Saturday, December 20, 2014

Queer Representation in American Children’s Television: A Timeline

SPOILERS below for the series finale of The Legend of Korra.

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I’m so freaking psyched about the Legend of Korra finale. I mean, so psyched. Happy-crying, talking excitedly to my cat, reckless-blogging psyched. Plausible deniability or not, it takes a lot of stretching and assumptions to convince yourself that the final shots of the series were not meant to indicate a romantic relationship between Korra and Asami. (If you disagree, okay, but I’m not here to argue the point—others have already done so much better than I could.) And while some people are disappointed by the lack of 100 percent bulletproof evidence of that relationship—a kiss, or a line of dialogue, or something—I think that rather misses the incredible importance of what did happen.

With all of the gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters that currently appear on TV (and make no mistake, there are a lot of them—maybe not enough, but more than anyone could have imagined a decade ago) I think people forget that, in the world of children’s television, things have not progressed nearly so far. And while Korra aged up a lot in its final seasons, it was, ultimately, a children’s show. The series finale aired on Nicktoons. It’s rated TV-Y7.

To give people an idea of the context that makes the Korra ending so important, then, I’ve created a timeline of queer representation in American children’s television. It’s probably incomplete, and it’s definitely short. I have not watched every children’s show ever to air in America, so it’s possible that some of the “firsts” I’ve listed are not, in fact, the first of their kind. I welcome any additions or corrections you might have; feel free to leave them in the comments, preferably with a link to a source. My hope is that this timeline will show people the shoulders on which the Korra finale stands, show how far we’ve come and how far we have yet to go, and explain to my sister why, exactly, I woke her up at 6 a.m. EST to flail and cry about some cartoon she’s never heard of.

Definitions

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Define your terms, people! For the purposes of this timeline, I’m defining a children’s series as any series aimed at viewers under the age of 13, OR any series airing on Nickelodeon, The Disney Channel, or Cartoon Network. “Queer representation” is a little trickier; I’m including characters who are confirmed by writers/actors/executives as being not straight, characters in a same-sex relationship with intentional cues that the viewers should read as romantic, and of course any characters who explicitly describe themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or otherwise not straight. I’m not including “coded gay” characters with no romantic plotlines. Obviously there is a lot of blurriness in this area, and I’ve attempted to give as much context as possible for each example.

1998

February 7: The Superman: The Animated Series episode “Apokolips…Now!, Part 1” airs on The WB during its Saturday morning block. In the episode, Maggie Sawyer is hospitalized, and an unnamed woman stands at her bedside. Co-creator Bruce Timm confirms in audio commentary that the woman is Toby Raines, Sawyer’s girlfriend in the DC Comics universe.

November 18: The Hey Arnold! episode “Arnold’s Thanksgiving” airs on Nickelodeon. In the episode, Arnold and Helga visit their teacher Mr. Simmons’ (voiced by out gay actor Dan Butler) house on Thanksgiving, and witness an argument between Simmons’ mother and a character called Peter that implies that Peter and Simmons are in a relationship. Peter tells Simmons’ mother that there are “a lot of things [she] wasn’t expecting,” to which Simmons’ mother looks affronted. She tells Simmons that he should take his friend Joy to the ballet over the weekend, and Simmons, after glancing at an extremely displeased Peter, says he has other plans. Later, Peter offers Simmons’ mother stuffing; she asks him what he means by that. Though nobody in the episode ever explicitly mentions that Peter and Simmons are romantically linked, nor is the possibility that characters of the same sex could be romantically linked mentioned, this is an unprecedented level of canon indication that two characters are in a same-sex relationship. Mr. Simmons’ relationship with Peter achieves approximately the same level of in-universe confirmation as Helga’s mother’s alcoholism.

2003

Unknown Date: Greg Weisman, co-creator and producer of the 1994 – 1997 Disney/ABC cartoon Gargoyles, confirms in an interview that character Lexington was envisioned as gay, but that attempts to address this subject on the show would not have made it to air.

2004

February 28: In an online chat, Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett confirms that supporting character Robert Simmons is gay, and that his scenes in the episode “Arnold’s Thanksgiving” were an acknowledgement of that.

October 22/November 27: In the third-season episode “Game, Set Up and Match,” animated series Braceface contains a plotline in which the main character tries to set up her male friend Dion with another man, Houston. The set-up fails, as neither Dion nor Houston is interested in having a relationship at the time. Dion never explicitly confirms his attraction to men, but Houston references having an ex-boyfriend. The fact that Dion declines to date Houston not because he’s another man, but because Dion is happy alone at the moment (along with the many, many ways in which Dion is coded gay) has generally been taken as confirmation of Dion’s sexuality. The episode’s final shot is a pan up to a rainbow in the sky overhead. Braceface was set, created, and initially aired in Canada on Teletoon. In the U.S., the Disney Channel aired the first two seasons, but dropped the third. But, to my knowledge, all three seasons aired on ABC Family in the Saturday morning block. The episode is therefore the first overtly romantic plotline between two characters of the same sex to air on U.S. children’s television.

2005

March 10: 2000 – 2004 WB animated series Static Shock co-creator Dwayne McDuffie confirms on his message board that Rich Foley (based on the canonically gay character Rick Stone from the comics on which the show was based) was envisioned as gay: “It'll never come up in the show because it's Y-7 but as far as I'm concerned, Richie is gay.”

2012

November 5: Greg Weisman, co-creator of the 2010 – 2013 Cartoon Network series Young Justice, confirms that he considers some of the series’ characters to be not straight, but that he is unable to portray that on air: “I also believe we have differently oriented characters in the series, even though we're not allowed to mention it out loud. (And just to be sure, I checked to see if we were allowed, and got a no answer. Everyone seems to want to get there, but we're not there yet.)”

2014

January 26: The Disney Channel series Good Luck Charlie airs the episode “Down a Tree,” in which parents Amy and Bob arrange a playdate for their daughter Charlie with a friend, Taylor, from preschool. Amy and Bob each claim to have met Taylor’s mother, but Amy insists the woman’s name is Susan, while Bob is sure that her name is Cheryl. When Taylor arrives, her parents are two women, Susan and Cheryl. Susan and Cheryl are the first same-sex parents ever depicted on American children’s television.

August 7: Olivia Olson, the voice actor for Marceline on the Cartoon Network series Adventure Time, states at a book signing that Marceline and Princess Bubblegum are ex-girlfriends, but that the relationship could never be addressed explicitly within the show. She later tweets, “I like to make things up at panels. Ya’ll take my stories way too seriously…” The tweet is deleted and nothing further is said on the subject by anyone on the Adventure Time creative team. Together with numerous small moments in canon (most notably the episode “Sky Witch,” in which Bubblegum sleeps in a shirt given to her by Marceline), this is taken by fans as indication that Bubblegum and Marceline are canonically romantically linked.

October 23: The Cartoon Network series Clarence airs the episode “Neighborhood Grill.” The episode contains a brief scene in which a woman (Ms. Baker, the titular character’s teacher) waits for her blind date to arrive at a restaurant. She sees a man enter and look around, and believes him to be her date. Instead, the man greets another man, kisses him on the cheek, and walks off with him arm-in-arm. Writer Spencer Rothbell explained on Twitter that the original plan for the scene was for the first man to show up with flowers, and for the two men to kiss on the mouth. Despite the censorship, Clarence is the first children’s TV show to air a romantic same-sex kiss of any kind.

 December 19: The Legend of Korra two-part series finale “Day of the Colossus”/”The Last Stand” airs on Nicktoons. In the show’s final scenes, main character Korra talks to her long-time close friend Asami, and they confirm their need to have each other in their lives. The two agree to go on vacation together, alone. The two women set off into the portal to the Spirit World (their destination of choice), and take each other’s hand. In the final shot of the series, they turn to each other, take both hands, and stare into each other’s eyes. The scene contains several overt parallels to the ending of Korra’s predecessor series, The Last Airbender, in which main character Aang and his long-term love interest Katara finally kiss: the characters are framed in the same way, and a refrain from “The Avatar’s Love” (the theme that played behind Aang and Katara’s kiss) plays over the scene. Though Korra and Asami do not kiss, and never explicitly mention that they are together, the framing, timing, and body language of the final scene heavily imply it. The majority of fans and news outlets consider this canon confirmation that Korra and Asami are romantically linked. Series co-creator Michael Dante Dimartino posts (without commentary) links to several news articles and blog posts that talk about Korra and Asami’s romantic relationship. Korra becomes the first main character on children’s television to have even a semi-canonical same-sex relationship.

