makes it hard to get a bead on the long-term consequences of the Section’s actions, and the vague world-building—to the point where the Section doesn’t defend any one nation, but rather “the West”—makes it impossible to determine with precision whose interests the Section is supposed to be aligned with, leaving us only with the assertions of proven manipulators with no incentive to tell the truth. How can we trust then, that the people behind Section One aren’t simply using their people for their own personal gain?  So important is this question, that J.J. Abrams, intentionally or not, based half the initial premise of Alias on it.

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“Legends of Tomorrow” Is the Arrow-verse’s Largest Show and its Smallest

enero 23, 2016 at 2:53 am (Reviews, Television) (, , , , , , , , , , )

Legends of Tomorrow

Sometimes it pays to be skeptical.

When news of what would eventually become Legends of Tomorrow first popped up, the concept seemed, to put it in the kindest possible words, contrived. A team made up of Sara Lance, Captain Cold, and the Atom? What. It seemed like a something that had come into being not because somebody had had a fantastic fucking idea for a story that required these characters, but because The Powers that Be wanted to make some money out of characters from Arrow and The Flash that no longer had homes in those shows and needed a concept that could accommodate them as well as other assorted DCU B- and C-listers.

Now that the pilot has come and gone, it now seems that the initial suspicions were correct: Legends of Tomorrow is a show that exists primarily to give its characters something to do.

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Review: “Pretty Little Liars” 6.11: “Of Late I Think of Rosewood” (Spoilers)

enero 13, 2016 at 2:04 pm (ABC Family, Pretty Little Liars, Rape Culture, Reviews, Television) (, , , , , , , , )

(Content Note: Transphobia; Transphobic Narratives)

The best scene in “Of Late I Think of Rosewood”, the premiere for the second half of Pretty Little Liars’ sixth season, takes place in a courtroom, where the Liars are being compelled to testify as to their mental state regarding Charlotte Dilaurentis, a.k.a. Cece Drake a.k.a. Red Coat a.k.a. A, in order to determine whether she should be set free. Charlotte’s sister has asked the Liars to live up to their name and testify that everything is hunky-dory, and because the Liars are all too used to dancing to Alison Dilaurentis’ tune, they agree. Aria even has prepared script and everything.

And then, Aria says no. Abandoning her prepared remarks, the littlest liar asserts that no, she is not okay, that the scars she obtained during Charlotte’s nine-month reign of terror are nowhere near fully healed, and that she does not feel safe. It’s quite possibly her best scene in the entire history of the show, and, in a world that consistently asks its underprivileged to Get Over It and forgive and forget transgressions enacted by more privileged peoples and institutions—a world in which women are consistently asked to forgive how the Patriarchy has arrayed things against them and to “act normal, bitch” because #NotAllMen—it can be considered a rather powerful, brave statement.

Except…

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Review: “Pretty Little Liars” 6.10: “Game Over, Charles” (Spoilers)

agosto 14, 2015 at 7:26 pm (ABC Family, Pretty Little Liars, Television) (, , , , , , , , , , )

[Content Note: Transphobic representations]

As the #SummerOfAnswers rolled on, my favorite A theory was by Rachel Watkins, who runs the PLL Theorist Tumblr. According to the theory posted on May 22, 2015, A, then believed to be Charles Dilaurentis, would turn out to be Cece Drake, who knew and loved Charles while they were both in Radley, and loved him until the day Charles died. After that moment, Cece decided to play the game, becoming the first A. I didn’t agree with all of it—I’ve always believed that Mona originated the A identity and iconography on her own, like the show claimed, and that whomever almost killed Alison simply used it as a new way to carry on with what they were already separately doing—but it felt satisfying; if the show had ended up doing something like that—and it did—I would have been happier than I would have been with almost any other resolution.   I liked Cece as A: not only did I enjoy the character of Cece, she’d been made into a big enough figure in the history of the show to make her a satisfying answer. Granted, she didn’t have much of a reason to torment the Liars, but the same could be said of most other viable suspects, and the series latter de-emphasizing of the high school and family elements seemed to suggest that the Liars’ actual connection to A’s larger motives would be tangential at best.

Other, not altogether dissimilar theories also had Cece as A, but also took the season 5 finale’s revelation that A was Charles (Dilaurentis, as eventually confirmed in season 6) at face value. Charles, the theories explained, was actually trans, and eventually grew up to be Cece Drake. While they kept Cece as A and were more in tune with what the show actually seemed to be setting up—it initially suggested Charles was actually dead before revealing that no, he was still alive—it was an extremely unsatisfying theory, largely because it would mean that the person who had tormented Alison Dilaurentis, the Liars, and increasingly large amounts of people, and who had killed several people during the course of the show, was also the only trans character in the show.   Said theory, if true, would be a slap in the face to the show’s many trans fans, to the people who had come to see the show as a (decidedly imperfect) oasis in a universe still hostile to LGBTA people, and to the young watchers who deserve better than to being misled about trans people. No matter the execution, it would make Pretty Little Liars’ universe into one where cis people could be very many things, and trans people would be the one thing they always were in television, killers or victims or both. Even if the show attempted to somehow redeem A the way it had done with its previous villains, there was no guarantee that it would work, and her narrative would never stop reinforcing the idea that trans people are fundamentally dishonest and dangerous, which is the opposite of the truth and an idea that constantly endangers them. Therefore, it seemed too terrible a possibility to contemplate.

