Friday, December 11, 2015

Five Things About Elementary 4x05, "The Games Underfoot"

A great B-plot and a vastly improved case of the week make for the most consistently good Elementary in weeks.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Five Things About Elementary 4x04, "All My Exes Live in Essex"

In this week's episode, Elementary lightens up a bit, and Joan gets more to do, but the show's inability to commit to its guest characters undermines an A-plot with potential.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Five Things About Elementary 4x03, "Tag, You're Me"

In this week's episode, on the one hand, the mystery was boring and there wasn't nearly enough Joan. On the other hand, SHERLOCK HAS A MOM.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Girl Meets Freedom of Religion and Responsibility in Storytelling

Girl Meets World tackles religious freedom and openmindedness, but its personal biases get in the way of real inclusivity.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Five Things About Elementary 4x02, "Evidence of Things Not Seen"

In this week's episode, John Noble and the promise of an interesting long-term arc mostly make up for a bland case of the week.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Five Things About Elementary 4x01, "The Past is Parent"

In this week's episode, the dynamic duo are back and better than ever, Joan and Sherlock take a mandatory break from the NYPD, and Gregson and Bell are still on this show, apparently.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Franchise on the Edge of Forever: Star Trek and the Making or Breaking of Streaming TV

CBS' streaming Star Trek series may be an option in our very own Kobayashi Maru.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Feminist Parallels, Pitfalls, and Possibilities of Supergirl

The first live-action TV show about a female superhero in a decade is, surprise surprise, largely about what it means to be the first female superhero. But is cultural commentary among Supergirl's superpowers?

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Fall TV 2015, Week Two: The John Stamos v. Rob Lowe Eternal Youth Showdown

The second week of fall TV presented a slight improvement over the first. This year's new shows may not represent TV living life to the fullest, but at least all of this week's shows have a pulse. (Even if not all of the characters do.)

Read on to get the beats per minute.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fall TV 2015, Week One: The Bland Leading the Bland

We're one week into the 2015 fall season, and so far, television is mostly just boring. Uninteresting plots, flat characters, and weak dialogue are running rampant. Pilots are almost always a little rough, but this year's crop seems especially... beige.

That said, there were a few colorful stand-outs. Here's how the first 11 new shows of the season measured up.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Fall TV Predictions 2015: The Muppets Take the Nielsens

The "fall TV season" is a thing that still exists, technically, so as a TV blogger, it seemed important that I establish my cred by making predictions about it. However, I like to hedge my bets, so I've recruited my sister, Holly--a much more dedicated consumer of Nielsen ratings, who has been watching the networks for years longer than I have--to make predictions alongside me, so that I can take credit for her correct answers and disavow her incorrect ones.

Together, we've come up with 12 pressing questions about the 2015-16 season, and we've answered them. Let us tell you what to think about the newest TV.

(Warning: This post contains mild, already widely-publicized spoilers for the third season of Arrow. Also it's super fucking long.)

Friday, September 4, 2015

Girl Meets Course-Correction

Girl Meets World got good. What gives?

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

One Big Thing and Many Little Things About Teen Wolf 5x09, "Lies of Omission"

The thing about Teen Wolf is that it’s not always a bad show. From time to time, it’s actually a very good show. But the bad elements—and the simply lazy elements—outweigh those times by enough that sometimes, it can be hard to know how much credit to give the writers when something does, miraculously, work.

I give you tonight’s final Scott and Stiles scene. If Stiles had simply given Scott the full story of what happened with Donovan—“He attacked me, he threatened to kill my father and hideously maim me, he chased me up some scaffolding, I pulled out the support structure and he was impaled on a bar”—then there’s no rational way that Scott could blame him for those events. Even if Scott didn’t fully believe Stiles, the disparity between Stiles’ story and Evil Mike Montgomery’s would at least have indicated that something weird was going on.

So why didn’t Stiles tell Scott that entirely true and exonerating story? Well, primarily, because the plot demanded it. The writers’ plan for the finale requires that Scott and Stiles be on the outs, so Stiles can’t tell Scott the full story, or else Scott and Stiles being on the outs would make Scott look like literally the worst person in the world. There are some halfway decent attempts to explain away the miscommunication in-universe—Stiles doesn’t know the story Evil Mike Montgomery told Scott, and therefore isn’t aware that Scott has a pretty terrible picture in his head that needs to be corrected before any rational conversation can be had. Still, most people in Stiles’ situation would probably give Scott some exonerating detail: “He was trying to kill me.” “I was running for my life.” “It wasn’t really premeditated.” Or there’s the moment when Scott mentions “the way it happened,” and Stiles fails to press for details about what, exactly, Scott thinks happened; he seems to assume that Scott knows the true story of how Donovan died, and is taking issue with that. Now, it’s true that Evil Mike Montgomery knows the true story of Donovan’s death, and Stiles must know that he was the one who tipped off Scott, but Scott’s statement there is an oddity, one that even Stiles seems to sense rings false—“What are you even talking about,” he responds. But he doesn’t press for details, or even offer them. He jumps immediately to a vague protest: “I didn’t have a choice.” Simply put, Stiles is not talking the way one would normally expect a human being to talk. Scott and Stiles’ conversation flows the way it does, first and foremost, because that’s the way Teen Wolf needs it to flow.

But. Teen Wolf has an out. It’s kind of a magnificent out, actually, but it only works if Stiles doesn’t believe a word he’s saying. If Stiles really, truly believes in his own guilt, then what he’s saying to Scott is simply rationalization. It’s the things he’s been saying to himself in order to live with himself. And if so, no wonder it all sounds like a lie; that’s what Stiles believes, in his heart of hearts, that it is. And no wonder he didn’t provide details of the story to back up his innocence; Stiles lived his story, and he doesn’t believe he’s innocent. Scott’s reaction doesn’t ring false, because it’s confirming everything Stiles already believes. Stiles would have to have an incredible lack of belief in his own character, an incredible pre-existing lack of self-esteem, an incredible tendency to assign himself blame, in order for his and Scott’s conversation to be in-character. It wouldn’t do for him to simply have a little bit of any of those things; he would have to have an all-encompassing, soul-eating, character-defining belief in his own badness. But if he has that—if Stiles felt all of those things about himself, that deeply, before he ever laid a hand on Donovan—then it works. That reading of the text makes a plot-derived falling out between Scott and Stiles at least make sense on a character level. The question, of course, is whether that reading is justified. And here’s where we run into Teen Wolf’s reliability problem.