Milestones Not Yet Reached

To my knowledge, only one character in all of U.S. children’s television has ever categorized themselves explicitly as something other than straight: Braceface’s Houston, when he mentions having an ex-boyfriend. On Braceface, Dion never says that he’s gay (or bisexual, for that matter), and on Good Luck Charlie, Susan refers to Cheryl as “Taylor’s other mom,” rather than “my wife” or even “my partner.” For some reason, even as it has become increasingly acceptable to portray gay, bisexual, and otherwise queer characters on children’s shows, and even to confirm same-sex relationships with just about every contextual clue possible, actually saying the word "gay" remains taboo.

There are two kinds of same-sex couples that have so far appeared on American kids’ shows: Long-term, developed couples whose romantic relationship is hinted at, rather than 100 percent confirmed (Korra and Asami, Marceline and Princess Bubblegum, and Mr. Simmons and Peter, in varying degrees), and one-off, ancillary couples whose relationship is more explicit (Susan and Cheryl, the Clarence couple). It seems that the next big step in children’s television is to have a recurring same-sex couple whose relationship is overtly romantic.

And of course, though we tend to talk about LGBT representation as one big, globular thing, there's been essentially no trans representation in children's television in the U.S. Given that gay and bisexual representation is lagging several decades behind adult television, I imagine that will remain the case for a while.

Overall, though, 2014 has been a big year for queer representation in kids' TV. When milestones cluster up like this, it's a good sign. It means that the successes we're seeing now are not one-offs, are not flukes, but are in fact a trend. Despite the censorship, the network demands, the general sense that gay and bisexual characters should be at most alluded to, children's TV isn't just running in place; it's taking real steps towards diversity and representation. And for that, we can thank creators like Michael Dante Dimartino and Bryan Konietzko, like Craig Bartlett, like Greg Weisman, like Melissa Clark, who are fighting against a huge wall of institutional inertia to bring that diversity to the screen.
 
Thank you, all of you, so much. You have no idea how much it's appreciated.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

March Sadness Redux: October Edition (Or, I Blather on About Narrative to Keep from Crying)

SPOILERS for the season 3 premiere of Arrow.

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Let’s talk about women in refrigerators.

If you’ve somehow managed to avoid this term, it refers to a comic book trope in which a woman in a superhero’s life—usually his wife or girlfriend—is killed suddenly and viciously, in order to motivate his fight against the bad guys. One conception of the term has it referring to any sudden or violent death of a female character, but that’s an oddly broad and not particular useful conception, so I’m going to stick to the first, more commonly used definition.

On the third season premiere of Arrow, Sara Lance (this universe’s version of the Black Canary) was killed. Suddenly, and violently, at the very end of the episode. (I mean, probably. They could still find a way around it if they wanted to, but I doubt they will.) Lots of people are going to refer to her death as a fridging. There’s some validity to that, I guess, although it’s not the male hero who’s going to get the real motivation from Sara’s death; it’s Sara’s sister Laurel, who is the Black Canary in the DC Comics, and who the show’s writers have made no secret is going to be the Black Canary eventually on the show. Sara dies in Laurel’s arms, and now Laurel’s going to take up the mantel from her—maybe not next episode, maybe not this season, but eventually, and as a direct consequence of this moment. This storyline is so clear and obvious that most people predicted Sara would die last season.

There are other narrative purposes for Sara’s death, of course. We don’t know who killed her (though I and others have some theories), and that mystery will undoubtedly carry a lot of the season’s plot; Sara was in Starling City on some mysterious errand, and the secret she took with her to the grave will likely be important.

But the question, when killing off any character, is whether that character’s death is necessary for the narrative. If it isn’t, what are the other ways you can achieve your goal? And if it is, you have to weigh whether the character in question brings more to the story alive than they do dead.

The problem with women in refrigerators—well, one of the many problems—is that the women often brought a lot more to their narratives dead than they did alive. They were in the story for one reason and one reason only: to die horribly, and in so doing, spur on the main character’s journey.

That’s not the case with Sara. She’s a rich character, an interesting one, a fun one, with a complicated history and a story all her own. She makes hard choices that have far-reaching consequences. She’s beloved of fans—pretty much all fans, although there are a strange, comics-obsessed core who don’t like the fact that someone not named “Laurel” is the Black Canary, as if that matters at all. On a show full of divisive characters (Roy, Thea, Moira, even Oliver) she was one of the few who really worked on every level, to almost all viewers. Her actress has massive charisma.

It’s pretty damn hard to imagine that her death could bring anything nearly as interesting to the show as her life did and would have. And it’s even harder to imagine that there wasn’t a way to achieve it without killing her. The only exception to that is Laurel-as-Black-Canary, which only really works if Sara’s dead. But Laurel is a terrible character—boring, annoying, inconsistently written, and a bad person in a way that doesn’t even make for enjoyable conflict. Sara’s life for Laurel as Black Canary is one of the worst narrative trades I’ve ever seen.

There’s a feminist argument to be made about Sara’s death, to be sure, as she’s the third female character the show has killed in order to spur on someone else’s journey. (They’ve also killed one male character for the same reason, to be fair.) There’s probably also an argument about LGBT representation. But honestly, I’m more concerned by the narrative faux pas. Sara wasn’t just a woman; she wasn’t just bisexual; she was a great character, in part because of those things, and in part because of a million other things.

I’m going to keep watching Arrow (I’d say I’m quitting, but who am I kidding?), but it’s going to be less enjoyable now, less interesting, less rich with characters I care about. Sara’s death, far from enhancing the show, has made me that much less invested.


And when people start saying that about your story, you know you’ve gone wrong somewhere.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

March Sadness: A Guide to Grieving TV's Casualties

Okay, everyone, time to let out that deep breath you've been holding. It seems like (the new Game of Thrones tonight notwithstanding) the Season of Death may finally be winding down. If you're a person who watches television, like, at all, one of your shows has probably killed off a character you loved, recently. Now, I myself watch a lot of TV, but it's probably not physically possible to keep up with all of the shows that have killed off someone important in the last season. So I recruited my sister, Holly, to fill in the knowledge gaps, and together we've written something that lies somewhere on the intersection of a TV review, a fictional obituary section, and a how-to guide for getting through this difficult time.

Holly's entries are signed "HG"; mine are signed "MG." There are, obviously, oodles of spoilers, but even naming the shows that are spoiled would itself be a spoiler, so read on at your own peril. Also, if we've missed someone, or if you think you have a better answer for one of our entries, please let us know in the comments.

(Also, all credit for "March Sadness" goes to someone on Tumblr; alas, I can no longer find the post it came from.)


In the last month

How I Met Your Mother

Who Died? Oh, like you don't know. Fine. The Mother. Tracy McConnell. She deserves her own name, and I'm using it, dammit. I’m specifically not using Tracy Mosby, because fuuuuck Ted Mosby and his long-ass story about wanting to bang Robin for 20+ years.

Why Would They Do That? Because the creators got some stick up their butt about this story being about Ted and Robin's true wuv, even though they categorically sucked as a couple, and Tracy was standing in the way of that true wuv and was merely a convenient way for Ted to have children.

What Does it Mean for the Show? The show’s over now, so it means nothing for future episodes. For the show’s legacy, well, it depends on who you ask. Possibly a big problem for proposed spin-off. Everyone is angry. If you’re the type of person who has a hard time compartmentalizing, it’s now unwatchable in reruns. If you’re the type of person who has no problem repressing traumatic memories, it means nothing, nothing at all! If you’re the type of person (I’m told they exist) who liked the ending, well, kudos, I guess?

How Should I Mourn? Scream. Swear. Rant in the AV Club comments section. Throw darts at a picture of the creators. Petition for Cristin Millotti to be wonderful and effervescent on her own show. Listen to “La Vie En Rose” on repeat. Watch the far superior fan-created ending on Youtube.

Who's Next? Your belief in maturing and growing as human beings. Your belief in love. Your belief in happy endings. Your belief in good endings.

—HG


Once Upon a Time

Who Died? Neal (aka Baelfire, aka Rumple's son, aka Henry's dad, aka Peter Pan's grandson, aka Emma's ex-boyfriend, aka Hook's friend, aka Hook’s dead girlfriend's son, aka WHAT THE HELL IS UP WITH YOUR FAMILY TREES, OUAT?)

Why Would They Do That? Don't really know. There were rumblings the actor was unhappy, but maybe it was just time for another main character to die. The last time a death really stuck was the poor, lamented Sheriff, whose actor is now stuck doing 50 Shades of Gray, so let’s hope Michael Raymond-James fares better for his next project.

