Hot Take: The Shape of Water

I can’t stop thinking about The Shape of Water

The newly crowned Best Picture of 2017 is by far the strangest movie I can remember winning that prize, but moreover I can’t think of a movie in the past that has been as well regardShape of watered and yet so…odd.

Called by some “an adult fairy tale” Guillermo del Toro’s film about a mute woman who falls in love with a literal sea monster (Doug Jones) is a really strange journey of a movie. All of the performances are stellar, it’s beautifully made and has all of the hallmarks of a good movie. Until the plot starts and it becomes this fantastical story about hard boiled eggs and inter-species love.

I genuinely don’t understand why this movie resonated the way it did. Sally Hawkins’ Elisa is interesting, and her line to Giles (Richard Jenkins) that the fish-man doesn’t know that she is incomplete is affecting enough. And Giles’ entire story as a closeted man in the 50s is heartbreaking- especially when juxtaposed with the main plot, but none of it really goes anywhere.

The film never really becomes more special or interesting than its core premise- and that premise is honestly not interesting so much as it’s weird. del Toro trades in the fantastical, and I can usually get into that fantasy world. And, the idea of a romance between beings from different worlds is not bothersome to me- I get that can be a commentary on identity and how love transcends barriers. It’s the fact that this fantastical story takes place in this otherwise wholly mundane universe that feels so jarring. And the fact that none of the other characters really questions it is really odd. If you were living in this world and your co-worker told you that she was having an emotional and sexual relationship with a fish man, you would have far more questions and concerns than these people ever express. It’s entirely “Ok, you do you” from these people which adds to the general wrongness of this movie.

All this is not even mentioning the completely useless and unnecessary spy subplot that fully goes nowhere.

Look, The Shape of Water

is a fine movie. It’s a great example of “Magical realism” breaking through to the mainstream, and if this film winning an Oscar is what it takes to make more niche and genre films gain wider regard then I guess it’s a win on a lot of levels.  But I just don’t understand why this was the one, why did this hit. What appealed to people, critics, and most confusingly Oscar voters – a group of people who rarely make decisions that are outside the box? I don’t get it.

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FOX’s 9–1–1 is crazypants cukoo

I mean…

I was just going to ignore it. I wasn’t even going to watch it. And now, after 5 episodes, I am obsessed with how much I hate FOX’s 9–1–1.

Honestly, I could write an entire post on just how embarrassingly bad the second episode was. But, I want to be fair, and episode 1 was an unbelievable (in every sense of that word) pile of garbage too. 3–5 have ranged from eye-rollingly stupid to infuriating. This show really runs the gamut

Full disclosure, I am a 911 dispatcher. My agency is smaller than LA but the principals are the same- or would be if this show depicted any dispatching besides the magical mapping of the pilot. There is however very little dispatching seen on the show and Connie Britton’s dispatcher character Abby spends most of her time with her ailing mother or, when at work, staring sort of dumbfounded at a computer screen. That is not even a dig, by the way, that is literally all that she is given to do and it is infuriating. She literally does not appear on screen with any of the of main credits cast members until episode 5.

Backing up a bit, the show is ostensibly about “first responders” from the initial dispatch to the units on scene at (increasingly insane) incidents. That said, the 4 firefighters/paramedics/jacks of all trades have been the most fully established. Capt. Billy (Peter Krause) is the recovering alcoholic/emotionally distant psuedopatriarch with secrets, Hen (Aisha Hinds) is the veteran who is there for everyone, Buck (Oliver Stark) is the new guy/sex fiend and Chimney (Kenneth Choi) is the sad sack desperate to be taken seriously. Each of these characters have been given backstories, current stories, and a lot to play while also being the main responders being tracked.

Police Sargent Athena Grant (Angela Bassett) has been given a story- her family is falling apart because her husband (Rockmond Dunbar) is newly out and her daughter is being bullied- but is mostly shown grossly abusing her police power while giving speeches filled with righteous indignation (that are delivered wonderfully, I mean it is Angela Bassett!)

And, as mentioned above, poor Connie Britton’s Abby is mostly seen dealing with her mother’s (Mariette Hartley) Alzheimer’s and her nurse/best character on the show Carla (Cocoa Brown) or staring at computer screens and voice-overing her dispatch calls. Her work life and the police work life have been sadly underrepresented and the more we see of the firefighter’s inner demons the more glaring that becomes. And, again, more Carla please because she is a delight.

But, what makes this show so watchable and so totally insane is the emergencies. Bounce houses blown off cliffs, collapsing dance floors, electrified pools, snake chokings, toilet babies, at least 2 jumpers, rollercoaster deaths (see poster), this show has it all. It’s all dealt with in a deadly serious manner which makes the whole thing all the more hilarious. And, while I am sure that the procedures demonstrated are as real as they can feasibly make them, there are things every episode where I find myself screaming “WHAT?????” at the TV. Yet, I cannot look away.

The show is so poorly written in its embarrassing platitudes. The situations and character reactions are over the top on another level and the some of the stuff we have seen has been either totally nuts (firefighter shooting escaping bad guy with fire hose to stop him), deeply ironic (Billy’s tortured past), or somehow sweetly gross (Abby and Buck’s…everything).

I will never stop watching this show. And hating myself for it. It’s already been renewed for a 2nd season, thank God/how dare you, and my body is ready. It is campy, silly, bad, crazy, probably not great for the reputations of any of these professions if I am being honest, and delightful. It’s also so emotionally manipulative that it’s practically art. The beats are predictable, the characters spout faux intellectual garbage about life regularly and if you let yourself drown in the insanity your giggles, screams, and cheers will give you life.