There are three levels on which we can justify the “consumed by guilt” reading of Stiles’ character. First, does it fit with what happened within the scene itself? Second, does it fit with the groundwork that Teen Wolf has laid earlier in this story arc? Third, does it fit with Stiles’ established characterization prior to this story arc?

The answer to the first question is obviously “yes.” Yes, the scene makes sense—it only makes sense—if Stiles is acting from a place of deep-rooted distrust in himself. That’s why he gets defensive in the worst possible way: “Some of us have to get our hands a little bloody sometimes.” That’s why he begs Scott to believe him. That’s why he begs for a way to fix it.

The answer to the second question requires more digging, but it’s not hard to find a lot of evidence in favor of the idea that Stiles’ story arc this season was designed to imply that he has some serious guilt issues. The most obvious pointer in that direction is the fact that Stiles hid Donovan's death. He says it in tonight’s episode, when Scott asks him why he didn’t come clean from the start: “I couldn’t.” It’s not necessarily the case that only people with guilty consciences hide evidence, but in this case—hiding evidence from a bunch of people who love you, believe in you, and know full well that Donovan was violent and that chimeras are a thing—well, that’s something you do if you believe from the outset that you’re guilty. There’s also, of course, Stiles’ conversation with Evil Mike Montgomery in “Strange Frequencies,” where he more-or-less argues that Donovan’s death was not justified. His argument is absurd on the surface—as I mentioned in my review of that episode, it hinges on the idea that Kate freaking Argent felt remorse over the people she killed—but that very absurdity strengthens the idea that Stiles cannot think rationally about his own culpability. Finally, there’s Stiles’ flashback/hallucination thing from “Required Reading.” The revelation that Stiles’ dying mother believed that Stiles was trying to kill her does not prove that Stiles is prone to irrational guilt. But it certainly provides an explanation for why he might be. And its inclusion in this season, and at the point in this season that it came—the episode after Donovan’s death—could indicate that, yes, we’re meant to consider Stiles’ relationship with his mother when we think about what motivates his response to killing someone.

But even if Stiles’ absurd guilt makes sense within the scene and within the season, if it contradicts his character over the course of the series, it’s still bad writing. Rather shockingly, though, it doesn’t contradict any of Stiles’ previously established characterization. It reinforces it. Think back to Stiles’ hallucination in season two’s “Party Guessed”; he imagines his father, drunkenly accusing him of killing his mother. Think of his instant connection with the guilt-ridden Malia in season 3B’s “Echo House.” (And the way he responded to Malia’s request for information: “If I told you, you might not like me.” And the explicit connection, in that same episode, of Stiles’ anxiety with a guilt reaction. Man, that episode's a gold mine for this theory.) Think of the way he frames his role in the Nogitsune’s actions, post-possession: “But I remember all of it,” in “Insatiable,” and “I remember liking it,” in “The Benefactor.” These are the actions and reactions of a person with a pathological tendency to assign himself as much blame as humanly possible. Stiles has consistently, across the board, tended to revise history such that he bears a great deal of responsibility for events that he had little or no say in. All of this retroactively makes more sense, when viewed through the lens of what season five has told us about Stiles’ mother.

So that’s great! That’s wonderful! The reading of Stiles’ character that makes his scene with Scott in “Lies of Omission” not be a confused tangle of robot reactions is a reading that is totally supported by the text, at every level. The problem is, I don’t trust the text.

Consider: This is the same show that expects us to believe—with approximately zero evidence—that Scott is such an incredibly good person that he gets to have previously unmentioned magical True Alfalfa powers. This is the show that gave us the Peter’s Totally Sane and Not at All Confusing or Overcomplicated Revenge Plan in season four. This is the show that has had four seasons to develop Lydia’s banshee powers and still can’t explain how they work. This is the show that’s so erratic about which relationships it emphasizes and how it portrays them that I honestly cannot figure out whether we’re in the middle of a love triangle. Do I really believe that this show is competent enough to time the flashback with Stiles’ mother in order to signal an unspoken truth about his character that will make sense of his actions over the course of this season? Do I really believe that Stiles’ dialogue at the end of “Lies of Omission” was crafted both to further the plot and to comply with characterization that was both intentionally reinforced in this season, and knowingly rooted in previous seasons?

In short, the question is this: Who makes sense of Teen Wolf, the writers or me? The death of the author theory says that it doesn’t matter; the text is the text, and the writers’ intentions have no inherent value. But I’ve never really bought that, and I especially don’t buy it with television, which is a medium built on trust. When you read a book or watch a movie, you invest a few hours; when you follow a television show, you invest days, weeks, years of your life into a story, without knowing whether it’s going to add up to something good, or interesting, or valuable. And while books and movies are generally stories, complete unto themselves, serialized TV shows are long stories comprised of many smaller stories, each one with a plot and an arc all its own. Viewers have to evaluate each episode of a series as it comes, and trust that the writers are going somewhere with it. So it matters whether it’s the writers’ intentions or dumb luck that’s responsible for the consistency of Stiles’ characterization. Luck runs out a lot faster than skill does. The writers’ luck could change before next week’s midseason finale; their skill probably won’t.

The philosopher in me takes an inductive approach to all this, which is to say, Stiles’ characterization has been so consistent, in so many contexts, over such a long period, that I think it’s extremely unlikely that it’s all luck. The most likely explanation is that someone involved in Teen Wolf—maybe it’s Jeff Davis, maybe it’s Dylan O’Brien, maybe it’s both of them and someone else besides—has a pretty strong handle on Stiles, and writes toward that conception of the character. I don’t know whether the story behind Stiles’ mother’s death, for instance, was something that Davis had in mind back in season two, or whether it’s something that was created on the fly this season because it furthered Stiles’ current story arc and made sense with what came before. (I guess I lean toward the latter, but that’s something I don’t think matters.) Either way, I have a great deal of respect for the person or people responsible for Stiles, for creating a character I understand bone-deep.