What Does it Mean for the Show? One less love interest for Emma? So now Swan Queen shippers and Captain Swan shippers and Outlaw Queen shippers can fight to the death? Really, Neal barely registered as a character. Did he and Emma even have a ship name? (You don't count on this show if you aren't actively shipped with someone. That's an OuaT RULE.) [The ship name was Swan Fire, or sometimes Swan Thief. –Madelyn] Even during his death scene, Emma was sad for about a hot minute and everyone else basically reacted like, "Meh." It was probably the singularly least emotionally affecting death on this whole list. Maybe because everyone knew it was coming? Also, maybe it will make Rumpelstiltskin be really sad and they can just write stuff for Robert Carlyle to do? Because Robert Carlyle. And Lana Parilla. Am I right? Wait. What was I writing about? Oh, yeah. Neal. Sorry, Neal.

How Should I Mourn? The characters didn’t, so why should you?

Who's Next? This show has been surprisingly reluctant to kill off characters, so it may be a while. But, if I had to guess, a secondary character whose actor lands a successful pilot. (Sorry, Meghan Ory, not you. I love you and Josh Holloway, but your new show is not so good. Better luck next time! And I mean that. Find a show that deserves you.)

—HG


Pretty Little Liars

Who Died? Mrs. DiLaurentis (aka Alison's Mom, aka Spencer's dad's booty call, aka Jason's Mom, aka Blonde Creepy Cypher Next Door aka Jessica DiLaurentis)

Why Would They Do That? Because she knew too much! No, seriously. Because she knew too much. She saw who hit Ali the night she was buried alive and presumably was too much of a danger to that person to stay alive. Why this was suddenly an issue so much later, I have no idea. Then again, it's unclear to me what timeline PLL is even on these days. It may be anywhere from 1 1/2 years to, like, 3 years since Ali “died” (spoiler: she didn't actually die). Also, because the producers needed a death in the season finale and, really, who else were they gonna kill? Noel Kahn? Bitch, please. Being on Dancing with the Stars doesn't rate you for the SHOCK death of the season finale of PLL. For that you have to be the former female lead of The Pretender, which is a show a lot of people liked for some reason I can't recall now.

What Does it Mean for the Show? Presumably this death will set off some sort of chain reaction of events in season 5 which lead to the revelation of the Ultimate A, unless the show continues to be a ratings winner for ABC Family, in which case it will reveal the person who is supposed to be Ultimate A, but it turns out not so much.

How Should I Mourn? Like any PLL death, mourning should take the form of ridiculously inappropriately cleavage revealing backless funeral dresses.


 Bonus mourning points for random animal prints on your dress!

Who's Next? On this show? Presumably anyone who isn't one of the Super Best Friends or a popular love interest. People seem kinda over Toby lately, so... Toby? As long as it's not Mona, does anyone really care? (No. The answer is no.) [I care if Toby dies! –Madelyn] [I also care if Toby dies! It’s just he’s barely been on the show lately, so he seems primed for a SHOCKING death. Then again, the show already “killed” him once, so maybe not. –Holly] [This is your own section, Holly. You can just edit the text directly, you don’t need to add bracketed comments. –Madelyn]

—HG


Scandal

Who Died? James Novak (aka Cyrus Beene's Husband aka Journalist Extraordinaire aka Lately the White House Press Secretary for Some Reason No One Can Remember).

Why Would They Do That? On the show, James died because he was trying to reveal a ridiculously complicated cover-up perpetrated by his husband to conceal the fact that the Vice President killed her husband and Jake (Scott Foley, who will always be Noel from Felicity to me), head of a secret underground organization within the government called B613, was convinced this would somehow destroy the United States (which he calls “The Republic” which is stupid because NO ONE CALLS IT THAT, JAKE) and so Jake shot him, along with two minor guest stars. (Including Julia Cho. Hi Julia Cho! I miss you as Charlotte on the LBD so I’m really glad you're now a guest star on EVERYTHING.) If that was complicated and confusing to read, imagine what it was like to watch. Why did Shonda Rimes do it? Because she's Shonda Rimes. She loves to kill characters. It's the main trick in her bag o' them. There may have been deeper narrative reasons, such as setting up a showdown between B613, the White House, and Olivia Pope, but hell if I know what those are because this show is so off the rails at this point, I have no clue what's happening on any given Thursday.

What Does it Mean for the Show? Well, it gave the world that really creepy scene where Jake stayed with James while he slowly died of a gunshot wound because it needed to look like a poorly executed carjacking. Also, it made Cyrus sad and galvanized Olivia against B613 and... I don't know. Really, I just have no idea. There's a bomb now or something? That Olivia's mom procured? I just... I don't know.

How Should I Mourn? It's Scandal, so a bowl full of red wine, I guess?

Who's Next? You'd think no one immediately, but I’m guessing one or two characters also bite it in the last two episodes of the season. Probably Jake. (SOB, NO. ILY SCOTT FOLEY.) If we're all really lucky, Fitz. Yeah, I went there. I hate that guy. 

FUN SIDE NOTE: The episode where James died was directed by Paul Crane, who played Dr. Romano on ER, which was like a far superior Grey's Anatomy precursor, so it's all FULL CIRCLE. [ER also had The Good Wife's Julianna Margulies, so it was weirdly tied into TV deaths that week. –Madelyn] Also, he's the guy whose character had his arm chopped off by a helicopter and was subsequently killed by a crashing helicopter in a later season, so I guess he knows from crazy over-the-top primetime soap operas.

—HG


The Good Wife

Who Died? Will Gardner, the show’s male lead, and long-time love interest of the main character, Alicia Florrick. At the time of his death, Will and Alicia were not together—in fact, they were just starting to reconcile after a period of hating each other. (Opinions differ on whether they were on a trajectory towards romantic reconcilement; as for me, I’ pretty sure they weren’t.)

Why Would They Do That? Actor Josh Charles wanted to leave the show, and the showrunners felt that there was no other satisfying and in-character way to write Will out.

What Does it Mean for the Show? Will was a huge element of almost every ongoing plotline. Obviously, the love triangle element of the show—between Will, Alicia, and Alicia’s husband Peter—is out for now, and the trailers for upcoming episodes seem to indicate that Will’s death will have major (and negative) implications for Alicia’s relationship with Peter. In the short term, two other major plotlines are also affected: the bitter competition between Will and his partner Diane’s law firm and the splinter law firm that Alicia created when she left; and a government investigation into voter fraud in the election that put Peter into office as the governor of Illinois, in which Will was a major player. It’s pretty clear that Will’s death will go a long way towards healing the rift between his firm and Alicia’s, both because grief brings people together and because Will was the person doing the most to fuel the fire. It’s completely unclear what’s going to happen with the fraud investigation.

In the long term, Will’s death could have a significant impact on the kind of show The Good Wife is. Matthew Goode was brought in in the last episode to try to keep the gender ratio of the main cast at least a little balanced (technically it’s half men, half women, but the narrative weight leans heavily female), but his character has had far too little screen time for anyone to know what he’ll bring to the show. [Matthew Goode! He’s been in every British thing ever. I don’t understand his American accent; it confuses me. I’m really glad Matthew Goode is here to ease my pain. –Holly] More fundamentally, however, The Good Wife changes as Alicia changes, and grief changes a person. The tone, the themes, the emotional meat of the show are all up in the air, going forward.

How Should I Mourn? To truly celebrate the life and times of Will Gardner, you should respond to unexpected loss by embarking on a highly personal vendetta against those who have wronged you. Overturn tables. Have a lot of hyperfocused late-night planning sessions with a bottle of whiskey. Hire an Irish mobster to steal all the furniture from the Good Wife writer’s room.

Or you could be lame like me, and just listen to “Any OtherWorld” on constant repeat.

Who’s Next? No one. This isn’t fucking Scandal.

—MG


Teen Wolf

Who Died? Fan favorite Allison Argent, an original series regular, and main character Scott McCall’s on-again, off-again girlfriend.

Why Would They Do That? Actress Crystal Reed wanted to leave.

What Does it Mean for the Show? The whole first season of the show was a starcrossed lovers story between werewolf Scott and werewolf hunter Allison, and even though Scott got a new girlfriend this season, it was always very clear that Allison was the “real” love interest. So now that Allison’s dead, I guess it means that people have to take his new girlfriend seriously. Like, we might even have to learn her name. Given Teen Wolf fandom, I can’t imagine that going well.

How Should I Mourn? Gay werewolf fanfiction.

Who’s Next? No idea, but it’d be nice if it were Allison’s awful undead aunt Kate, since apparently it didn’t take the first time.

—MG (with an assist from her friend K.)


Hannibal

Who Died? Medical examiner Beverly Katz, a series regular and fan favorite.