Half-Formed/Unfinished Thoughts

Over the past few months, I have had a lot of ebbs and flows with inspiration. It seems that when I start something- sometimes getting really deep into it- I lose the plot and think “am I really saying anything here?” In the past when this has happened I just abandoned it and waited for the muse to strike again- hence the long dry spells in posts. But, lately I have been staring at these half (or more) formed ideas in my documents folder and they have been haunting me and pushing me farther and farther into a self-imposed shame spiral. Today, a friend said, “just post it” and I thought, ok, sure that will at least get them out of my way.

Here they are, I went through and edited them so they’re readable but other than that these are the raw posts. They don’t end, they barely go anywhere even after, in some cases, strong starts and one just kind of babbles endlessly. But, this gets them out of my brain and into the world so I can maybe begin to focus again on something coherent. Hell, maybe one day I will pull one out and actually finish it properly (doubtful).

Enjoy?

On BoJack Horseman season 4


I have talked about BoJack Horseman, Netflix’s surprisingly affecting cartoon, before but never really in depth. After finishing the just released season 4 the other day I think it’s time to really discuss this show that looks like a funny cartoon about an alcoholic horse but is actually one of the most wrenching series about loneliness, trauma, and overwhelming sadness I have ever seen.

As we meet BoJack (Will Arnett) in season 1, he is a washed up former sitcom star who boozes, philanders, and is generally a terrible person…uh… horse. Throughout the rest of the season and through season 3 we watch BoJack alienate everyone close to him while he leaves destruction in his wake. As BoJack is our perspective character, we see how much his actions torture him but he seems compelled to keep destroying himself and anyone that happens to fall into his orbit. What makes the show so watchable is that while the emotional story is so unflinching, the show is also very funny. It’s crass, sarcastic, and filled with jokes from all along the comedic spectrum.

On the opening credits of Star Trek: Discovery


As a huge Star Trek fan I have spent a lot of time watching and thinking about the various incarnations of the series. And, with Star Trek: Discovery now upon us I have noticed something about the opening title sequences that I don’t know if I have ever been able to really explain.

Backing up for a second, I love opening title sequences. It really makes me unhappy that in the post-Lost era we’re in a minimalist swing to the titles as I believe there is a certain artistry to the whole creation of the sequence. You have to capture so much about the show in addition to just listing the names of the actors.

With Star Trek though, the entire theme of the series is captured in the opening sequence. Both the music and the visuals serve to inform the audience what they’re in for. And, as the series evolved, so too did title sequence.

Take Star Trek. The original series is remembered primarily for William Shatner’s voice over, but the music, combined with the wooshing Enterprise really evokes what Roddneberry pitched the show as “a wagon train to the stars.” The music even has a sort of Western-y vibe to it but the vocals give it that alien feeling.

On Star Trek: Discovery in general


I have been silent on Star Trek Discovery on here since its premiere. When they said that they were doing something wholly different, I wanted to see how that played out before I judged the series (too much, I am who I am still). See, I am the Trek guy who came to the series in the TNG era. I had seen- and of course loved all the movies (except Star Trek The Motion Picture because I am not a monster)- but the universe sort of lost me after DS9. Full disclosure, I didn’t even finish DS9 until many years later and I have yet to finish Voyager or start Enterprise. I guess I never really got into the “sandbox” style of those later shows that were both connected and yet separate from the stuff I knew. With Discovery, I knew it was a “prequel” series as it were but I really wanted to see where they could go story-wise to bridge Enterprise to TOS. It seems that they are just…not going to?

Just to keep 21st century audiences engaged, the technology displayed on the show is leaps and bounds above what was possible in the 1960s-era TOS. Discovery is not likely to even try to explain that because rule of cool I guess. But plot-wise Discovery is doing things that simply could not be reconciled with anything that Trekkies had ever seen before and after the mid-season finale I think I finally get how they’re going to explain that away.

So, the least spoilery way possible…

At the end of episode 9, “Into the forest I go” a couple of huge things happen: 1 involving what makes the Discovery “special” and the other regarding their security chief. For the security chief plot, the internet is full of theories about this character and based on a few of the breadcrumbs dropped I’m willing to bet that those theories are basically true.

As to the other, and again I am doing this without spoilers and with nothing but guessing, I think that the episode ending twist is going to serve to basically wipe this show out of continuity.

On suspension of disbelief (2 different takes on the same idea. Parts of part 1 were merged into part 2. This is likely the one that finally broke me)

Part 1 (or the first attempt at this idea)

This got me thinking about what I watch and why I don’t like the shows and/or plots that I don’t like. Broadly speaking*, I prefer character-driven stories rather than plot-driven stories. Character-driven stories are those in which the choices, actions, and reactions of the characters both inform and create the story — a story that could only happen with those specific characters because of their histories, abilities, and personal relationships. Contrarily, plot-driven stories are ones in which the plot would have happened no matter who was involved and the characters involved are just there doing it’s bidding. As an example, from an anonymous reddit user:

“Plot Driven: A New Hope

i.e. the plot motivates nearly everything that happens. Individual characters have ancillary motivations within, of course, but they’re mostly moved from place to place because of ‘the plot’, being that there is an Evil Empire out to squash a rebellion with a space laser and the rebels need to try to stop it. (e.g. Luke wants to come but ultimately has to stay home, until The Empire comes and blows up his home, Han is motivated by money but it’s not until the Empire is onto him that he actually gets pushed out the door, Obi-Wan’s ‘true’ motivations were likely always to seek Vader, but he only gets there because Alderaan is destroyed(plot)…etc.)