But I still have doubts, where I wouldn’t on a more consistent show. And when it comes to characters other than Stiles, those doubts get even larger. Is Lydia’s relationship with her mother important? Do the writers realize the tone and boundaries that they’ve established for it? Why is Malia keeping information about the Desert Wolf from Scott and Stiles? Is it guilt-related? Fear-related? Have the writers given any thought to the reasoning at all? Where does Scott’s sense of responsibility for the fracturing of the pack come from? There are elements of all of these stories that are good—great, even. But does Teen Wolf understand what those elements are?

"Lies of Omission" was a frustrating episode at times, but the good in it outweighed the bad. I wish I could count that as evidence that next week's episode will do the same.

Odds and Ends:

Oh my God, I just rewatched the season 5 supertease looking for a good screencap for this review, and they used a competely different take in the teaser than they did in the episode itself. Stiles' "Not all of us are true alphas. Some of us have to make mistakes ... Some of us are human" is way angrier in the version of the scene that made it to air. In the teaser, it comes off kind of sad but reasonable; in the episode, it comes off incredibly defensive and angry. I don't know what to make of the difference, though.

Two-thousand-word explorations of authorial intent are all well and good, but I should probably make it clear that I was thinking about none of that during the episode itself. I spent most of “Lies of Omission” flailing and yelling at the screen in a joy/mostly misery. It was visceral, man.

There’s another odd aspect of Stiles and Scott’s conversation, which is that Stiles never, not once, says that he feared for his life. He never says that Donovan was trying to kill him (or anyway, torture him). What he does say, multiple times, is that Donovan was going to kill his father. This is a particularly damning thing to say; it makes it sound like Stiles chose, with a clear head and time to spare, to kill Donovan, because he wanted to protect the Sheriff. For this aspect of the conversation to make sense, we have to believe that either Stiles’ father was foremost in his mind while he was running for his life, or that in the aftermath, it was the danger to the Sheriff that Stiles used to rationalize Donovan’s death, rather than the much more immediate danger to himself. Luckily, Teen Wolf has an unimpeachable track record with Stiles’ protective instincts, in this season and every other. At this point, there is such overwhelming textual evidence backing that up that I’d be far more skeptical of a conversation that didn’t rely on Stiles prioritizing his father’s wellbeing over his own. As long as we buy that Stiles is acting from a place of rationalization and crushing guilt, this rings true to me.

I was informed by a friend that the first letter of Stiles’ real first name appeared on his ID card in “Ouroboros,” and that that letter was “M.” I don’t know whether to trust this information or not, because we’ve seen pieces of Stiles’ name before that are almost certainly not canon. But I was at the Teen Wolf Paley panel this year, and Jeff Davis did say that the writers’ room knows the first letter of Stiles’ name. If it’s real, I’m pulling for Mścisław; it’s Polish, it’s unpronounceable to the American eye, and it means “vengeance and glory,” which is a great name meaning for Stiles. (I know from my years as a Criminal Minds fan that Jeff Davis loves meaningful names.) I guess Mieczysław (“sword and glory”) would work okay too.

This is by far the grossest episode of Teen Wolf ever. I mean, that fingernail scene was on par with Supernatural, for sheer grossness.

Every other shot in this episode was of someone’s eyes in a car mirror. Scott in the side mirror. Theo in the rear view mirror. It’s been a thing all season, but it was seriously all over the place tonight.

Okay, I get that Evil Mike Montgomery is evil and he wants Scott’s pack, and he’s trying to divide Scott and Stiles, and Scott and Malia, and Scott and Kira, in order to get that. And presumably he wants Sixth Grade Girl to be a wolf so that he’ll have more than one werewolf in his pack. But why the fuck did he tell the Sheriff that he was the one who killed Donovan? What can that possibly gain him? I feel like Teen Wolf did it just to fuck with me personally, because I was so hoping for that scene exactly, but with Stiles in Evil Mike Montgomery’s place.

Another prime example of why Teen Wolf is hard for me to get a handle on: Just as I’d given up the Mayor Lockwood stuff earlier in the season as something that only looked like it was headed for a meaningful plotline, her scene with Malia in this episode more-or-less confirmed that, no, something is amiss in House Martin.

Hasn’t Scott been expressly forbidden from turning more wolves, lest Alba Villanueva come and destroy him?

Lydia’s line to Stiles, “It’s always better when you know,” is a nice nod to her character’s history of being in the dark for way too long about supernatural shit. Assuming that it was an intentional nod, of course.

Goodbye, Gay Chimera's Gay Chimera Boyfriend. I think I'll miss your nickname most of all.

Wait, so does the Nemeton operate on like, another plane of existence? Is it like Brigadoon? Because that was not clear when they were explaining this stuff back in season 3A.

Okay, so this is a kind of wonderful coincidence. When I was writing about Stiles’ implied bottomless pit of self-doubt, foremost in my mind was a scene from the season four Boy Meets World episode “Cult Fiction,” where bad-boy best friend Shawn Hunter explains to his mentor/adoptive father why he felt compelled to join a cult: “All my life, I’ve felt like there’s some part of me missing. And I felt like everybody could tell. Y’know, like there was some hole in me and everyone could see through it.” Shawn’s not talking about guilt, he’s talking about emptiness, but the way he phrased it has always stuck with me, and that sense of there being something fundamentally wrong with oneself, and feeling like everyone can see it, struck me as being particularly applicable to Stiles’ hypothetical guilt issues; the level of Stiles’ ingrained self-doubt would have to match the level of Shawn’s ingrained emptiness, in order for the end of “Lies of Omission” to make sense on a character level. I almost used that quote in the review. Anyway, then I was looking up the original 1985 Teen Wolf for insight into Stiles’ name, and I discovered that the actor who played the original Stiles, Jerry Levine, also played the cult leader in “Cult Fiction”! Truly, it’s a small world after all.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x08, "Ouroboros"

  1. I guess I can’t really blame Teen Wolf for this, but man, the hashtag writers are falling down on the job this season. Suggested hashtags are always awful, of course (only Jane the Virgin makes them work, and that’s by leaning into their awfulness), but come on. #PeaceOutKira? #SlappedByMelissa? #Layden? You really think the Liam/Sixth Grade Girl Shippers couldn’t (and wouldn’t) come up with that one on their own?

