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Saturday, 22 of July of 2017

Category » Rant

In Prosecution of Guys Named Fitz

Ezra Fitz and Aria Montgomery | President Fitzgerald Grant with Olivia Pope

This is a completely unbiased image.

Guys named Fitz, you’re getting a reputation from your television representatives. And it’s not a good one.

On one show, you have a guy operating in an ethical gray area of sexual law and professional standards, whose development is arrested but not in a cute way. In that abused-child sort of way. The one you would feel sorry for if you had any evidence that it was true.

Then you have another man who is leader of the free world, who everyone insists is a great man and great for the country going forward but seems only to vacillate between dipping his wick and being a jackass to everyone else. If he’d do one thing that was presidential, he might absolve himself but he struggles to do that. He’s a pawn, a schmuck, and a self-serving pansy that hides behind a commanding voice.

These are certainly two different men in different stations of life (even different phases of their lives). But what these jerks share is a common flaw in how their characters are presented. What connects a distracted world leader and a child-touching teacher is mostly in execution: they’ve never done anything to deserve our empathy.

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The Vampire Diaries — “My Brother’s Keeper”

Dang, and I was so excited about this image–now undermined entirely.

I used to write weekly reviews of The Vampire Diaries. Somewhere along the way, I got busy and found it harder to find the time. But now I think that’s not so much true. I think the show stopped inspiring me to write.

I remember during season 2, running out of my TV room to tell my partner about something awesome just happened on a show that seemed completely unafraid. It took chances. It sped through plots such that you almost cried out, “slow down, let me pause and relish.” The characters were curious but bold, anxious but determined, sexy but real.

Now the show feels like one big cheat. Over and over and over again.

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Revolution – “Kashmir”

“Now you need me.”

Charlie, Nora, and Aaron try to break the door down.

Is this Revolution or Legends of the Hidden Temple?

If there’s one thing I hate about an episode of television, it’s when the episode goes out of its way to tell us something we already know.

I don’t mean the “Previously On” or whatever mysteries we’ve managed to sort out before it’s revealed. I mean spending time in the episode like we’re idiots telling us information we already have because either the show underestimates the audience’s attention or is filling time. We’re talking about awkward soliloquies and, my most reviled breed of television episode, the clip show.

You’ll recognize this tendency mostly in sitcoms when characters rehash a storyline in ten seconds or less when the show comes back from commercial to remind us of what happened. After a lifetime of television, I’ve become particularly numb to that brand of insult, especially since it’s basically one cog in a formula by now. Having a character not awkwardly review what happened two minutes ago would make the show seem incomplete. A network exec might send revisions back just based on that alone.

The more insulting ones are part of the serialized drama. Chuck was guilty of this all the time. As a tool to make a show more attractive to syndication (to lessen the learning curve when stripping the show either out of order or for an audience that isn’t necessarily going to watch 5 times a week) so new, casual, or senile viewers, the plot-thus-far of any of the ongoing story arcs would be reviewed in the first few minutes of the episode. Chuck would rattle off a series of clumsily assembled words to make sure the audience remembers what’s at stake.

What does this have to do with Revolution? Consider that 70% of this episode to be those clumsily assembled words.

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Dan Harmon Leaving Is Okay

Or how Community will be your new Sugar Ray

Oh noooooooooooo!

I promise this won’t be another blog post about the rise and fall of Dan Harmon or one that bemoans the death of greatness at the hands of an industry that can’t appreciate talent or one that demands Dan Harmon be installed as supreme leader of Must-See TV or I WILL BURN THIS PLACE TO THE GROUND. We here at Monsters of Television tend to have a more sober approach to television scandals and news (sometimes to our own Google-Analytical demise, see the low statistics for our thoughts on Girls) and the same will be said for a look at the changing of the guard on one of our favorite shows. I won’t speak for Noel (I’m sure he’ll have his own addendum or companion piece [dissenting opinion?] if this doesn’t line up precisely with his thoughts) but here’s my take on everything, based on the last twenty-four hours of the Twitter news cycle.