Character Driven: Empire Strikes Back

i.e. movie concerns itself more with the interpersonal relationships between the characters we met in the first movie. The Empire vs. Rebellion plot is still going on but it’s not motivating the characters in the same way(and the literal first sequence of the movie involves the rebellion dispersing not to be seen again until the end). They’re mostly acting for each other and their characters express and grow more fully in the process. Han searches for Luke because of their relationship. Luke goes to Dagobah because of his relationship with Obi-Wan. Han goes to Cloud City because of his relationship with Lando. Luke abandons his training because of his relationship with Leia(( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)). Lando and Chewie embark for Tatooine to save Han…etc. And of course “No, I am your father”.”

All of this is to say that, for me, the plot mechanics are secondary to the story that the characters are living. This is likely why I am always so down on “procedural” shows because the process of how it’s all done is less interesting than the fact that it happened at all and why.

That said, nothing annoys me more than shows that don’t follow their own internal logic and handwave plot-holes in service of “just getting to the point.” Jane the Virgin has neatly sidestepped their constant status-quo changes with jumping forward in time (several years most recently) which allows a lot of things to change and reset. Then there are shows like DC’s Legends of Tomorrow which established early on how they could understand/”speak” any language because of technology but in the most recent episode ignored the fact that ancient Vikings could somehow understand the Furby-like plot device of the week. Once that was pointed out to me it really bugged me. Why? Because it violates the internal logic of the show for plot purposes and just expects the audience to go with it. That right there? That is why nerds have a terrible reputation — because we’re too pedantic with the stuff we’re into to ever just “go with it.” Except, well it had to be pointed out to me before it annoyed me, I think I just love Legends so much I am willing to let a lot slide.

I have always believed that it is important to be critical of our media. To me, asking questions and noticing the flaws doesn’t negate my enjoyment in any way — it in fact enhances it. Taste is a personal thing and thinking about why you like what you do can really be beneficial in opening yourself up to new media and

*I say “broadly speaking” because despite all my protestations to the contrary, I can get into a really an ultra plot-driven pile of crazy just as much as anyone. Honestly for all of my (allegedly) high-minded chatter here over the years, the length and breadth of my tastes really run all over the place

Part 2 (or the next track I tried to follow)

“The term suspension of disbelief or willing suspension of disbelief has been defined as a willingness to suspend one’s critical faculties and believe something surreal; sacrifice of realism and logic for the sake of enjoyment” — Wikipedia

As you might have guessed I watch a lot of shows that…let’s just say don’t trade in the real world a lot. From heightened reality to straight up science fiction, my disbelief has a lot of heavy lifting to do. In a discussion with a friend about Arrow, he mentioned that it was hard to believe that Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) and Curtis (Echo Kellum) could so quickly devise an algorithm to do whatever it is they were doing that week and thereby solve the problem of the episode. His position is that that process could take years and the fact that they shortcut it really takes him out of the experience. But, I replied in horror, would anyone want to watch the derivation of such scientific mumbo jumbo in real time? Isn’t it better if you just take it as “thing needs to happen and so it does” rather than watching the entire process? I guess for him, no, the whole thing is important (within reason, he did admit that “years” was perhaps too long).

For me, I don’t so much care about the reality of the situations so much as the reality of the people in them. From the earlier example, I don’t so much care that Felicity and Curtis can do instant superscience because they have been established as geniuses. Now, if Rene (Rick Gonzalez) and Quentin (Paul Blackthorne) were suddenly in charge of the technobabble that would violate the “truth of their characters” and annoy the hell out of me. That the superscience technobabble occurs in a world in which there are metahumans, a multiverse, and time travel, never bothers me because that is the truth of that world in which they exist. As long as everyone is following the rules that they have established, or things can be explained in the framework, I am all set.

All of this is to say that, for me, the plot mechanics are secondary to the story that the characters are living. This is likely why I am always so down on “procedural” shows because the process of how it’s all done is less interesting than the fact that it happened at all and why.

All that bring me to Syfy’s new series Happy! an ultraviolent action/crime thriller in which a substance abusing ex-cop is teamed with an imaginary flying horse to save a little girl. Really. It’s based on a comic so let’s just go with it. Happy! is not a great show, in fact I couldn’t even make it through episode 2 before the wild tonal shifts gave me a headache. No, I am bringing it up as an example of a really common problem in genre TV/Film that needs to stop: The main character not accepting the reality of their situation.

In Happy! Christopher Meloni’s Nick Sax spends most of the pilot and the half of episode 2 that I watched denying that Happy (a CGI blue flying horse voiced by Patton Oswalt) could be anything else but a hallucination brought on by the MASSIVE amounts of drugs, alcohol, and trauma in and around his body. While this is a reasonable assumption, when the entire thrust of the series is a play on the buddy-cop genre your characters must get over it and accept the crazy. I don’t even mean instant acceptance, but keep it moving.