  2. Given its placement in the season and its tenor and pacing, it seems that “Ouroboros” was intended to be an Answers Episode. It certainly has the feel of an episode that’s meant to clarify the stakes as we build to the midseason finale. Think, for example, of season two’s “Fury”: two episodes before the finale, we get a full explanation of the events that led to the creation of the kanima, and then a major twist both clarifies Gerard’s plan and creates a new, scarier obstacle for the final two episodes. “Ouroboros” falls in the same place as “Fury,” and it follows a lot of the same structural beats as “Fury.” Unfortunately, it didn’t work nearly as well as “Fury” does. (Things I never thought I’d say about season two, man.) Going into this episode, I felt like I had a reasonable handle on the gist of what was going on this season, even if the details confused me; coming out of it, even the gist was gone. “Ouroboros” seemed to exclusively answer questions I hadn’t even considered asking. We discovered that the Dread Doctors are responsible for Kira’s out-of-control kitsune. It had not, up to now, been clear that that Kira’s out-of-control kitsune was something that needed an explanation. Noshiko treated it as dangerous and concerning, but not exactly mysterious; I was perfectly content with “It’s just a thing that happens sometimes” as reasoning. (Lord knows we’ve never gotten better answers than that about banshees.) Meanwhile, “Ouroboros” spent a lot of time laying out details of the chimeras’ time with the Dread Doctors, but it manages to do so in a way that muddles the situation even further. What did the Dread Doctors do to Sixth Grade Girl? I dunno. What did they do to the Gay Chimera’s Gay Chimera Boyfriend? Beats me. How many times is each chimera abducted by the Dread Doctors? Who knows? It’s like Teen Wolf has lost all ability to exposit. It’s not even clear what the conflict of the midseason finale will be, other than “something to do with chimeras.”

  3. The Sheriff’s moral qualms over “leaving his badge at the door,” so to speak, are not an inherently bad plotline. It’s actually a pretty interesting subplot, in theory, and one that ties well into season five’s clearest themes. It makes sense for a man in the Sheriff’s position to have moral misgivings, and there certainly aren’t any other characters on this show who give a damn about the law. The Sheriff’s actions at the beginning episode provide a dramatic counterpoint to Stiles’ in “A Novel Approach,” and the moments in “Ouroboros” that hinged on that comparison were pretty good, all things considered. Stiles has already had tense conversations about and around Donovan’s death with, in order, Scott, Lydia, Malia, and Evil Mike Montgomery, so it’s not clear that the Sheriff needed to get in on the action too, but there’s at least the possibility of plot development this time around (the Sheriff is following the evidence! He won’t bend any more rules!) and I’m never going to complain about seeing more of Stiles with his father. There are, however, a couple major issues with the Sheriff’s new moral code. First, it hasn’t been built up to particularly well. Sure, he had a bit of a freak-out over covering up Tracy’s death in “Condition Terminal,” but the subject has hardly come up since then, and he certainly didn’t mind bending a few rules during his and Melissa’s investigation in “Strange Frequencies.” Season five has been pretty overstuffed, but you can’t tell me that we couldn’t have sacrificed a few of the gay club scenes in favor of building up the Sheriff’s moral concerns. Second, the way the Sheriff acted on his new philosophy was really, really nonsensical and weird. We strongly suspect that Kira killed a chimera, but we think that she acted in self-defense and we know that she’s not in control of her actions, so we’re going to arrest her? But we’re not going to handcuff her because she’s only a self-defending murderer? That doesn’t even make sense on a legal level. On a moral level, it’s even weirder: The Sheriff defends his decision to report the chimera’s body and bring in Kira by saying that the dead woman’s family deserves to know what happened to her. But he provides no explanation to the woman’s family as to why Kira would have to kill her in self-defense, and he prevents Melissa from telling them the truth, so what’s the net result of all this? A basically innocent girl goes to jail, and a family is left with no answers as to why their daughter went crazy and tried to kill someone? That seems super worth it.

  4. Where the hell did all of this “everything is my fault” stuff come from with Scott? He seemed pretty convinced of it, and I have zero idea of why. In so far as I’ve actually been able to follow what’s going on, Scott is pretty clearly not at fault for any of it. Is it an overdeveloped sense of responsibility? If so, that’s fine, I guess, but it seems pretty out of line with where Scott’s emotional arc has been leading this season. If he were blaming himself for the loss of a chimera, that would be one thing; Scott has made it pretty clear that he views it as his responsibility to protect them. But he seems to be blaming himself for things like “not knowing where Liam is” and “the pack being vaguely upset with each other,” and it’s hard to understand how he came to that conclusion, on either a logical or an emotional level.

  5. Weirdly enough, the best moment of this episode was probably the scene where Scott takes the memories from the Gay Chimera's Gay Chimera Boyfriend. Not only was it the only scene where everyone's motivations and logic were completely understandable, but it was the first time in ages that Teen Wolf has actually used Scott's alpha powers. For all the fuss that this show makes over Scott's True Alfalfa-ness, he very rarely acts like an alpha. Perhaps the best thing about season four was the way that it used Liam to turn that flaw into a real story arc, but season five hasn't done much with it. Since Teen Wolf insists on believing that Scott is its True Alfalfa protagonist, it's good for him to occasionally use his True Alfalfa powers in order to protag.

  6. Odds and Ends:

    Please please please let the Desert Wolf be this season’s Big Bad. That way, every single thing that’s ever gone wrong in Beacon Hills would somehow be the fault of either Allison’s or Malia’s family. (Season three excluded.)

    So I guess we really are giving up completely on the little arc we had going with Mayor Lockwood earlier in the season? What a disappointment. Teen Wolf clearly has no idea how to do fanservice.

    On the other hand, Teen Wolf has now had both a de-aging plotline and a character with wings, so it’s possible that this show is more tapped into fan aesthetics than anyone else in the world.

    Today in random continuity: Stiles used to skateboard? I guess he did have that huge wall decal for a while.

    How do these people not have surveillance cameras recording the Nemeton 24/7?