Why Would They Do That? I don’t know, really. According to Beverly’s actress, Hettienne Park, “Bryan [Fuller] crafted Katz’s death from the get-go for the sake of storytelling.” (No idea if “from the get-go” means Katz was always slated to die, or whether it just means that Fuller never had anything but the narrative in mind when planning her death.) Katz was killed by Hannibal Lecter, just after she discovered his human-eating habit. I haven’t seen any of season two, yet, though, so I have no idea if her death was necessary to the plot. I guess it could be.

What Does it Mean for the Show? One less female, minority character for fans to point to when they’re explaining at length how progressive the show is. Probably some very important plot-related things as well. Maybe it’s going to exonerate Will Graham. Is he still arrested?

How Should I Mourn? With some fava beans and a nice Chianti.

Who’s Next? Again, I haven’t seen any of season 2 yet, so I’m making these predictions based on fuzzy recollections of first season and Internet murmurs, but we’d put our money on either Hannibal’s therapist Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) or Jack Crawford (Laurence Fishburne), head of the BSU. Or maybe Crawford’s wife (Gina Torres), who has cancer, doesn’t she? No matter who it is, I’d imagine the next major character death is a ways off; Hannibal doesn’t have a very large main cast, and it’s the kind of show that will definitely see diminishing returns as it kills off more characters.

—MG


The Simpsons

Who Died? Mrs. Krabappel; someone else is rumored to die later in the season.

Why Would They Do That? Because of the sad death of voice actress Marcia Wallace last year.

What Does It Mean for the Show? Deep sadness. Throughout more than 20 seasons, Mrs. Krabappel and Marcia Wallace have been a mainstay of the show. Ned's a widower twice over now, and the world is absolutely worse off for the loss of a woman like Wallace.

How Should I Mourn? For Mrs. K, have a martini and a cigarette. For Wallace, consider a donation for breast cancer research, a cause near and dear to her heart.

Who's Next? The show promises someone. I'm going with Marge's mom or Homer's Dad. Really, I’m still just sad about Wallace.

—HG


The Vampire Diaries

Who Died? Katherine (aka Katerina Petrova aka Elena's Doppelganger aka The One Everyone Liked a Lot)

Why Would They Do That? Sigh. There's no way to explain that in the context of the show without several timelines, a couple of clip shows, and a chart. Basically, everyone hated her. Except the viewers. The viewers loved her. Why did the show kill her? I assume they sort of wrote themselves into a corner, where the choice was kill Katherine or kill Elena. Again, the viewers might have chosen differently.

What Does it Mean for the Show? Well, Nina Dobrev gets to do about 50% less work every episode, which is probably a nice change for her. Viewers were annoyed, because the viewers LOVED Katherine and her sociopathic ways, and it's not at all clear how the show is planning to fill that void, except with more love triangle. And the viewers HATE the love triangle. Also, for this show rounding into its season finale, it seems somewhat Big Bad-less at the moment (I’m also about two episodes behind on TVD,so excuse my ignorance if they've managed to introduce a new Big Bad. What? I watch a lot of TV, okay? Sometimes I get behind. I also have to hold down a job, watch a ton of gymnastics, and occasionally pay attention to my cat. My life is busy and full.)

How Should I Mourn? Throw on some fabulous clothes and the darkest red lipstick you can find, and WREAK HAVOC on your nearest and dearest.

Who's Next? Bonnie? Maybe? Probably not, though. They kind of pretend killed her already. I don't really care, as long as it's not Matt Donovan. Because Matt Donovan is the absolute best.

—HG


In the past season

House of Cards

Who Died? IngĂ©nue/investigative reporter Zoe Barnes in the premiere, and probably Frank Underwood’s assistant Doug Stamper in the finale.

Why Would They Do That? I don’t know why Doug died, but as for Zoe, she wasn’t evil and she wasn’t a doormat, so she had to go. Also, she was the only person in the world (save Claire) who was capable of bringing down Frank Underwood, and House of Cards hates tension, so that couldn’t stand.

What Does it Mean for the Show? The boring-est second season that ever boring-ed. Seriously. Zoe was the only character on the show who had, like, potential for character growth, and without her, the story lost pretty much all tension and depth. Every two or three episodes there’d be some new possible threat to Frank’s evil plans, and then two or three episodes later the threat would be quashed. It was frustrating, fatalistic, and dull, and I probably won’t be tuning in for season three.

How Should I Mourn? Find someone completely innocent and ruin their life.

Who’s Next? There are a few people left who have enough information to piece together Frank’s conspiracy: three reporters, one of whom is in jail and one of whom is basically in hiding; a hooker who Frank hired to ruin Whatsisface the congressman; Jimmi Simpson’s hacker character; and Frank’s wife. I guarantee the next death will be one of them, or some new character who shows faint signs of actually doing something.

—MG


The Originals

Who Died? A lot of effin' people, because it's a Julie Plec show. But a lot of those were smaller characters and a whole lot of the deaths didn't stick because, you know, supernatural and stuff. But one who did? The witch Sophie Devereaux. [I refuse to believe that’s her name. Her name is not actually Sophie Devereaux. The Originals does not have a Leverage reference. –Madelyn]

Why Would They Do That? On the show, because... well, I don't know. Her niece murdered her for not believing in some ritual that would bring her niece back to life (which did, in fact, happen, hence the ability to murder) and not being all, "Rah-rah, witches of New Orleans unite for pooooooooower." Honestly, it was a little muddled. Why did the show do it? Again, Julie Plec show. Sister show of The Vampire Diaries. This is just what they do. And that's fine, so long as they don't kill Eliiiiiiiiijah.

What Does it Mean for the Show? Very little. There are a lot of witches on that show, and Sophie never popped much as a character in the first place. Her death didn't really even seem to have that many plot repercussions, at least not since I fell behind a few weeks ago. (Again, cat, work, gymnastics, etc.)

How Should I Mourn? Here's the thing. There's so little I really recall about Sophie's character, beyond the fact that she was a somewhat reluctant witch. So... cauldron cakes? Cauldron cakes for all?

Who's Next? Not Elijah. I can tell you that for damn sure. I dunno. Um. Let's see. Probably someone come finale time, but I'm a little behind, as I said. Probably a witch. The show is running a little low on vampires with Clare Holt's departure.

—HG


Community

Who Died? Pierce Hawthorne (Chevy Chase), an original series regular, the study group’s “closest, oldest, craziest, most racist, oldest, elderly crazy friend.”

Why Would They Do That? 1. Chevy Chase wanted to leave the show, because 2. Chevy Chase doesn’t really like doing TV shows, and 3. Chevy Chase and showrunner Dan Harmon don’t get along at all, although that’s probably not all that relevant because 4. Dan Harmon was fired as showrunner at the time that Chevy Chase decided to quit, but then 5. Dan Harmon came back as showrunner and needed a way to 6. Write Donald Glover off the show, which he did by 7. Killing off Pierce and having him write into his will that Troy could only get $14 million if he went on a solo sailing trip around the world.

What Does it Mean for the Show? Pierce often served as both a weird father-figure and a pointed warning to Jeff about the man he could become if he continued down the wrong path; his absence from the show will of necessity change the kinds of stories it can tell about those themes. In the short term, Pierce has been replaced by Jonathan Banks’ Professor Buzz Hickey, who’s doing an admirable job providing an entirely different kind of old-fogey energy to the show. Banks isn’t (yet) signed on as a series regular, though that may be moot, if Community finally loses its annual staring contest with the NBC execs and gets itself cancelled.

How Should I Mourn? Anyone who really understood Pierce Hawthorne would never let someone else tell them how to mourn.

Who’s Next? Probably no one, but it really depends on whether another main cast member ever gets fed up enough to drive them off the show forever.

—MG


Homeland

Who Died? Brody. Wait, he had a first name too. Hold on... Okay, Google informs me it is "Nicholas Brody", which sounds right.

Why Would They Do That? Basically, the showrunners had no clue what do with the character anymore. I mean, when you're a wanted terrorist and your best moments on the show are your interactions with a CIA agent, it's kind of an issue. Critics all seemed to agree Brody had to go, so away he went. Even for Homeland, Brody's continuing to orbit Carrie's life was a stretch after he killed the Vice President and tried to blow up major political figures and all. I mean, hell, the best they could do was stick a needle in his arm and keep him high in Caracas for half the season. It was time. And the decision to do it was an argument that the show might be salvageable.