On Star Wars: The Last Jedi


Rian Johnson had the odds stacked against him. Before Star Wars: The Last Jedi even opened, he was under the tightest of microscopes. Prior to this year, his biggest credit was as writer/director of 2012’s Looper and as the director of the antepenultimate episode of Breaking Bad (the episode “Ozymandias”, incidentally, is widely considered to be one of the finest episodes of television ever produced) ­ in 2013. Prior to the release of The Last Jedi it was announced that he’d been given his own new Star Wars trilogy to follow after episode 9. And, after Star Wars fans were finally feeling optimistic about the franchise after 2015’s The Force Awakens, Johnson’s margin of error was practically non-existent. Which is why it is such a shame that all of The Last Jedi’s problems are squarely his fault.

As both writer and director, Johnson was responsible for basically every aspect of the movie. And, while it is a good movie that I thoroughly enjoyed, it is not without significant faults. Scripting and pacing are both very odd in this movie as almost the first hour of the 2 hour and 34 minute runtime is glacially paced and very little happens. The rest of the movie is one part Ocean’s 11 and one part Battlestar Galactica followed by about 5 separate climaxes. The movie is so all over the place that it feels like Johnson is a 4-year-old telling his parents what he did in school and is so overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information that he is breathlessly recounting even the most mundane of details.

On The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story


It would be impossible to talk about FX’s The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story without discussing how beautiful it is. The sets- down to using some of the real locations from the notorious crime, the costumes- because of course, and the cinematography are all amazing. But, it’s not just physical beauty, the performances just in the pilot are astoundingly gorgeous.

While the subject matter of the series, the 1997 murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramirez) by serial killer Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss) is grisly, the portrayals are mesmerizing. Criss plays Cunanan as a man desperate to portray a certain image. The story of the show, taking place both in the time leading up to the crime (and the associated crimes) and in the aftermath of it, shows Cunanan to be a man who carefully controlled who he purported to be. Be it, interesting, fashionable, on the edge of fame, an intellectual, a creative, and most importantly a straight man. Criss’ performance is amazing as his scenes in the “past” are suave and effusive as he flits between lies and grand stories and his scenes in the “present” are a study in explosions of rage followed by panic, and then a completely sociopathic detachment from emotion. After only one-episode Criss’ performance is already somewhere between groundbreaking and career triumph.

The rest of the cast is similarly spectacular particularly Penelope Cruz as Gianni’s sister Donatella who’s focus is protecting the legacy of her brother- both in his business and in his life- which leads her to trying to control the narrative of her brother’s story in every way. Cruz’s Donatella is a woman who deals with tragedy by taking control and not letting it go. Ricky Martin also stars as Versace’s partner of 15 years Antonio who spends most of the first episode mostly paralyzed by grief — which don’t get me wrong is still wonderfully done but at this point he has had the least to really do in the show.

This was not meant to be the second season of Ryan Murphy’s crime dramatization series. The 1st season, The People vs. O.J. Simpson was an awards powerhouse and was life changing for the cast and some of the subjects portrayed. As a follow-up, Murphy announced that season 2 would focus on Hurricane Katrina. That season didn’t come to fruition — I have seen rumors that it might become season 3- Murphy crafted this story instead.

While the Versace case might seem to be an odd topic, if you were gay in the 90s and paid even the slightest attention to the news this story is ingrained in your DNA. Versace’s death was not only a blow for the fashion community, the story of the murder was basically a nightmare for anyone in power who was still in the closet. All of Versace’s “dirty laundry” as it were became salacious public record. Cunanan’s seeming targeting of wealthy closeted gay men made hiding feel like a literal death sentence while coming out in 1997 could still be a figurative one. And, while many people weren’t shocked to find out Versace was gay

All the small things

Not everything on a TV show, even an otherwise good show, is going to be good.

Pictured: Me most of the time

Whether plot, characters, or narrative contrivance, sometimes small things will add up to create big problems for ongoing series. As we head towards the midseason here are some small things that have been driving me nuts in the first half of this season

The Orville is either going to need to get funnier and be a comedy, or ditch the comedy and become an action/drama. Right now, in this weird middle ground, it’s coming off as flat and forced on all levels. Lean in. To something.

Cute episode title conventions are all well and good, but how many words or phrases exist with the letter “x” for The Gifted to keep this up?

Do the Supergirl writers think all their viewers suffered a massive head injury over hiatus? It’s the only explanation for the handholding they’ve been doing this season. Your viewers are not rocks, we can figure it out. Please stop hammering us with the same obvious points over and over.

Speaking of the National City gang, Did Maggie (Floriana Lima) leave town after breaking up with Alex (Chyler Leigh)? While their breakup was well handled, the awkward working relationship that NCPD will now have with the DEO is a bridge they have yet to cross.

And the breakup sex seemed gratuitous.

Hey entire cast of Arrow have you people not learned that keeping secrets is BAD. Especially when that secret is that you have INCURABLE NERVE DAMAGE AND YOU’RE TAKING ILLEGAL DRUGS TO FIX IT, JOHN (David Ramsey)!! Additionally, compartmentalizing who knows what is JUST AS BAD QUENTIN (Paul Blackthorne) AND DINAH (Juliana Harkavy).

DC’s Legends of Tomorrow continues to be just the most fun, but I have 2 points:

  • Ray (Brandon Routh) fought Kuasa (Tracy Ifeachor) in the Vixen animated series. While he has alluded to knowing more about her, he has yet to tell the team en masse, or Amaya (Maisie Richardson-Sellers) specifically, her whole deal. Like that she was BROUGHT BACK TO LIFE!
  • I get why we are trying to break up Firestorm, but trying to find a way to shove the entirety of the power into Jax (Franz Drameh) is dumb. It has been established that that won’t work, it’s why Cisco (Carlos Valdes) made the splicer thing to begin with. Stop trying to do the impossible and just transfer Martin’s (Victor Garber) powers to another person (I predict the future version of Martin’s new grandson, Ronnie, personally) and movie it along.