    One more thing on the Sheriff’s “no rule bending” philosophy, since I apparently can’t get over it and also it was possibly the stupidest thing about the whole subplot: What, exactly, is the difference between “outside the law” and “above the law”?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x07, "Strange Frequencies"

  1. This was another episode with a throughline. Maybe that’s damning Teen Wolf with faint praise, but I like to give credit where I can. And there’s no denying that “Strange Frequencies” had identifiable subplots: the pack protects Sixth Grade Girl in the school; Mama McCall and the Sheriff play detective; Stiles and Evil Mike Montgomery share the world’s most manipulative stake-out; Kira goes dark side; and Mason discovers that Gay Chimera’s boyfriend is also a chimera. That’s a lot of plotting to juggle, but Teen Wolf mostly handles it. Nothing gets picked up or dropped without explanation, and at no point do we take a 15-minute detour into another plot.

  2. On the other hand, there’s a level on which “Strange Frequencies” makes no goddamn sense, because Teen Wolf keeps throwing the same mysteries at us, without ever answering any of them. We’re seven episodes into the season, and we still don’t know what’s up with the hallucinations—are they caused by the Dread Doctors or Valack’s book? We don’t have a solid understanding of what’s causing Kira’s kitsune problem, or what her out-of-control kitsune side wants. We don’t know what Evil Mike Montgomery wants, unless it’s Scott’s True Alfalfa powers. We don’t know how Evil Mike Montgomery is connected to the Dread Doctors. We don’t know who the Desert Wolf is, or what she wants. We don’t know what Parrish’s deal is. While the plot has progressed fairly steadily from the beginning of the season—each episode has ramped up the tension on Stiles, Malia, Kira, or the main Dread Doctors plot—we still have the same basic knowledge about many of the mysteries that we had in episode three or four. And in some cases, that’s fine (if frustrating) but in others, it seriously messes up the audience’s ability to understand the show. How are viewers supposed to react to hallucinations when they don’t know what’s causing them, or what meaning they might have? Worse, this being Teen Wolf, it’s possible that some of these questions will never have satisfying answers.

  3. Surprisingly, given how close-lipped Teen Wolf has been about this season’s mysteries, they’ve been clear from very early on that Evil Mike Montgomery is evil. This episode doubled down on that, taking the last remaining sympathetic element of Evil Mike Montgomery’s story—the tragic death of his sister—and revealing that, yup, he was evil back then too. I’m all for subtle villains, but in this case, it’s probably for the best that Evil Mike Montgomery is obviously and consistently evil. It gives the audience something clear to latch onto, amidst the confusion of the other storylines. For instance, the flashback makes it obvious that during the conversation in the Jeep, Evil Mike Montgomery is manipulating Stiles. He’s manipulating him rather expertly, in fact; the dead little sister story is a great strategy for cutting through some of Stiles’ suspicions, and all of that discussion of protection and punishment is extremely well tailored to tap into Stiles’ least rational thought processes. It’s pumping up Stiles’ paranoia about Scott’s reaction (“What’s the punishment for killing a chimera?”), while priming him to react really defensively to any hint of that reaction (“You protect Scott.”). Evil Mike Montgomery may be right about Stiles’ culpability in Donovan’s death (scratch that, he is 100 percent right, and Teen Wolf had better acknowledge it), but there’s an unquestionably dark motive behind his argument—he’s accentuating Stiles and Scott’s existing ideological differences, presumably in hopes of capitalizing on the rift they create.

  4. Kira’s kitsune plotline may be confusing, but it’s nice, in a way, that it’s there. Teen Wolf takes a lot of flack for being sexist. Now, Teen Wolf is not the Perfect Feminist Show, but it does seem to care about its female characters as people. This season, in particular, has obviously seen a concerted effort to give all the show’s female characters non-romantic plotlines. (In addition to their romantic plotlines, of course, because it's Teen Wolf--everyone has a romantic plotline.) Lydia has her weird banshee thing. Malia has the Desert Wolf. And Kira has her kitsune powers. These plots vary wildly in their execution, but it does seem like Teen Wolf genuinely cares that its female characters have something to do. (That said, there was not nearly enough Lydia and Malia in this episode, and all Lydia’s weird banshee hallucinations had better be going somewhere. It doesn’t have to be a good somewhere, or a sensible somewhere—just somewhere.)

  5. Random Bits

    Congratulations to Melissa McCall and Sheriff [Name Redacted] Stilinski, for figuring out the link between the chimeras only one episode after I did! These two are excellent. All parents on this show are excellent. When do we get Mayor Lockwood back?

    You know what did not need to be further complicated? The murder eyes. They were a weird piece of mythology to start with, and arguing that they don’t show up unless you feel guilty does not make them less weird. (You really think Kate and Peter feel guilty about their kills? Really?) Maybe that’s just Stiles’ massive guilt complex talking, though.

    So is Stiles’ face getting sprayed with blood like an annual event, now?

    Sixth Grade Girl is actually much better than Liam (that punch!). Maybe I should grant her a real name, and start calling Liam Sixth Grade Boy.

    RIP Stiles’ Jeep, 2011 – whatever year it is now. You may have burned, but what you represented will live on until the end of the season, probably.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

A Dream Cast for the CW's New Gritty Dystopian Little Women Adaptation

In case you haven't heard (you poor thing), the CW is developing a TV show based on Little Women. And the description... well, I'd say it defies words, but it's made of words, so just read it:
Written by [Alexis] Jolly, Little Women is described as a hyper-stylized, gritty adaptation of the 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott, in which disparate half-sisters Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy band together in order to survive the dystopic streets of Philadelphia and unravel a conspiracy that stretches far beyond anything they have ever imagined – all while trying not to kill each other in the process.
Every time I think I know how I feel about that description, it turns out I was wrong. Am I horrified? Excited? Anxious? Confused? I have no idea! All I know is one thing: This show absolutely must be made real. I don't know that a gritty, dystopian Little Women TV show is something that needed to happen, but now that the idea's out there, it had better happen. And it honestly has a better shot--both at being picked up and at being good--on the CW, a network that is currently experiencing something of a golden era of female-driven shows, literary adaptation shows, and genre shows, than it would on any other channel.

While we wait to see what happens, though, my sister and I have decided to prod the CW along with the widely-recognized gold standard of anticipatory fannish activity: a fantasy cast. So look no further, dear reader; you have found the One True Gritty Dystopian Little Women Cast Line-Up.