It’ll be fine. It won’t be the same. But it’ll be — fine.

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The Vampire Diaries – “The Departed”

The way I see, she could be the salvation of #TVD. And that just may save her absolutely devastated, wasted character.

Last year, I used to complain about certain aspects of The Vampire Diaries. I would note that this world made being a vampire seem, well, kind of awesome. Like, so awesome that trying to keep any of these people human made ZERO sense. And the show’s writers seemed, themselves, completely fascinated by the life of vampires, so much so that when they tried to give Damon a more complex backstory by reminding us that he is a reluctant vampire (or was), they couldn’t make the story work. We had one episode where Damon was experiencing angst and killed someone—seeming a sharp rupture from his new life of relative abstinence. And then the show never returned to that topic at all.

I now dream of last year’s problems. The show has become so convoluted as to be worth nothing. Without any constant—without any set  of stable reference points or code—the viewer has nothing to hold onto. This becomes most problematic when all I can think when watching a character “die” or a bad buy seemingly get put out to pasture is–wait, will it stick? Should I go ahead and be impressed that the show did something bold? Nah, I shouldn’t. Cause these writers always find a loophole that undoes their bravery, rendering it less brave and more shallow.

I don’t trust these writers any more. I believe them incapable of recognizing their really interesting characters (Michael, Elijah, Mama vampire) due to their truly bizarre preferences (menace-free Klaus, whiny Rebekah, who the hell is Kol and why is he still alive?). Would I go so far as to say the Original family has ruined #TVD? I might. Because once you create a bad guy that is somewhat invincible, the story loses stakes. When a bad guy is too powerful, your characters become helpless, and weak characters are not interesting characters. Worse, when the too powerful bad guy becomes a showwriter favorite, it seems all other characters are sacrificed on his altar of mediocrity.

So here are a few reasons why Klaus should have stayed dead, and a few other deeply troubling character journeys this season. While not a complete rejection of the show, this exploration documents my growing antipathy, even while it is, in itself, an expression of love for a show that used to delight me.

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The Vampire Diaries — Heart of Darkness

Look up chemistry in the dictionary, see reference to this scene

I haven’t been keeping up with my TVD reviews as I’d like, and I was sitting on some pretty serious disgruntled feelings in the last few weeks that I was pretty desperate to get out. After “The Murder of One,” I was pretty frustrated. It seemed the show was not only not going anywhere but also was displaying extreme signs of fatigue–dangerous ground for an energetic, youth-focused show like this. Most problematic, perhaps, is that I began to doubt the authority of the show’s writers.

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Why SNL’s “Crab Legs” Sketch Was the Worst

Jolene (Kristen Wiig) and Wendy (Zooey Deschanel) talk up their crab legs.

Even Kristen Wiig can't vamp her way out of this.

Most of my Sunday morning was dominated by conversation on one thing. Sure, I also talked about where to go for breakfast and whether the farmers market is worth bearing Hollywood, but it always circled back to how SNL terrorized America with the “Crab Legs” sketch.

Officially, it’s called “Patio Party” on Hulu but it’s such a general term that the horror is diluted. It’s like calling “2 Girls 1 Cup” “Bedroom Scene.” To spare you the trouble of watching the video: two excited women with big hair and a questionable relationship (roommates? lovers? hype women hired by the national crab board?) are overjoyed to feed their neighbors crab legs in their backyard until they realize there’s a misunderstanding and they have no crab legs to actually serve. So they turn out the lights. That’s it. That’s the whole thing. The more I ruminate on it, the more offended I am that this sketch made it through pitch, rehearsals, dress rehearsals, the early show audience, and then to live audience. So many chances for us to be saved. So many chances for us to be spared.