Marvel’s Runaways is only 3 episodes in and it’s already a pretty faithful adaptation of the comics but can we maybe move it along a bit? Comics are designed to be monthly but TV is either weekly or bingeable. As the show is a Hulu series it’s kind of both so let’s ditch the significant looks and interminable stares into the middle distance and get to the titular running away.

Also this is not a FOX property which makes me super curious how they’re going to explain 1 character

The Flash is populated by some of the smartest characters (in fake science) on TV. So why is it that they’re having such a huge problem with this DeVoe (Neil Sandilands) thing? Barry (Grant Gustin) literally knows how to beat him (he told himself last year. Time Travel!), whether they believe that they found the right guy (because people in wheelchairs can’t be evil…apparently) or not, to not trust Barry’s “spidey sense” (…groan…) is insane. Also, he hired Ralph (Hartley Sawyer) at least check his bank accounts…?

While it’s going to take a lot to wrangle Star Trek Discovery into existing Star Trek canon, it honestly seems like the midseason finale was designed to further remove the show from established continuity. That said, I’m not entirely sure why this show was even made. It seems like its entire purpose is to frustrate fans who are trying to reconcile what they are doing while also piss off producers who must keep giving interviews where they insist they have a plan.

Trekkies new hope: “We know what we’re doing, we swear!”

In show time, Jane the Virgin has been going for about 7 years or so, right? Why is Sin Rostro (Bridget Regan) and/or Luisa’s (Yara Martinez) love for her still a thing?

Speaking of “still a thing,” the Kenny Rogers/Michael Bolton story (is it even a story?) on Fresh off the Boat outlived whatever humor they were going for in about 1 episode. Why is it still happening? If it was just an excuse for ABC to continue using Matt Oberg after cancelling The Real O’Neals then they need to find another way.

The “fat Jill” story on Mom is genuinely not as funny as they think it is.

I mean…

We’re all done with Modern Family now, right? That show has outlived its usefulness, surely.

A diagnosis and a new lease on life, we hope.

And, in non-annoyance news, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is doing some PHENOMINAL work this season. From exploring Rebecca’s (Rachel Bloom) underlying issues, to really digging in on how deeply messed up nearly every character really is, the show is really hitting a high point. While some episodes have been depressing to the point of upsetting, the show is still managing to maintain the core of what we have come to expect while descending into a darker and more emotionally resonant place.

Riverdale gets real

Kevin goes to the woods (Courtesy The CW)

Riverdale’s Kevin Keller (Casey Cott) is a groundbreaking character in a lot of ways. He’s a gay character on a teen soap that has little to no familial drama in relation to his sexuality — in fact the series begins with him having already been out so the audience never got to see that journey- and seems relatively well-adjusted (considering he lives in a town beset by murder). In season 2’s 3rd episode he also becomes a character that is telling a rare story.

TV has been trying for years to really capture the experience of being a gay teen. From My So-Called Life to Glee many versions of the “what is it like to grow up gay” narrative have been played out, trying to put into words the “otherness” that LGBTQ teens can feel. On Riverdale Kevin had previously been portrayed as generally mainstream, even after he began dating gang member Joaquin (Rob Raco) and had an aborted hookup with jock Moose (Cody Kearsley). But in Chapter Sixteen: The Watcher in the Woods we see Kevin not only engage in gay cruising culture but also defend it. In a blistering monologue to Betty (Lili Reinhart), Kevin dares Betty to judge him for trying to find closeness, intimacy and, yes, sex, in the dangerous hookup culture of the woods. Kevin blasts Betty for the ease in which her heterosexuality allows her to date, flirt, and desire whomever she wants while Kevin is alone in his school, isolated, and in many ways treated like a GBFF accessory. It’s a scene that simultaneously says some really valid and important things (while also acknowledging the inherent danger/plot-related danger) and sheds a light on a cultural phenomenon in the gay community that is rarely seriously discussed on broadcast tv, let alone a series aimed at teens. Cott’s performance is heartbreaking as he lets loose all of the pain and anger he has at the unfairness of having to spend years listening to Betty lust after Archie and now Jughead and an embarrassment of other romantic options while he is, in his mind, forced to engage in dangerous cruising in the forest just to get a glimmer of something that Betty herself takes for granted. Making the scene even more painful is its placement just after Kevin has a scene with Moose, his sometimes hookup closeted (bisexual?) jock, in which Moose (in the hospital recovering from a gunshot) tells Kevin that he can come back and visit whenever. The subtext clearly implying that Moose wants Kevin to comfort him but can’t bring himself to admit that. Cott’s expression says it all and the longing from both actors is palpable.

Gay hookup culture is a complicated world. Bars and public areas filled with codes and their own subsets of rules have permeated the gay community as our own urban folklore. Movies (Crusing) and cable shows (Queer as Folk etc) have addressed the subject in the past but broadcast TV doesn’t usually go there. Now, with the advent of hookup apps, the anonymous hookup culture has seemingly mostly faded away. That there would be a thriving scene in Riverdale is just part of its throwback aesthetic. For Kevin’s part, he chooses to abandon the woods in the wake of the murders in town leading to a lovely scene with his father, the town sheriff (Martin Cummins) who doesn’t try to shame Kevin but asks him to be safe and even clears the way for more open communication between the two.