Emily Kinney as Meg March 

The eldest of the March sisters, Meg provides stability, kindness, and a guiding hand, while hiding an independent streak behind a strong sense of propriety. Kinney has proved herself more than capable of playing a sweet character with a steel spine--and her trademark is bringing sympathy and warmth to a gritty, post-apocalyptic setting setting.

Lindsey Morgan as Jo March

Second child Jo March, the lead of the book, is the wild card of the March family. She's smart, loud, brash, has zero sense of propriety, and is the least warm and nurturing of the four March sisters. And she has a serious temper. But she would do anything for her family. People who've seen The 100 (I know you're out there!) will recognize that as a pretty spot-on description of Morgan's character Raven Reyes. It'd be a wrench to lose her from that show, but she'd kill on Little Women.

Amandla Stenberg as Beth March

Beth is the quietest of the March sisters. Sweet, generous, and incredibly family-oriented, her rebellious streak shines through only when she's standing up on behalf of someone else. Stenberg's been adding quiet humanity to brutal post-apocalypses since 2012.

Kiernan Shipka as Amy March 

Youngest child Amy is self-obsessed, a little bit vain, and cares a lot about appearances--but without the same understanding of propriety that Meg has. She's impulsive and self-centered, but when her sisters set her straight, she'll do the right thing. Because Amy, like all the March sisters, does care deeply about family. Alone of the four actresses playing the March sisters, Shipka did not make her name in a post-apocalyptic movie or show. But she did a phenomenal job on Mad Men portraying a young girl growing and maturing in a restrictive society.

Susanna Thompson as Marmee

Marmee was the original rebel of the March family--that's where her daughters got it from. She loved her children fiercely, and wanted the world for them, but she respected their independence above all else. And she never believed that their gender should hold them back. Thompson has played more than one ferocious mother in her time, and fans of the CW's Arrow should have no trouble imagining her as the March matriarch. Moira Queen may be more cut-throat than Marmee, but the family dedication is definitely there.

John Cho as John Brooke 

John Brooke is Meg's love interest, a sweet, solid, studious, and upstanding man of limited means. John Cho is amazing, makes everyone who watches his shows want to hug him, and needs to be in more things. No-brainer.

Ian Harding as Theodore "Laurie" Laurence

Laurie starts out the book as an impetuous, spoiled, but ultimately good-hearted friend of the March family. Unfortunately, after Jo turns down his marriage proposal, he runs off to be a shithead playboy in Europe. Various unhappy and spoilery events finally calm him down, and he comes back to the fold as a wiser man, but he's a divisive character, to say the least. Luckily, Harding has half a decade's experience bringing charm and genuine likeability to a slightly skeazy character on Pretty Little Liars. (Plus, CMU alumni REPRESENT!)

JR Bourne as Professor Bhaer

The other leg of Jo's love triangle, Bhaer is an incredibly smart man who, due to his immigrant status, can't get the kind of work he deserves in America. He is staid, but tender, and Jo is drawn to him because he treats her as an intellectual equal. Like all "other legs" of love triangles, a sizeable portion of the fanbase hates him, but whatever. Anyway, Bourne's ace at calm-but-intense, and he's attractive and likeable enough that the CW might be able to overlook the (canonical!) age difference

Monday, July 27, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x06, "Required Reading"

  1. Teen Wolf needs to stop it with the cold opens. I think every episode this season except “A Novel Approach” has opened with five minutes of nonlinear or zero-context storytelling. It’s one thing to use confusing, apropos-of-nothing cold opens to introduce important characters for the week, or establish an important event, but there was no reason that we needed to see the full scene of Malia fighting off the Dread Doctor twice. Listen up, show: Cut the in media res bullshit and use the three extra minutes you just gained to explain more clearly what’s going on. Then you won’t need out-of-context teaser lines like “We never should have read those books” to create a sense of urgency!

  2. I don’t really understand what’s going on with the book-related hallucinations in this episode—as Lydia pointed out, they had nothing to do with the Dread Doctors, and they seem a whole lot like Malia’s Desert Wolf flashbacks, which started a couple episodes before she read the book—but they did give us a chance to revisit one of Teen Wolf’s favorite tropes: Our Three Main Characters Hallucinate, Giving Us Insight Into Their Individual Hopes, Fears, and Histories. Traditionally, this was done with Scott, Stiles, and Allison (see: “Party Guessed,” “Lunar Ellipse,” and “Anchors”) though “De-Void” gave us a rare two-person example with Scott and Lydia. In “Required Reading,” Lydia fills the lead character role vacated by Allison, but the hallucinations otherwise follow the pattern established by “Party Guessed”: Stiles’ is ludicrously painful but incredibly illuminating; Lydia’s provides a glimpse into her relationship with her family’s troubled history; and Scott’s is kinda dumb. Scott’s inhaler does have a certain symbolic weight on Teen Wolf, as a reminder of his humanity and as a piece of the show’s origin story. But Lydia spent the episode remembering the time her grandmother trepanned herself, and Stiles spent it remembering how his dying mother had delusions that he was trying to murder her. Asthma attacks can’t really compete.

  3. Scott’s induced memory will presumably turn out to be either straightforwardly plot-relevant or pure symbolism, but Lydia’s and Stiles’ are worth considering in terms of what they tell us about the characters. (NB: I’m assuming these are hallucinations of events that really happened, since that’s how the characters talk about them, but it is, I guess, theoretically possible that they’re entirely made-up, in which case… psych?) Stiles’ mother’s paranoia is the latest in a chain of moments reaching back to first season, each of which revealed a little bit more about the events that shaped the Stiles we know today. It’s remarkably subtle storytelling, for a show that color-codes its characters’ eyes so that you can pick out the murderers. Each individual scene contains only a little bit—sometimes nothing overt at all—in the way of exposition, but strung together, they tell a cohesive story. Stiles’ mom died, triggering a life-long anxiety problem. Then Stiles’ dad fell apart, and the ten-year-old had to step up and hold things together, and by the time the Sheriff got his shit together, it was too late to go back; Stiles had become this obsessively overprotective person. Stripped of context, Stiles’ hallucinations of his mom in “Required Reading” are pretty melodramatic—like, dear Lord, he just escaped a murderous chimera, how terrible can the show possibly make this kid’s life? Viewed in light of the history that Teen Wolf has gradually built for Stiles, however, the scene makes a great deal of sense. It answers one of the few longstanding questions left about Stiles: Why does he feel so guilty over his mother’s death? We know from his “Party Guessed” hallucination that he does, and it’s a character trait that Teen Wolf has silently reinforced over the seasons. But Claudia Stilinski died of a genetic disease, and while kids can certainly internalize guilt over things they had no fault in, it was hard to see the causation. The reveal in “Required Reading” solves that puzzle. It’s still not logical, but it makes sense that Claudia’s fear and blame would work their way into Stiles’ head.