What Does it Mean for the Show? “Might” being the operative word. As absolutely ridiculous as Brody's continued survival and interactions with CIA Cadet Carrie were, the moments where the show truly shone in terms of acting and chemistry tended to be the times Carrie and Brody were onscreen together. Not because they were a great couple, but because the utter madness and mess of their lives was never more visceral and real than when they were acting as agents of the other's destruction. What Homeland 2.0: The Post-Brody Years will look like is anyone's guess, and whether it will work on any kind of compelling level is even more up in the air. But take heart, we’ll always have Mandy Patinkin's beard. Oh, and Carrie's lovechild with Brody, which she may or may not give up for adoption. At the very least, I’ll no longer have to spend my Sundays screaming at Brody for forgetting that he has a son. Now, wait. What was that kid's name again? Jeremy? David? Michael? Time for Google again. Chris. His son's name was Chris. 

How Should I Mourn? Hate sex with an ex. 

Who's Next? Most likely random terrorists. This show is not going to kill another lead in the season after they killed Damian Lewis. That would just be madness.

Note: On a more somber note, James Rebhorn played Carrie's father on Homeland and brought a needed weight to the role and an epicenter of calm in the insanity that is Carrie's life. He was lovely in the role, as he has been in so many roles in his long and varied career, and he sadly passed away in March. Regardless of whether the character dies offscreen or is simply referenced and left unseen, Rebhorn's death is a true loss to Homeland and the acting community, and judging by his reputation and the lovely obituary he wrote, a true loss to humanity as well.

—HG


Supernatural

Who Died? Kevin Tran, some guy who’s occasionally hung out with the Winchesters for the past couple of seasons and who is apparently beloved of fans. Having stopped watching Supernatural after season 5, as all right-thinking TV viewers should, I’m not really filled in on the details of, like, who he is.

Why Would They Do That? Supernatural no longer does things for “reasons.” It finds it sufficient to merely do things.

What Does it Mean for the Show? “Mean?” What is this “meaning” you speak of?

How Should I Mourn? You can mourn Kevin by, um, crying, I guess? You can mourn the decline of Supernatural by revisiting the TwoP recaps of the first five seasons before they are lost to the ages.

Who’s Next? Undoubtedly, one of the Winchesters again.

—MG


The Walking Dead

Who Died? Surprisingly, in the season finale? No one. Well, no one we cared about. Some randos died, but none of the main characters. I'm as puzzled as you are. In this season of March Massacre, the fact that TWD restrained itself from killing a lead in the season finale was, well, restrained. Something this show is not known for.

In the mid-season finale on the other hand? Herschel Greene and the Governor. And, look, we all know the characters that died in the March 16, 2014 episode, but I'm not writing about those because: a. it's traumatic; and b. my sister hasn't seen that yet and I'm making her watch the back half of season four while she's home for a visit, and she kinda has to see this because it's her blog. So, you know who died, and I know who died, and let's just leave it at that. [Didn’t some kids die, or something? Also, does this mean that TWD should have been in the “in the last month” section? –Madelyn]

Why Would They Do That? Well, I mean if they weren't going to kill anyone in the season finale, the mid-season finale was basically a requirement. In all seriousness, the Governor had long outstayed his welcome and never worked as a character as well as was probably hoped, and Herschel was the last link to a settled, more civilized society. So he had to die. Also, presumably Scott Wilson was ready to be awesome elsewhere.

What Does it Mean for the Show? Well, we got to stop having Governor-centric episodes that we were expected to take seriously. Also, less eyepatches. Honestly, it was past time to kill the Governor and I think we're all happier for it. Also, apparently it was time to introduce cannibals, or something, and even the Governor wasn't into that. Killing Herschel really underlined the ugliness of the post-zombie apocalypse world, it untethered the characters from the paternal figure, and it let Beth have her own storyline.

How Should I Mourn? Crazy eyepatch party! While reading from the Book of Psalms! Best of both characters.

Who's Next? Well, seeing as CANNIBALS, probably someone. Soon. Early in the next season, which doesn't begin for another seven months. Beth is the obvious choice due to her extreme kidnapping, but I'm going with a less obvious option like Glenn or Maggie (OR BOTH), or this show can continue its long tradition of killing off perfectly lovely actors of color (odds on Sasha, Tyreese, AND Bob making it through season five? Does anyone think that's at all likely?)

—HG


Degrassi: The Next Generation

Who Died? Fan favorite Adam Torres. At this point, it might be easier to leave off the “fan favorite” part and only mention it when the fans didn’t like someone.

Why Would They Do That? Actress Jordan Todosey was at the end of her contract (and either didn’t want or was not asked to renew it, it’s not clear), and the writers really wanted to write a Very Special Episode about texting and driving. I didn’t watch the episode in question, but I’d bet my Netflix subscription that it contained some variation on the words, “It can wait.”

What Does it Mean for the Show? A brief period of mourning, followed by a new, probably less-charismatic, cast member.

How Should I Mourn? The same way you mourned when J.T. died, whatever that was.

Who’s Next? Ooh, this is a fun one. Degrassi loves killing off beloved characters almost as much as it loves driving them off the rails until they are no longer beloved, so I’m going to go with Eli (Munro Chambers).

—MG


Other notable deaths from shows we either don’t watch or don’t care about

·         Deb on Dexter (We totally would have cared five years ago.)

·         Green on Downton Abbey (Hardly a main character and mostly just a way for Fellowes to keep making Bates suuuper creepy.)

·         Clarissa on Reign (We don't watch this show, we have no idea who this character is, but we’re pretty sure she has awesome faux 16th century clothing that looks like it could have been bought at H&M this year and probably pretty hair.)

·         Joss Carter on Person of Interest (Another show neither of us watch, although with Amy Acker as an incentive, it’s unclear why we don’t.) 

·         Tara on Sons of Anarchy (She was the wife of the guy whose actor took and then turned down the male lead in 50 Shades of Grey, thereby freeing it up for the Sheriff’s actor. Man, we should really draw up a Web of Death and see how these are all connected.)


Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm not even sure I have a word for this emotion.

There are plenty of riveting, painful moments in this week's Good Wife episode “The Last Call”—almost too many to count—and I wish I could talk about all of them. Despite having one strong A-plot and two clear subplots, one for each of the women most affected by Will’s death, it was largely an episode of moments. Narrative stepped aside in favor of raw emotion and microscopic detail. I don’t mean this as a bad thing. It’s more or less what Buffy the Vampire Slayer did in “The Body” (there’s a comparison everyone and their mother’s made), and it works. If you want to realistically portray the immediate aftermath of an unexpected loss, well, that’s just about the only way to do it, and The Good Wife does it well. Incredibly well.

It does mean, though, that it’s difficult to talk about everything that went into making the episode good, because more than narrative, more than A-plots and B-plots and arcs and resolutions, the episode relies on each and every individual moment being realistically written, heartbreakingly acted, and intensely personal. Every scene has to give us a slightly different but no less real perspective on the central tragedy than the one that came before; a single false note can throw us out of the episode. (For some people, that false note was the conversation Alicia had with her daughter about God. I loved that scene, personally, but the reasons why would probably constitute a blog post all their own, or, if I were going to be really clear about it, a memoir. For some people, the false note was Kalinda, and well, as with all things Kalinda, that's also its own post.)

Instead, I’d like to focus on one particular moment, out of the many. I’m not sure I’d call it the best moment, though it’s certainly a contender, but I do think it’s the most interesting one. It’s about a minute into the episode: Alicia, who was about to introduce Peter at a correspondents’ luncheon when Eli gave her the news of Will’s death, leaves, and Eli must take her place introducing Peter. Unfortunately, he’s still reading off a teleprompter of Alicia’s speech, which is full of references to Alicia’s dress, her children, her marriage to Peter, etc. Eli is shaken, and can’t quite figure out how to stop reading from the teleprompter.

I have never reacted to anything I’ve seen or read, ever, the way I reacted to that scene. It was an entirely novel experience for me. I started laughing and crying simultaneously, the two feeding off each other. It was funnier because it was so painful; it hurt deeper because it was so funny. It wasn’t cathartic, the way joking about a personal tragedy can be, nor did it have the sting and edge of dark humor. It didn’t break the tension, and I didn’t come out of it feeling any better. It was just—this joke, this perfectly normal joke that could conceivably be worked into any episode of The Good Wife, but it was here, instead, and somehow it was massively funny without breaking the tone of the episode, and without providing a single moment’s pause in my grief as a viewer. It’s not the moment in the episode I relate to most personally—those moments all belong to Alicia—but later, when the episode was over and I was talking to my sister, it was talking about that moment that made me cry, really cry, over what I’d just watched.

Quite simply, it was the most Good Wife thing The Good Wife has ever done. There’s not another show on television, now or in history, that could’ve pulled it off. Buffy couldn’t have pulled it off. Not because Buffy didn’t have the skill, although it took enormous skill to make the moment work, but because it’s just not what Buffy is. It was a triumph of tone, five years in the making. And if I still had any doubt, it’s proved to me once and for all that The Good Wife is the best it’s ever been—and that The Good Wife’s best is among the best television has to offer.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Honestly, I'm surprised I was coherent enough to blog about this.