Riverdale, despite the neonoir plot elements, is a show that comes from very sanitized and idealistic roots. For a show with its history and audience to not only normalize the pain of their LGBTQ character — letting him express his feelings, in his own words even, as opposed to having someone describe his feelings — and to even show a side of gay culture that just isn’t talked about in a clear and frank manner is frankly amazing. That said, the show bends over backwards to not only express the danger of “the woods” (above and beyond the plot of the show) in a way that is clearly the writers trying not to “glorify” the seedy practice. While this can be seen as a case of having your cake and eating it too, it’s also the nature of the broadcast TV/teen soap game — don’t glamorize the bad for your audience. In Kevin though the writers have now allowed themselves to not explore LGBTQ culture from a teen perspective in a more meaningful way than it’s usually done.

Maiden Voyage: Marvel’s Inhumans

Even the poster looks…off…somehow.

The growing Marvel Cinematic/Television universe has been very successful on Netflix. 5 series with multiple buzzy seasons, they are getting a return on their investment. The ABC series though have been a mixed bag with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D both feeling the fall-out from the films and doing everything they can to never mention anything that happens in the films at all ever. Then there’s Agent Carter which was 2 seasons of delightfulness that ABC just could not figure out how to market. Oh, and let’s not forget Most Wanted, the pilot that never went anywhere (twice!), which was supposed follow Lance and Bobbi (Nick Blood and Adrianne Palicki) after they left S.H.I.E.L.D (Both are fine by the way. Palicki is now on the wonderful The Orville while Blood is returning to S.H.I.E.L.D this season.) Why that show failed to ever appear and Marvel’s Inhumans did is surprising. There is no way Most Wanted could have been worse.

Inhumans was always going to be a hard sell, in the comics the characters are weird and (until recently) pretty fringe. But, because of some outside factors, Inhumans became the best way to have characters with super powers in the MCU. Conceptually introduced on S.H.I.E.L.D as regular people with alien genes that, when activated, cause all kinds of powers and weirdness, the Inhumans we follow on the show are the Royal Family who live in their city Attilan on the moon. It is said in the pilot that this society left Earth long enough ago and their “descendants” are the Inhumans we have seen thus far.

This series, at least based on the 2-hour pilot (part 1 of which is titled “Behold…The Inhumans” which, really?) and the extended trailer they showed, looks terrible. From the cheap costumes, to the terrible makeup and hair, to the set design, nothing looks…modern or finished- weirder still that the pilot was a coproduction with IMAX, that money does not show up on camera anywhere. It’s all old-looking and ugly and so very cheap.

I mean…

Beyond the ugliness of the whole affair, the action as depicted both contradicts what has been established about the Inhumans and contradicts what is established in the series. As established, for an Inhuman to gain their powers (or “reveal their true self”) they undergo a process called “terregenesis” during which stuff happens. In previous versions of this process, anyone exposed to terrigen would immediately turn to stone. If you were Inhuman you would come out of this state with new powers or appearance. If you were not, you would disintegrate. Now though, there is no turning to stone so much as standing in a gilded gas chamber and there seems to be a group of Inhumans who undergo this process and nothing happens (spoiler: if the comics are followed at all then someone without powers is a liar) and they are then thrown into the mines because of the strict and ill-defined caste system of Attilan. I say ill-defined because half the people we see in this lower caste have clearly been altered in some manner and yet they are still miners even though it is implied that that should not be the case. Maybe you’re only free from the mines if you have a cool power as defined by the “Genetic Council” that everyone is so reverent of?

As for the internal inconsistencies, at least 3 characters completely forget that they either have powers or how to use them in a lifesaving way. For example, Medusa (Serinda Swan) who’s power of super strong prehensile hair becomes useless when someone holds her down by the shoulders for some reason. Crystal (Isabelle Cornish) completely forgets her elemental powers at any point where it might be useful, instead blowing up a breakfast tray in a fit of petulance. And then there’s Karnak (Ken Leung) who’s canonical ability to “see the flaw in everything” is displayed as him being a total dick to a servant but he also falls off a cliff because he misses a step — which should be impossible for him. But, maybe powers don’t work the way they do in the comics, Auran’s (Sonya Balmores) powers for example are totally different than her source material. I have no issues with changes to the characters as long and those changes are consistently portrayed (in which case Medusa must know about Auran’s powers and if that is the case the big twist ending is significantly deflated).