    Lydia’s memory similarly explores an area of her past that we’ve seen hinted at, but whereas Stiles’ memory answered questions, Lydia’s mostly raises them. The biggest question floating around Lydia at the moment—and it’s a doozy—is how much her mother knows about the supernatural. Mayor Lockwood (she’ll always be Mayor Lockwood to me) was the one who revealed, last season, that Lydia’s grandmother was a banshee. At the time, she seemed to have a kind of hunch about the supernatural, but no strong knowledge. This season, she saw a kanima attack her daughter, and she hasn’t said anything about it since. In “Required Reading,” she rushes to Lydia’s side and asks if she blacked out. Was that a reference to Lydia’s miraculously-healed wound? Was it a veiled reference to banshee powers? If it wasn’t, shouldn’t it have been, given that Lydia’s banshee powers are an open secret now? Does Mayor Lockwood’s presence in Lydia’s hallucination—and her increased presence in season five, generally—mean that there’s more going on with her than meets the eye? I wish I could be sure that all of this confusion was going to resolve into something important, because as I’ve mentioned before, Lydia and her mother have a lovely and fascinating relationship, and it would be great if the tension and love there took a central role in the story. But Teen Wolf doesn’t have nearly so consistent a track record with Lydia’s backstory as it does with Stiles’, in part because Lydia’s backstory is supernatural, and Teen Wolf has a hard time nailing down a sensible supernatural mythology. Anyway, mark me down as “eternally optimistic, but doomed to be disappointed.”

  4. Where the fuck is this show going with the Malia/Evil Mike Montgomery thing? Assuming Teen Wolf is plotting competently (always a big assumption), Evil Mike Montgomery’s role in the rest of the season seems clear. He’s trying to get close to Scott, possibly to steal his True Alfalfa powers or possibly for some other nefarious purpose. One of the ways he’s doing so is to remove/discredit Stiles; it’s unclear whether or not he really meant Donovan to kill Stiles, but Stiles hates Evil Mike Montgomery and has Scott’s implicit trust, so he has to be dealt with. At some point, presumably, this will come to a head, with Evil Mike Montgomery using Stiles’ recent kill to drive a wedge between him and Scott. Malia’s role in all this, however, is a lot less clear. Evil Mike Montgomery could just be manipulating her, but to what end? And wherefore all the over-the-top sexual tension? If the show were setting him up as a legitimate new love interest, that would be one thing—it wouldn’t be a well-conceived plotline, but it would at least make sense. But he’s evil! It’s right there in his name! You can’t build a believable love triangle with him, because he sent a freaking chimera to kill Stiles. There have been a few villain/good guy love stories on Teen Wolf, but none of the lasting ones have involved the sole mastermind of a plot to kill one of the main characters. Obviously, the show is going somewhere with this, but it’s going there slowly, and the ride is more frustrating than thrilling. Long-term mysteries work on TV shows when events and character motivations make sense on an episodic basis, and when the show paces out its answers to keep the viewers' interest. Lost, for instance, excelled at both of these things. Teen Wolf, on the other hand, seems to model its story structure off of The Killing. MTV gave Teen Wolf 20 episodes to tell a story, and instead of creating 20 episodes worth of story, the show seems to have stretched out 12 episodes to fill the time.

  5. Calling it now: The chimeras have all had some kind of operation at Beacon Hills Memorial. This has the benefit of making both Sixth Grade Girl and Scott’s inhaler plot-relevant!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x05, "A Novel Approach"

  1. This was probably the best episode of Teen Wolf since… God, “Riddled”? “Insatiable”? Definitely since season 3B. I’d put the jump in quality down to two things. First, none of the Next Gen people were in it. Without Liam, Mason, and Sixth Grade Girl, there were fewer plotlines jostling for space, which allowed for the, you know, interesting plotlines to breathe and develop. This is the first episode of the season that has had a strong throughline, even if it moves at a predictably slow Teen Wolf pace.

    The second thing, of course, is the strong emphasis on Stiles. His plotline wasn’t the only successful one of the episode (we’ll get to that later), but Teen Wolf has always been at its best and most confident when writing for Stiles. And that shows in the semi-experimental opening, a 15-minute long fight scene and fallout in which Stiles never says a word. Centered on any other character, it likely would have been interminable, but between the depth of Stiles’ characterization and the skill of Dylan O’Brien, it became something legitimately gripping. Moreover, all that acting and style was in service of a shockingly well-conceived plot turn. Having Stiles kill Donovan was a smart—perhaps even daring—narrative move. It was the obvious way that confrontation needed to end, in order for Teen Wolf to convincingly tell the story it clearly wants to tell this season. Something truly dramatic has to occur in order to drive a wedge between Scott and Stiles, especially an ideological wedge. But Teen Wolf has backed down, in the past, from letting its main characters kill even when the situation obviously warrants it. Going there with Stiles, even in self-defense, indicates that Teen Wolf is prioritizing sensible plot and consistency of characterization over its weird narrative hang-ups

  2. Lots of relationship discussion in this episode. I don't know where exactly Teen Wolf is going with the Stiles/Lydia and Stiles/Malia stuff; it could be a reformation of the status quo, or it could just be defining the status quo, and I'll reserve judgment until it plays out. Weirdly enough, the angle on Scott and Kira's relationship made me the happiest.I was initially really skeptical of spending the episode’s B-plot on Scott and Kira, because I’m basically skeptical of anything Teen Wolf does that involves Scott. But I forgot that, when the show has time and attention to spend on her, Kira makes Scott a whole lot more bearable. Every one of Kira’s lines in this episode made me like her more, and I’m starting to let myself be won over by the incredibly awkward dynamic between her and Scott. There's something sweet and a little sad about the way their relationship has progressed in fits and starts; sweet, because the two most awkward people on the planet have finally found each other, and sad, because the subtext of season four made it clear that a lot of their relationship's slow pace is because of Allison's death. (On the other hand, fuck you, Scott. Tell Kira about her weird fox thing.)