SPOILERS for the most recent episode of The Good Wife, for the most recent season of Game of Thrones, and for major plot elements of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and House.

--

It’s kind of weird to me that people keep comparing the latest episode of The Good Wife to Game of Thrones’ “Red Wedding.” The Red Wedding, though obviously shocking to those who hadn’t read the books, was fundamentally a follow-through of the series’ basic premise. Sudden deaths of major characters are written into GoT’s DNA. They’re inextricable. They’re part of the package.

The death of The Good Wife’s Will Gardner, on the other hand, is a swerve. Nobody could have predicted it. The show has never done anything like it before in four and a half seasons. Viewers simply do not sit down to an episode of The Good Wife prepared for the idea that a main character might die. On the one hand, that makes the death truly shocking; it leaves viewers shaken in a way that a death on Scandal or Lost, shows that are built on twists and sudden deaths, simply can’t. On the other hand, it runs the risk of being too shocking, and making viewers feel tricked or betrayed.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I’ve seen a certain amount of both reactions to Will’s death. As far as I can tell, the latter is primarily from bitterly disappointed Will/Alicia shippers, who seem to have felt they were promised or owed either a successful Will/Alicia relationship, or that Will would not die, or that Will would die in a certain way, if he ever did.

Every TV show makes an unwritten contract with its viewers: “This is the kind of show I am. These are the lines I can’t cross.” The Good Wife has only ever made two promises. First, it promised to take place in a reality very close to ours, one where not only will fantastical things not happen, but events will have realistic and long-term consequences. Alicia’s not going to run into a dragon or a witches’ coven, but equally importantly, if Peter ever has another affair and it’s publicized, his polling numbers are going to drop drastically.

Second, The Good Wife promised to be a show about Alicia. It promised to follow her, to examine her, to watch her grow. If Alicia ever leaves The Good Wife, it will cease, in some fundamental way, to be the same show.

That’s it. That’s all it promised its viewers. It never promised Will/Alicia as the endgame. It never promised that any character other than Alicia would live, and it never promised that there would be a warning if one of them died.

Other shows have pulled off, or almost pulled off, turns this surprising, this late in the game. Buffy the Vampire Slayer created a little sister out of thin air four years into its run, and the ensuing season was arguably the best the show ever did. Half of House’s main characters quit their jobs in its third season finale, and though the show went downhill after that, it wasn’t the change that did it, but the refusal to change—all three characters remained fixtures on the show for years to come, long after they’d stopped serving a narrative purpose.

It’s about follow-through. Buffy’s monumental twist worked because the show can be neatly split into two eras: pre-Dawn and post-Dawn. The show was never the same again. House’s, on the other hand, failed, because the writers tried to drastically change the characters’ world without actually changing the show. If The Good Wife is to remain the excellent show it’s proved itself to be in the last few seasons, it must forever be a show that is, at least a little bit, about grief and loss. It has to be a changed show, and the changes have to last.

If nothing changes, and the world of The Good Wife goes back to normal after a week or two—or if they start killing off a character every sweeps week—then we can start talking about jumping the shark. For now, though, nothing the show has done has intrinsically broken it. The Good Wife doesn’t owe us anything except what it promised on day one. And the writers don’t owe us anything except the best possible story they can tell. And I’ll tell you this—you can agree with what the Kings did or disagree, like it or dislike it, but you can’t argue that they put anything above the story.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Live"-blogging episodes 17-20 of Pretty Little Liars season 4

My sister has been asking for this for a while, and apparently I haven't been very supportive of her in her time of need (she's having an existential crisis because she has liked two episodes of The Walking Dead in a row), so here it is: A live-blog of Pretty Little Liars, episodes 4x17 - 4x20. I may put up an Actual Things I Said Out Loud for all of season 4b in the near future, but for now, here you go, Holly. Hope you're happy.


4x17, "Bite Your Tongue"

Since when is Aria right? (Actually, I take that back; Aria is pretty fucking dumb, but she’s often right about friendship/emotional stuff.)

Yes, Allison has shown so much indication of being willing to never contact you again.

Oh, hey, Mike’s a character!

Wait, is that the same actor Mike used to be? Is this going to be another Jason DiLaurentis situation?

Dude, Hanna, why are you reading a thriller? Is your real life not enough?

Oh lord, it’s some kind of twisted therapy.

Mona!

Mona has friends?

Dude, Mike, there’s “mistakes,” and then there’s “psychological torture.”

Emily’s dad! We’re just seeing all kinds of long-lost characters. Who’s next? Lucas? Sean? Spencer’s sister?

Emily, you know your father is in no way responsible for Spencer following you, right?

Things I still don’t care about: Ezra and his not-son.

Wait, who is this guy Hanna is talking to? Should I know who this person is? THIS SHOW HAS TOO MANY DAMN CHARACTERS.

“Hanna, please stop reading.” Emily, you’re the worst.

Mona, I don’t know how to tell you this, but you’re really obviously evil.

Spencer, it’s one test. You’re like basically already into college, aren’t you? Just bomb it. Or like talk to a teacher. Or something.

Hanna, you read books in the best way.

The group is not a “safe place!” Mona is there!

Also, it’s pretty much High School Administration 101 to discourage disturbed former bullies from associating with their victims’ family.

Who is this guy? Am I supposed to know this guy?

Okay, PLL, thank you for the fancy cinematography.

Oh my God I hope this all comes down to the time Hanna had to volunteer at the dentists’ office.

Aria, oh my God, stop it.

Emily, you’re always wrong and you always give terrible advice.

I CAN’T BELIEVE IT THEY ACTUALLY TALKED ABOUT SEAN! (Apparently he’s at boarding school.)

Mr. Fitz! He’s eating boysenberry pie! HE’S A, HE’S A!

What kind of town is this where they’re ALWAYS running into teachers outside of school?

I MEAN SERIOUSLY, HANNA.

That waitress is terrible. That waitress is a terrible waitress.

Maybe I’m missing something, because to be fair I’ve never had boysenberry pie and I’m not a huge beer drinker, but what’s so gross about that order?

HA IT’S BOARD SHORTS HA! But wait, how did Board Shorts get that nickname? I thought it was literally because they saw a picture of a guy wearing board shorts. But now I’m starting to think that that was not the case. Why has there been so much plot on this show? It’s impossible to remember all of it!

“Welcome to John Adams High! Where you are gonna die!”

No, she panicked because somebody was trying to kill her.

Heh. You guys all had a really terrible night.

Oh, I’m a terrible person, but the Super Best Friends doing a dental exam is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.

It’s a note! They left an A note in Hanna’s mouth! This is like the creepiest this show has ever been!

Oh, it’s that parrot. I vaguely remember that parrot being a thing.


  
 4x18, "Hot For Teacher"

How many times do I have to tell you girls not to trust anyone?

You know that one A is a dude. Why on earth would you assume there’s only one?

Seriously, why is Aria lying about seeing Ezra? I’m so confused.

Oh, Crazy Spencer. I’ve missed you SO MUCH.

Emily, I know this may be damning you with faint praise, but I think you’re probably the best dressed of the Super Best Friends. (For those wondering, the order goes: Emily, Crazy Spencer, Hanna, Normal Spencer, Aria.)

Shana, have you never said the word “fanfiction” out loud before? Because that’s not where the emphasis goes.

Sherlock Holmes!Hanna is a wonderful new flavor of Hanna.

Creepy Double Entendre!Ezra is also a wonderful new flavor of Ezra.

Spencer, you’ve been doing crazy Adderal research for days, and you just thought to search “Ezra Fitz Ravenswood address”?

Therapist, you are creepy.

A while back, PLL passed the Lost Inflection Point—the point at which it becomes clear that a show cannot possibly provide a satisfactory answer that justifies all of its mysteries. Shows that have passed the LIP are great fun. They’re like the all-night benders of TV shows; all about the fun and experience in the moment, and save the consequences for the morning.

Yes. Yes, Alison wants a twin poster. The twin poster will solve everything.

You know, sometimes it forgets it a little bit, but I’m really gratified by how much this show does care about these girls’ friendship.

Ezra, you really are the creepiest, and if Aria weren’t an idiot/seventeen, she would see how insanely manipulative you are.

That’s the only time I’ve ever seen chickpeas used as a scary reveal.

This moment in which Ezra creepily looks at pictures of teenage girls on his stalker computers seems like a good moment for me to remember that his actor went to my alma mater.