Finally, the show is deeply boring because there are simply no stakes. See, the whole series follows a coup initiated by Maximus (Iwan Rheon), brother of King Black Bolt (Anson Mount). The audience is told that Maximus is a man of the people who wants to upend the social order of the caste system because he has no powers after his terregenesis and should be a miner but Royal privilege saved him. Maximus also wants the Inhumans to return to Earth which Black Bolt is against (because…?) So, coup. The entire Royal Family (including Mike Moh’s Triton and Eme Ikwuakor’s Gorgon) are sent to Earth while Maximus takes over Attilan (even though Earth is where he wants to go anyway…) The Royal Family is cut off from Lockjaw (their giant CGI teleporting dog/best thing about the show and no I am 100% not kidding) but still have their advanced technology communicators- which we find out also have tracking devices on them so why is anyone lost?- and presumably someone will remember that there is another teleporter in Attilan that can bring them back- the bad guys have to have a way to get back home. At the end of the 8-episode run there are only 3 likely scenarios: the caste system that already makes no sense is abolished and Attilan is at peace while Maximus is jailed, the Inhumans go to Earth- which is what Maximus wanted anyway- with the caste system abolished and Maximus jailed, or status quo is restored making the entire affair useless. And, the audience is likely to root for Maximus- the BAD GUY- because the caste system (again, makes no sense) is largely racist. So this is not a “good triumphs over evil” story, nor is it a “hooray for the social good” story as Maximus is clearly out for himself, it might become a “new society comes to Earth” story but that will only work out if the bad guy’s goals are all met which won’t happen because he is the bad guy! Unless I am missing something, this is a poorly conceived story that can either go nowhere and/or let “evil” win acted out by poorly dressed (mostly) bad actors who can’t even sell the shitty dialogue enough to make the “story” even vaguely compelling.

I read a lot of press coverage. I tried not to let any of that influence me and judge the show purely on its own. This show is bad. Not the worst thing I have ever seen, but easily the worst of the Marvel/Marvel Adjacent series. Everyone involved should have known better, done better, or even gave the show the appearance of having tried. This show is forced, humorless, ugly, poorly planned, and feels as if it were rushed to air without any thought to an exit plan. Or even an entrance plan frankly. Much like the source material, the show seems to be trying to be obtuse for the sake of obtuseness without ever really explaining what the hell is even happening or why. Hell, it already angered the deaf community when Anson Mount bragged that he invented his own sign language for Black Bolt to use to be more alien. Why? Why is that needed? Just use ASL or something already established in reality. But, no, we have to be unusual. Maybe that is the whole crux of the show and I am the idiot who doesn’t think a show where they have written themselves in a corner by episode 2 and being forced to root for the bad guy is terrible planning and I am not respecting the power of the unusual approach they are taking. Or maybe their unusual approach is just terrible, boring, and badly dressed.

Fall shows of 2017: the crazy, the desperate, and the ones so weird they might work

Every year the broadcast networks try and every year their offerings seem increasingly bizarre. In this era of “peak TV” when cable has the cream of the crop prestige content with interesting stories and strong characters and streaming has off the beaten path edgy bingeable shows with stories and characters that increasingly defy genre conventions the broadcast networks have yet to find a way to redefine themselves. And so it goes that we have a fall TV season filled with the same old same old (procedurals, military dramas, reality shows, and the odd spin off/reboot) as well as some stand out (for good or bad) glimpses of… if not innovation then the glimmer of trying to try something new. With that in mind, here’s a look at the stand outs of what is coming.

ABC


Deception

You know that the procedural genre has swelled to the breaking point when you get this plot (per Wikipedia): ”After his career as a magician is ruined by scandal, Las Vegas illusionist Cameron Black becomes the world’s first “consulting illusionist” as he works with the FBI to solve odd crimes” I don’t know who in the Now You See Me thought that this was a sustainable idea for a series but they were mistaken. And with a barely recognizable cast (Amaury Nolesco, Lenora Critchlow, and Vinnie Jones are the only ones I didn’t have to look up) I see this being a fast disappearing act (I could not resist)

Marvel’s The Inhumans

This will premiere in IMAX before premiering on network.

Now that the positive is out of the way, this looks aggressively terrible. Critics who have seen the pilot (or a version of it) have savaged it, the trailer looks somewhere between a fan film and a joke and the source material (which is related to but different from the inhumans introduced on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD) is needlessly complicated and odd. There is a character that is a teleporting dog. Which, in comics is fine (and in fairness he is the character that looks the best per the trailer) but in live action is almost off-puttingly weird. Add to that the woman with living hair and the man who will never speak for the duration of the series (and he’s the top-billed actor!) This is likely to be Marvel TV’s first outright failure which I think is a good reality check that they don’t need to try to adapt all of their properties to the MCU. Marvel has some weird stuff! In Secret Wars II Spiderman had to teach a cosmic being to poop. This in canon. I’m just saying.

The Mayor

Somehow the most hyped series on ABC’s line up is this odd-looking show that I keep describing in my head as what people thought Trump was: publicity stunt the series. A struggling rapper runs for mayor to gain press for his music and oops, he wins. If nothing else, this show looks like it might be cute and if it’s a slightly more idealized version of the political outsider story it might be fun for a bit. But, I don’t think we’re talking about a show with longevity.

CBS


Star Trek: Discovery

The 1st live action Trek series since Star Trek: Enterprise ended in 2005, Discovery has had a rough road to the screen. Besides the fact that it will be “airing” on CBS’ paid All-Access platform (after the pilot airs on the network) deterring a lot of people from wanting to watch, it also has had enough behind the scenes upheaval to give people pause. That said, the trailer looks gorgeous. The production value on this show is insane. Discovery is also aiming to be more diverse than any previous series having Trek’s first openly gay character in Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and his partner Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), a brand new species in the Kelpien Science Officer Saru (Doug Jones), and the series will follow not only a First officer, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) but also (apparently) 2 different ships the in the Discovery and the Shenzhou. And, all that sounds great and exciting, but the fact that the show will be locked behind a pay wall and that it takes place around 10 years prior to Star Trek is sure to deter all but the most extreme Trekkers.