Do you think I’m being hyperbolic? Have you seen this sketch? I’m going to take you through this perfect storm of comedy abyss and show you why this abomination stole life from you, not only chronologically but maybe spiritually. The more one thinks about it, the more prone to ennui one becomes and, by God, if I’m going to spin into an existential crisis, you’re coming with me. It all starts with —

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The Vampire Diaries Catchup

Uncle Mason is back? The silly ghost storyline is finally all worth it.

So, I’ve had a rough few weeks. Life has been very busy and at times quite stressful. Most stressful, though, is the fact that I haven’t had a chance to write up TVD, despite the fact that it is firing on ALL cylinders. I mean, they even made that ghost storyline work—and within the context of Halloween—how awesome. Now, am I happy that Tyler is slowly being regressed into his formerly assaholicky state? Not so much. Am I pleased that Awesome Vampire Caroline is seeming less smart because of her failure to comprehend how important Tyler is to Klaus? Nope. What about the fact that Jeremy and Bonnie are done? Well, yeah, that I am happy about.

I don’t want to write up this week without at least pausing to take stock of the last two weeks, so I’m still waiting to watch the most recent episode (which is kind of killing me), so I can give a sense of where I’m at with the show.  There is much that I’ve liked in the last few weeks.  For instance, the show finally gave us an explanation for all this ghost nonsense (remember, muddy mythology is my top crime for a fantasy show).  Plus, the great perk of the ghost storyline was definitely not Vicki but rather seeing other, way more interesting characters.  Like Uncle Mason.  Can we have a “hell yeah” for Mason being back in town?  Love, love love.  Boasting extreme integrity, Mason is a genuine, honest, admirable character, even in death.  How sad that he never stopped by to say “hi” to Tyler to show him how awesomeness is done.  I’m kind of sorry the ghost stuff seems to have been shut down, if only cause I’ll miss Mason.

So let’s take a moment to consider where all the characters are in life, with some advice for what’s missing.  Again, don’t get me wrong–I’ve found the last few episodes to be surprising, action-packed, and entertaining.  But I’m a TVD glutton–there is always more awesome to be had.

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You’re Ruining Louie for Everyone

Far be it from me to initiate some sort of backlash against Louie at all, but the show has been receiving a lot of press lately, both public and private. Everything from academic television blogs to GQ have been weighing in on the show. My Twitter feed has been populated with takes on the second season in what feels like a monsoon torrent of 140 character comments. Even my relatively small smattering of friends on Google+ adds its two cents worth, posting clips and qualifying the show with pleading recommendations and tallied +1 button taps. The consensus: it’s pretty good.

My saying that “it’s pretty good” is probably funny to you because the praise for the show has become so hyperbolic any adjective not ending in “est” doesn’t play anymore. The greatest show on television. The funniest show on television. Landmark. Important. Sit-com of a generation (although usually those reviews disclaim by saying it’s not a sit-com because it’s SO original and SO genre-bending that it defies the “situational comedy” misnomer).

I’m not here to tell you not to feel your feelings. You have investment in this program and I respect that, applaud it even. All of television is art (no matter who may tell you otherwise) and is, therefore, subjective. I love Gilmore Girls. Some people think that show is either (a) too verbose, (b) too saccharine, and/or (c) for bitches. That last one is a quote. So no one can tell you whether or not you can like, love, or honor a show. I like Louie. I really do.

But you guys have to cool it. You’re going to ruin it for everyone. Read more »


1 comment

True Blood and the Rape of Jason Stackhouse

Oh dear, we've been here before...yet this time, I'm grossed out.

It has been a few days, and I still cannot get that image of Jason Stackhouse out of my mind.

I’m going to go on the record and say that Crystal’s rape of Jason was not only super icky but also downright disturbing. This man has been captured, stored in a freezer, tied to a disgusting bed, tortured (repeated panther bites sure qualifies), drugged (with Viagra, to facilitate the forced sex, ‘natch), and then raped while a crowd of female onlookers watch.