Somebody is definitely going to accidentally sell that bag of coffee.

The weirdest part about Sherlock!Hanna is that she’s actually a fairly competent detective.

Spencer I love your brain. Although you probably could have lied a little better just then.

Alison looks really different in this episode, but I can’t really put my finger on why.



4x19, "Shadow Play" 

I really like Mona’s shoes. Also, does she have blue hair now? Since when does Mona have blue hair?

I love how Spencer’s parents just leave their teenage daughter home alone, like, all the time.

Emily, hasn’t everybody in this group had to interrogate their significant other at some point?

Also, Spencer, why are there foxes on your boobs?

Oh no, Aria’s talking about writing. This can go nowhere good.

OH MY GOD, EZRA AND ARIA ARE HAVING A CREEPY STATEMENT CONTEST.

Am I going to have to have read Chandler to understand this episode?

Why are like 70% of the things I say about PLL these days questions?

PSYCHOTIC BREAK, EXCELLENT.

14-year-olds watch this show and even though it probably gives them terrible ideas about what constitutes a healthy relationship I think it’s excellent.

I’m not even going to bother guessing whether any of what’s on my screen is really happening.

Wow, Hanna is wonderfully well suited to the black-and-white era.

All of their clothing is 900% better than usual.

I’m really sad that none of them are affecting 1940s movie-star accents.

Edgewood 50139! Old-school phone numbers! (Fun fact: I stopped the episode here so that I could research telephone exchange names. “Edgewood” was code for ED, or 33, so Spencer is asking the operator to connect her to 335-0139. This is strange, since most TV shows and movies—including PLL, if I remember right—use the non-existent 555 area code, to avoid broadcasting a real person’s phone number. PLL could have done so in this case by having Spencer dial “Klondike 50139.” “Klondike,” code for KL, or 55, is a fictional telephone exchange that was used in old movies and TV shows for the same reason we use the 555 area code today. “KL-50139” would have translated to 555-0139—a non-existent phone number in any time period.)

Now I forget who Spencer was calling.

Actually, Toby’s actor is attempting a 1940s movie star accent. He’s not succeeding, but he’s definitely attempting.

I know I said I wasn’t going to guess what was really happening and what isn’t, but how could Spencer’s weird black-and-white dream world extend to scene’s she’s not actually present for?

Paige, meanwhile, has way stranger fashion in black and white. On the other hand, Paige! Once again a real person, on screen!

You know, it’s not like the heels these girls wear in 2014 are any lower than their 1940s heels. So why is it that only the 40s heels click on the pavement?

Split screen!

Further developments in the Not-Guessing-What’s-Real Department: No, definitely none of this is real.

HANNA’S A SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR? THAT’S AMAZING.

Have Aria and Paige ever spoken in real life?

Paige is getting more of a story in this incredibly not-real episode than she has for like the past two seasons.

Ezra and Toby, drinkin’ in the lodge.

On the other hand, this conversation between Spencer and Allie is probably about as real as 90% of the conversations we’ve seen between Allie and any of the Super Best Friends.

Wait, is Dream Toby a private investigator or a police detective?

You can’t fool me with black and white, show. That’s not champagne. That’s water.

Dream Ezra is still only like 70% as evil as real Ezra.

YES, SWITCHBOARD OPERATOR HANNA IS EXCELLENT.

Paige and Emily, you two are adorable in every time period ever. Though I’m a little perplexed that Spencer’s dream focuses so heavily on your love life.

Seriously, Spencer spends half her dream getting couples together who are already together in reality.

Also, Spencer seems to be aware on some level that Aria is still seeing Ezra.

“Everything that’s happening to him and me, I don’t feel like it’s ever happened to anyone else before.” Spencer sure knows Aria well.

Oh, but this is a very pretty episode.

My internet keeps acting up and the episode is pausing like once a minute and this is TORTURE.

Wow, Spencer had that whole dream in like three seconds, that’s pretty impressive.

Spencer, you can’t possibly be surprised by this turn of events. You just dreamed it, seriously.



4x20, "Free Fall"

Creepy double entendres from Ezra, I’m never gonna give you up.

The ranking of Crazy Spencer’s fashion sense is being revised downward, but at least her clothing is terrible in a normal way.

Spencer doesn’t have everybody fooled. Spencer has Aria fooled. And only Aria.

How long ago was two years ago, even? Was it pre-A? Pre Allie’s disappearance? Was Aria in Iceland? I can’t keep track of this show’s timeline.

Hanna, darling, you are bad at interventions.

Spencer, you would be so much more convincing if you didn’t look literally dead. On the other hand, you’re right. On the other hand, you’ve apparently decided that your movie dreams are reality. On the other hand, your friends are pretty quick to jump to the conclusion that you’re straight-up lying.

And wait, didn’t Hanna and Emily have perfectly good reasons to believe that Ezra’s up to no good that aren’t entirely dependent on Spencer’s word?

Mona, did you just call glasses “corrective lenses”?

THANK YOU, Hanna. Thank you for being reasonable.

Wow, Spencer’s mom, you’re not overly interested in your daughter’s life, are you?

Aria. Aria. Your boyfriend is evil. Just accept it.

Oh lord, Aria. Even if your boyfriend weren’t evil, that was a really stupid statement to agree with.

Spencer, honey.

Okay, 1) Where the fuck is Aria? Is she at Ezra’s cabin? Why doesn’t she know the password? Didn’t she come in here once before without having to enter a password? And 2) Ezra really needs to choose better passwords.

Oh, look, Spencer’s mom has entered the “aware” phase of her neglect/love parenting cycle.

Really, Ezra? You weren’t worried that Aria might, like, idly flip through the coffee table book one day?

Ezra senses a disturbance in the Force.

Aria, you idiot.

Why is there a ski lift? Is this a skiing mountain? And even if it is, is this skiing season? I’m confused.

ARIA, YOU’RE SUCH AN IDIOT.

Toby is here for the second intervention of the episode.

I’m really confused, though, because apparently Spencer is a recovering drug addict and we were just never told about this.

Also, just putting this out there: Spencer's mom is worse at interventions than Hanna.




Monday, February 17, 2014

I watched all of Amazon's original pilots so you don't have to, but you might want to, because they're pretty good.

Here’s a fun fact: My sister really wanted me to live-blog the last four Pretty Little Liars episodes, but instead I watched all of Amazon’s new slate of original pilots, and now I’m going to review them, because that’s a few more hours in which I will be ruining my sister’s life by not live-blogging Pretty Little Liars. Be warned that although none of these reviews completely give away the plots of the pilots, neither are they completely spoiler-free. (Well, the review of Bosch is, but that’s because it’s not a very helpful review.)


The Rebels

From Amazon: “Julie (Natalie Zea) is in over her head when her husband suddenly dies leaving her as sole owner of The LA Rebels, a pro-football team.”

First, since The Rebels is a comedy, a note on the humor. It’s fine. Not great, but fine. If you’re kind of person who laughs when a football player accidentally gets his monkey high on cocaine at a party, and the monkey shoots someone, you will—well, you’ll definitely laugh at The Rebels.

That over with, it’s probably worth saying up front that I don’t really dislike any of Amazon’s adult pilots. They all have merits, and there’s probably an audience that would really enjoy any of them. I’m just not part of the audience for The Rebels. I have no love of football (years when the Steelers are in the playoffs excepted), and though the best shows will make you care about what the characters care about regardless of your personal interests, The Rebels is not one of the best shows. Part of the problem may well be that the main character, Julie, doesn’t actually care about football all that much. She cares about not being told what to do, she cares about the fact that her late husband cared about football, and by the end of the pilot, she has clearly come to care somewhat for her particular team—but she doesn’t care about football. She doesn’t even know much about the sport, which makes it seem the height of folly for her to keep running the team. Her assistant-turned-general manager, Danny (Josh Peck), on the other hand, both knows and cares a great deal about football, and I think it’s that fact that make his scenes the best in the episode. Probably the most compelling moment of the episode is Danny’s emotional turning point, when he goes from making timid but calculated decisions to cut players so that they can bring on new talent, to confidently defending those same players from a hotshot rookie quarterback’s mockery. As Danny reels off a list of reasons why the QB isn’t all that, the combination of detailed expertise (I assume—like I said, I really don’t care about football) and passion made the scene and character click in a way that most of the others did not. So I say, bring on the football jargon! Bring on the complicated sports politics! And, if you absolutely must, bring on the cocaine-addled monkeys.


Bosch

From Amazon: “Based on Michael Connelly's best-selling book series, Bosch (Titus Welliver), an LAPD homicide detective works to solve the murder of a 13-year-old boy while standing trial in federal court for the murder of a serial killer.”