Me, Myself, & I

This show, starring Bobby Moynihan, John Larroquette, and Jack Dylan Grazer as the same person at different stages in his life, seems like it could either be fascinating or a hot mess. I love Moynihan and Larroquette and I can see them having similar comic sensibilities. I question though how they will find enough themes to resonate in 3 different time periods often enough to give all 3 actors something to do episode to episode. But, it’s just high concept enough that it might be worth a look

Wisdom of the Crowd

Jeremy Piven-starring procedural about crowd sourcing crime solving. Seriously, crimes are solved with Facebook and Twitter. I get that this is possible in the age where all things are filmed and posted about, but the idea of watching an entire series about reading people’s timelines sounds deathly boring. To make it more exciting with they be zooming in and out of social networks with the CSI-type TMI cam effect? I am already so bored by this concept.

Young Sheldon

A spin-off of The Big Bang Theory focusing on the preteen version of Sheldon Cooper (Iain Armitage). I know that sounds terrible.

What? I have nothing more to say. It sounds awful. It’s taken 9 seasons of Theory for that character to grow beyond one-note, why regress him to a child? Were people clamoring to see some bullying? On the sparse plus side, the show will be narrated (and executive produced) by Sheldon originator Jim Parsons and Sheldon’s mom Mary will be played by Zoe Perry who is the daughter of Laurie Metcalf who plays the older version of Mary on the original series which is a nice bit of business.

The CW


Black Lightning

The latest entry into The CW’s DC Comics stable — but not part of the existing “Arrowverse” for a lot of reasons that no one has adequately explained — will be different than the others is so many ways. Jefferson Pierce (Cress Williams) is a retired hero who comes back to crime fighting, people in his life already know about his abilities and his past, and he is a father. Just that level of potential short handing of the “inciting action” is exciting in a superhero show so if nothing else I am excited for that. But, this show will also be shot in Atlanta which should add a different visual element to the proceedings that will further set itself apart. It’s just the lack of connection to the existing series that irks me because there is no reason for it to be that way. It shoots in Atlanta versus Vancouver, fine but planes exist. I’m not saying it should be part of the yearly crossover all the time but clearly this lack of connection will be rectified at some point and it will be part of the multiverse. It will eventually be folded into the existing mythology and to pretend otherwise from the producers (of which Greg Berlanti is one, hello?) is silly. Don’t want to do it right off the bat to allow it to grow its own identity, fine, but The CW is basically DCTV and Supernatural at this point so…

Dynasty

I love reboots. In theory. I have always longed-for epilogues for my favorite shows, and I eat up where are they now specials. It seems 2017 will be the year of the reboot with Roseanne and American Idol coming back to ABC and Will & Grace coming back to NBC (for 2 seasons!) The CW did not want to be left behind so here comes Dynasty? The continuing story of the Carringtons will be lavish and luxe and likely cheesy as hell. I’ll admit to watching every night time soap reboot in the past few years, from 90210 to Dallas and I have loved them all to varying degrees (although that Melrose Place redux was a mess) so I am already so in on this show. And with the production team behind The O.C. and Gossip Girl, and starring Grant Show (ex-Jake Original Ray’s Melrose Place) I can see this being appointment viewing.

FOX


9–1–1

Another crime drama focusing on police, fire, and paramedics. That’s all well and good. However. If you’re going to call your show 9–1–1 and you’re not focusing at least partially on dispatchers WHO ANSWER THE 911 CALLS, you’re doing it wrong. #dispatchersarefirstresponderstoo

Ghosted

Adam Scott and Craig Robinson star in this Ghostbusters meets The X-Files series that looks hilarious.

Gifted

Another Marvel show, this one airing on FOX so they’re able to use X-Men characters. And it looks rad. We’ve got mutants (known X-Men characters are currently Polaris, Blink, and Thundrebird), Struckers (google it) and a mutant hunting group with the word Sentinel in the name. Yay! But, to sidestep the movies and established characters, the X-Men are ”missing” in some unspecified manner. I’m 100% ok with that as the movies have a complicated enough continuity without trying to hammer this show into it. Plus? This show stars Stephen Moyer and Amy Acker so it already has established genre cred. They haven’t even given a hard no to Rogue (Anna Paquin) appearing on the show in the future (Somehow) as the actress is married to Moyer. Between this and Hulu’s Runaways I’m glad I have a comic show to really get excited for coming soon.

The Orville

Seth MacFarlane in a live-action Star Trek rip-off comedy shouldn’t work but every trailer, preview, and clip I have seen works perfectly. I cannot wait for this show. That it is premiering in the same season as a new Star Trek and I am more into this should show you the power of not making me pay for extra services that will give me Star Trek and the Big Brother live feeds and nothing else.

NBC*


Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders

Someone at NBC watched the truckloads of awards that The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story pulled in and decided that they needed a piece of that. And, if they were to brand it in their venerable Law & Order banner all the better. And? It looks really good. I still think that these types of stories are better told on cable where there is less…um…oversight? But from broadcast TV this looks pretty strong.

Rise

Meet Glee but for a Drama Club. It’s based on a true story and an inspirational book about a drama club that saves a blue-collar town and I just expect star Josh Radnor to spew endless monologues about the importance of art and the power of performance and the gay panic story that I am sure is to come (because I gather it’s in the book) is already making me itchy.

*As NBC is perpetually struggling, their offerings this year are pretty straightforward and not insane. That said they’re also somewhere between earnest and awards-bait and it all seems exhausting. And I am including the Will & Grace comeback is that assessment.