The worst part of that line of female onlookers is that I wondered if the show wants me to see all of them as in a queue to hop on board.  Gross.

Jason Stackhouse is a rather clueless character. But he has heart, so even when he becomes super annoying, he always find a way to bring you back in. Often, his storylines are frustrating because you just wish he would open his eyes and stop talking to that super dangerous woman (with each season, just insert a different dangerous woman, and you have Jason’s storylines pretty much summed up). Yes, I have sometimes wanted to fast forward his scenes. Yes, his ripped bare chest has often been his primary redeeming feature.

But the character, even a horndog character likes this, does not deserve this story line.

Let’s think about all the ways this storyline can go really, really wrong. It will be something along these lines…

1)   Someone assumes a man can’t be raped, particularly by a woman

2)   Someone laughs at the notion that Jason would be upset to be raped by a hot woman

3)   Someone notes that Jason has already slept with Crystal, so it can’t be rape

4)   Someone suggests that within a love relationship, only assault (not rape) is possible

5)   Someone comments that Jason is a slut, so he got what was coming to him (there are many variations on this theme—he should have known better than to hang out with a bunch of panthers, etc.)

6)   Jason falls back in love with Crystal through this experience

I could probably go on, but let me tell you what all the above statements have in common. They are all vicious, vicious lies. And we tell them all the freakin’ time.

Perhaps part of the reason I am troubled is that we’ve been here before with True Blood. Tara, who is still the reigning champion of annoying characters (but don’t worry, Tara, there is such a long line of characters behind you vying for the title, I’m sure you can hand over the crown soon enough), but she, too, did not deserve to be raped, tortured, and manipulated by a psychotic supernatural.

Tara’s storyline was almost made too easy. Franklin Mott had zero redeeming value. He was a monster, and acted accordingly. The role of the rape in Tara’s storyline was to encourage her finally to stand up for herself. This is not an unknown trope with young female characters. In its more banal form, Marianne of Sense and Sensibility has to be brutalized (emotionally) in order to mature.  Yet even there, the sense that a part of her character (the part that shines brightly) has to be forced out of her by pain and anguish disturbs me.  You see, Marianne has to be broken to be ready for real love with a more appropriate partner.

Is rape a narrative trope? One that makes annoying characters more sympathetic/strong? Is it how we tame characters that reach too far beyond likeability or believability?

One other important point for the True Blood writers: rape is not sexy. If I ever see even the tiniest hint that Jason’s victimization by Crystal should arouse me, I’m going to be very angry. True Blood has a lot of investment in sexiness—just look at that poster with Sookie and the three men that vie for her heart. True Blood achieves sexiness in the most unexpected places—most often when characters stare longingly or the sexual tension becomes palpable. But quite frequently the sexiness is not achieved in the bedroom (or bathroom stall, whatev’)—that is just mechanics. Real sexiness happens in the moments that lead to the bedroom.

I may be exposing my gender here. I am not aroused (often) by explicit sexuality. But I am quite aroused by sexiness. As once discussed in a podcast available on this site, the gross use of nudity on Game of Thrones disappointed me less because I’m a prude and more because I like genuine sexiness.

But when rape is the center of the storyling, I want responsible writing. Rape is not a topic television has to avoid, per se (this was a question posed after the rape storyline on Private Practice played out during the last season of that show). However, how rape should be displayed, for what purpose, and to what extent is a very tricky issue, and the line between honest depiction of a human experience of violence and downright exploitation is very, very thin.

I’m not sure how True Blood plans ot handle this story with Jason. My fear derives in part from the fact that he’s male, making the depiction of male rape one that can educate or one that can resort to all the worst stereotypes about aggressive male sexuality. But I’m also afraid because Jason is the comedy relief. If he has become a victim of a violent crime, will the show be willing to portray his trauma without a snicker? Without Jason being unintentionally funny? Because again, there is nothing (may I repeat, NOTHING) funny about rape. Ever. I hope you know what you are doing with this storyline, True Blood.