I have nothing against Bosch, but neither do I really have anything for it. It’s well acted, pretty well written, and there are one or two lovely shots, but nothing in it particularly inspired me to keep watching. Nor did anything move me to anger, annoyance, or disdain. Nothing about it distinguished its characters, its plot, its style, or its theme from the other shows that exist in its genre. It’s just kind of there. I suppose, if it gets picked up, it will continue being there, but I probably won’t be there watching it.


Transparent

From Amazon: “An LA family with serious boundary issues have their past and future unravel when a dramatic admission causes everyone's secrets to spill out.”

Amazon’s description of this pilot makes it seem much more eventful than it actually is, since the “dramatic admission” never actually happens, and everyone’s secrets—or rather, two of the four characters’ secrets—don’t spill out until the last ten seconds of the episode. It’s also a “comedy” that I actually found to be less funny than The Rebels, though to be fair, I don’t think it was really trying to be.  Nevertheless, it’s a very good episode of television, in a very HBO kind of way: It’s incredibly low-key, with a cast of entirely believable but far from entirely likeable characters. Actually, if I have a problem with Transparent, the characters are it. Mort (Jeffrey Tambor), the father of the family, is the most likeable and the most sympathetic character—indeed, the only character who manages to really hit a note other than “entitled,” “self-absorbed,” or “oblivious”—but also the least developed, only becoming a major presence about 2/3 of the way through the pilot. Mort’s grown children are the real focus of the episode, and while their self-centeredness (and the fact that it’s, y’know, bad) is obviously a great deal of the point of the series, I imagine it would get tiresome very quickly. I don’t need to like a show’s characters to like a show, nor do I need for the characters to be good people, but I do need to at least enjoy them. The only time I really enjoyed Ali (Gaby Hoffman), Josh (Jay Duplass), and Sarah (Amy Landecker) was the scene when they were all together just before dinner with their father, bickering and reminiscing and making bets on whether their father was gathering to tell them he had cancer. They still weren’t very good people, but something about seeing them together, seeing their history and their rapport and the fact that they did, on some level, have affection for each other, made them more endearing than they had been previously. (It was also probably the closest the pilot came to being funny, and featured the best dialogue of the episode, which helped.) Should Transparent get picked up, I hope it will have more scenes like that one, and fewer of the family members lost in their own worlds. It would make it a lot more fun to watch, in the long run.


The After

From Amazon: “Eight strangers are thrown together by mysterious forces and must help each other survive in a violent world that defies explanation.”

This seems to run exactly contrary to what the rest of the Internet is saying, but I really liked most of The After, up until the last minute, when I thought it kind of fell apart. That’s because the first 50 or so minutes were spent building up a gradual, low-key kind of mystery, and the last minute abandoned that in favor of—well, no spoilers, but it was anything but gradual or low-key. It’s personal preference, of course, but I’m much more interested in the mystery of why all the main characters happen to have the same birthday than I am in whatever the hell was going on at the end of the pilot.

Anyway, despite that, I really did like The After. I’d definitely watch it if got picked up. Partially, it’s just my kind of show; I like myth arcs, I like mysteries and puzzle plots, I like ensembles. Fuck it, I watched six seasons of Lost, and enjoyed five of them. I have no excuse not to watch The After. I’m also quite fond of the main-ish character, Gigi (Louise Monot), who is very competent, but not aggressively so; she’s the kind of person who doesn’t have any specialized training in anything, but thinks to check the sick woman’s purse to see if she has medication. The other characters are not as well developed, but they all get a hint of characterization that would presumably be expanded upon in future episodes. Aldis Hodge gives a great turn as a possibly innocent escaped convict, and that right there is worth the price of admission. The end of the episode—and the inevitable trajectory of shows like this—mean that it probably wouldn’t be a great show, but to the right kind of viewer, The After would be a lot of fun to watch—and in this case, I’m the right kind of viewer.


Mozart in the Jungle

From Amazon: “Sex, drugs--and classical music--what happens behind the curtains at the symphony can be just as captivating as what happens on stage.”

Mozart in the Jungle is by no means a perfect pilot, but it’s probably my favorite of the pilots. It’s full of intrigue and backstabbing and a general edge of tawdriness—not a surprise to anyone who’s read the tagline—but none of that would be particularly interesting if there weren’t one or two characters who genuinely deeply care about the music. The main character (I’m going to go ahead and call her the main character, although she doesn’t get first billing), Hailey (Lola Kirke), fills that role. Hailey is wonderful—gifted, serious, and desperate for a way forward in her career, but with a sense of fun that will probably be a double-edged sword in the symphony’s shifting political culture. She grounds the show, and turns it into something more than simple tawdriness. She turns it into a show about artists.

I’ve seen complaints that Mozart is not a realistic look at symphonies or young musicians. I haven’t the faintest idea whether or not that’s true, but I also don’t care much. The world of the show feels real enough, and the characters—again, especially Hailey—are utterly recognizable. At one point, a group of young musicians play a drinking game that requires them to play their instruments while downing shots. Is that realistic? Well, I don’t know musicians, but I do know twenty-somethings, and that scene instantly revealed the kind of twenty-somethings these people were. I know people like those characters. In the long run, it doesn’t matter much whether the drinking game is realistic, as long as it does its job.

As I said, it’s not a perfect pilot—it’s another comedy, and though it’s more comedic than Transparent, not all the jokes land, nor is the tone completely consistent throughout—but it was one of the two I bothered to fill out a survey for. I’ll say here what I said in the survey: Mozart in the Jungle has something that I hadn’t realized, until now, that I was missing from television.


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I think grading/rating TV episodes is silly, and I also think that ranking them in order of how good they are is silly, so instead I give you Amazon’s pilots, in ascending order of how much I would like for them to be picked up for a full series:


5. Bosch

4. The Rebels

3. Transparent

2. The After

1. Mozart in the Jungle


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And then, after I was done with that, I wanted a way to ruin my sister’s life by not live-blogging Pretty Little Liars for even a little bit longer, so I watched two and a half of Amazon’s five kids’ show pilots. The half-show (Maker Shack Agency) was mostly kind of boring, so I’m only going to review the other two shows.


Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street

From Amazon: “Life is anything but normal for Gortimer and his two best friends, Ranger and Mel, as they navigate Normal Street - an ordinary suburb that has a hint of something magical just beneath the surface.”

I think when I was nine or 10 I would’ve changed the channel whenever this show came on, and it’s a shame, because it’s a lovely pilot. It reminds me of the old-school 90s live-action kids’ shows: So Weird, Are You Afraid of the Dark, The Secret World of Alex Mack, The Mystery Files of Shelby Wu. (Others have brought up The Adventures of Pete and Pete, but that was a little before my time.) It’s not a perfect match for any of them—it’s got a style and a tone all its own—but it definitely feels more like a throwback to times of old than anything you would see on Disney or Nickelodeon today. It’s a sweet, low-key, charming pilot; nothing more exciting happens than a magical frog and a bad case of heat stroke, but the characters are so likeable and curious, and so invested in the events, that it all works. There’s simply nothing quite like Gortimer Gibbon on TV right now. 


Hardboiled Eggheads

From Amazon:  “Miles and Kelvin are brilliant scientists...who happen to be in the fifth grade. The two no-nonsense brainiacs use their smarts and gadgetry to defend their school, city, and occasionally the world from science run amok.”

This show raises so many questions for me. Questions like: Why is the girl not in the description, when she’s clearly one of the main characters? Why can’t the girl do anything? Why does the girl hang out with Miles and Kelvin when they mock her for not being good at math and don’t show up to her spelling bee? Why is the girl in the spelling bee at all when she clearly can’t spell? How does fighting bee zombies somehow teach Miles and Kelvin to be better friends? Why don’t Miles and Kelvin have separate personalities? Why don’t Miles and Kelvin have personalities at all? Why isn’t this a show about one girl who isn’t as good at science but is good at lots of other things, and one boy who is good at science, and they complement each other? Or vice-versa? Why did they make a show that’s Phineas and Ferb but terrible? Who green-lit this monstrosity?


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I still think grading shows is silly, so here are the two and a half Amazon kids’ pilots I watched, in descending order of how much I would like them to be picked up.


1. Gortimer Gibbon’s Life on Normal Street

2. Maker Shack Agency

3. Amazon decides TV shows are too hard to make and shuts down all its original programming.

4. The government outlaws all TV, and I am arrested for illegally watching The West Wing.

5. Spiders. Spiders everywhere.

6. Hardboiled Eggheads


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 Okay. That’s done, then. Suggestions for how I can further ruin my sister’s life by putting off live-blogging Pretty Little Liars will be taken in the comments.