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“Alias” is a Show About a Spy, and Not Much Else

mayo 25, 2015 at 12:30 am (Television, Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Alias made the current action TV landscape possible.

Part of what defines the current so-called golden age of television, particularly when it relates to the action-adventure genre, is its ability to rival film when it comes to sheer scale and craft. Before 2001, you really needed film in order to make Superman fly; Lois & Clark may have understood Superman, but it had no other choice but to suggest his more impressive super-feats, rather than actually show them. Now, with shows like The Flash, there’s no obvious sense of compromise: while there’s still a gap between what you can do in each medium, it’s much less noticeable, and mitigated by the fact that there’s a lot of things you can do with TV that you just can’t do with film. Alias, the 2001-2006 action / espionage show starring Jennifer Garner and created by J.J. Abrams, was in many ways the show that began to bridge that gap.

Compare the first season of Alias to the first season of La Femme Nikita, a show that stopped airing a scant few months before spy royalty Sydney Bristow made her debut. Sure, the earlier show could occasionally pull off some slick moments, and yet, these were these few and far between, exceptions in a show that oftentimes felt quite limited. Alias, on the other hand, often succeeded in making it feel as if those limits didn’t exist. Whereas Femme spent most of its on generic cities or inside Section One HQ, Alias took place all over the world (in a simplistic, theme-park-y, made for TV way—they sure as hell weren’t filming on China, Japan, Monaco, etc.—but still). While Nikita got into a lot of relatively-easy-to-stage shoot-outs, Sydney got into a lot of brawls, car chases, and races, requiring considerably more involved choreography from the creators.   La Femme Nikita had style and tone; Alias had that and vision. Perhaps most importantly, while La Femme Nikita was structured in a manner not dissimilar to countless other shows, with self-contained one-shot episodes and very few recurring characters, Alias had several large, overarching and interconnected storylines, involving lots of characters and events and places, giving the show a scope that at the time was unmatched and requiring far more attention and trust from viewers than was the norm at the time. Without Alias, there would have been no Lost. Without Lost to popularize the mytharc and assure TV execs that yes, viewers could deal with complex and elaborate story arcs, shows like Arrow or The Flash wouldn’t exist, at least not in their current forms.

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Season One of ” La Femme Nikita” is Indeed Quite a Bit Like “Twilight” (Spoilers)

noviembre 2, 2014 at 10:52 am (Television) (, , , , )

One of the claims I often noticed made when comparing the Peta Wilson La Femme Nikita to its successor, Maggie Q’s Nikita, is that it is  both considerably more dark and more gray than its successor. After finishing season one of Femme, I have to agree with the first part of that assessment: while Nikita is a story that is fundamentally about the possibility of fighting impossible odds and winning without having to give up one’s soul—even if that soul has plenty of red in its ledger—the earlier show, or at least its first season, is about the futility of even trying. It makes for a work that is fascinating, yet unpleasant to watch, particularly since the writers and showrunners appear to have no idea of just how dark the story they’re telling actually is.

Both versions of the story, like all versions of the Nikita story, feature at its center a quasi-legitimate black-ops group which forces their “recruits”, including Nikita, to become spies and assassins—spyssassins—at gunpoint. Femme‘s is called Section One, and is, the show wants us to believe, mostly involved in legitimate counterintelligence—stopping terrorists, procuring WMD’s before they fall into The Wrong Hands, etcetera.  Nikita‘s organization, on the other hand, is called Division, and is explicitly presented as a group which, unbeknownst to the rank and file, has been almost wholly corrupted by its director, who basically uses it as a way to accrue money and power for himself. The difference in the way the organizations are portrayed are largely a result of the two different stories each series is trying to tell: La Femme Nikita is a story about Nikita when she is inside, and therefore needs her to be doing arguably good work for Section One, while Nikita is about a Nikita who is on the outside trying to bring down Division, and therefore needs the organization to be a bad guy.

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Names, “Arrow”, Whitewashing

mayo 18, 2014 at 11:55 pm (Television, Whitewashing) (, , , , , , )

(With special thanks to Daggerpen.)

When the people behind Arrow cast The Killing’s Bex Taylor-Klaus on a recurring basis as The Canary’s best friend and confidant Sin, comic book fans called foul. The comic book character that inspired Taylor-Klaus’s role, Dinah Lance’s adopted daughter, had been a woman of color, born and raised in a village in Asia. The TV character was not.

Cute?

Bex Taylor-Klaus.  Cute?  Yes.   Fantastic in the role?  Sure.  Asian?  Not even a little bit.

If recent events are any indication, it may appear that the producers heard the criticism, but did not listen. Leer el resto de esta entrada »

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