  3. The third (fully-formed and identifiable!) plot of the episode was Malia’s C-plot, which confirmed my predictions about her weird flashes being flashbacks. (Go me!) On the one hand, I remain really happy that the show is continuing to engage with her history. On the other hand, some of Teen Wolf’s most successful scenes post-3B have relied on the dynamic created by Malia and Stiles’ mirror-image guilt issues; it would be a bit of a let-down if the ultimate reveal of this story is “Malia had nothing to do with her family’s death.” (Also, tangentially: Evil Mike Montgomery really wants to fuck with Stiles, doesn’t he? I wish he’d do it by sending more evil chimeras after him, rather than flirting with Malia.)

  4. “A Novel Approach” was incredibly engaged with Teen Wolf’s continuity, above and beyond even the show’s normal, unexpectedly frequent references to its past. It’s an episode that relies heavily on the show’s history for impact, in ways both spoken and unspoken. Some dialogue caught us up on relevant backstory—the reminder that Lydia and Stiles almost died in Eichen House, and the much more necessary reminder of who the hell Dr. Valack is. Some dialogue examined the show’s emotional history, making text what had only been subtext before—Scott and Kira’s discussion of how Lydia and Stiles’ relationship has changed, for instance. But there were also a lot of scenes in that had no direct mention of the show’s continuity, but that required a detailed memory of the show in order to be fully understood. Take, for instance, the way that Kira’s haywire electricity weakened the Eichen House defenses and allowed the Dread Doctors entrance. It sounds like deus ex machina nonsense, and there’s a sense in which it totally is—but it's a hell of a lot easier to buy if you remember the way electricity has been used to subdue werewolves throughout the series, and in particular Chris Argent’s monologue on the line between science and the supernatural in season two. Or there’s Malia’s subplot, which assumes that you know her backstory. Or there’s the way the characters treat Stiles as they enter Eichen House, and the way Stiles talks about Eichen House, all of which clicks best if you know that Stiles and Malia have both spent time institutionalized there.

    Probably the best example of how “A Novel Approach” hangs on the series’ continuity, though, is the first 15 minutes. O’Brien’s acting carries those scenes, but he has a lot of backstory to draw on: the fact that his character has been forced to kill before, and carries a lot of guilt because of it; the fact that Stiles’ supernatural problems have caused serious issues for his father at work in the past; the fact that Stiles has had issues separating dreams from reality. Best of all is the culmination of the sequence, in which Stiles stands before the red-string theory board and frantically tries to make sense of what he’s just experienced. The red strings have intimate connections to Stiles’ relationship with his father, to the events that put him in Eichen House and made him an unwilling killer, and to Malia, whose relationship with Stiles is founded on those events. They also speak, on a more surface level, to the analytical aspects of Stiles’ personality, built up over seasons, that are trying and failing to process this latest development in light of all of those things. Basically, it’s an incredibly loaded place to stage the end of the opening sequence, but there’s no way to put any of that in the text—remember, Stiles doesn’t speak a word until Scott’s phone call. Scenes like this seem to come from an entirely different show than the one that produced “Condition Terminal.” I wish this Teen Wolf showed up a little more often.

  5. On the other side of the continuity argument, however, we have Lydia’s miraculous recovery. Lydia got sliced open by a freaking kanima two days ago, and it’s Stiles who can’t move without wincing?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x04, "Condition Terminal"

  1. Good lord, this episode was a structural mess. We start with a (presumable) flashback of Lydia and Parrish discussing Parrish’s weirdness, cut to a fairly well-done set of scenes that run through the aftermath of “Dreamcatchers,” then drop most of the aftermath (Lydia’s status, the Sheriff’s moral qualms) in order to lay down some exposition about what the hell’s going on. Then, we cut to Evil Mike Montgomery planting terrible, horrible, no good, very bad ideas in Donovan’s head. Then we drop that and spend all of acts three and four following the Adventures of the Gay Chimera and His Boyfriend, neither of whom we’ve ever met before—literally, they weren’t even introduced earlier in the episode, they were both introduced in act three. Then we briefly cut back to Malia’s weirdness, wrap up Gay Chimera and His Boyfriend, take a pit stop by WTF Is Up With Parrish Station, and then pull Donovan out of act two to hurt Stiles for the cliffhanger ending. Try writing a synopsis for this episode. I dare you.

  2. By my count, these are the major ongoing plotlines that Teen Wolf is working on:

    • The Dread Doctors are turning people into chimeras.
    • Evil Mike Montgomery has insinuated himself in the group.
    • Parrish is an apocalyptic fire being who may be connected to the Dread Doctors.
    • Donovan is a crazy chimera who has it out for the Sheriff.
    • The Desert Wolf is out there and super dangerous.
    • Kira seems to be losing control of her powers.
    • Lydia is seeing the Dread Doctors.
    And these are the major ongoing emotional threads that Teen Wolf is working on:

    • Kira and Scott’s relationship
    • Lydia and Parrish’s relationship
    • Scott’s career hopes
    • Tension in Scott and Stiles’ friendship
    • Malia’s relationship with her family
    • Whatever the fuck is going on with Liam and Mason and Sixth Grade Girl
    That is way too many things. Teen Wolf cannot handle that many things. It needs to cut out some of the things. Go back to old-school Teen Wolf: A villain, a villain who’s hunting the first villain, a stupid Scott plot, an excellent Stiles plot, and as many emotional arcs as needed for the major characters of the season. Half of this episode was about people I don’t care about doing things I am uninterested in. It had two freaking acts of Liam, Mason, and Sixth Grade Girl hanging out with Gay Chimera in a gay club. It was like season two all over again.

  3. Beacon Hills sure has a lot of gay clubs for a town with a population of 20,000.

  4. Credit where credit’s due: Evil Mike Montgomery is pretty good at being smarmily evil. I hope he gets unmasked relatively early, so I can see him and Stiles face off.

  5. You guys, I think Stiles’ Jeep might, possibly, just maybe, if you reeeeeeally think about it, be a metaphor.

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x03, "Dreamcatchers"

  1. Between Lydia and Kira teaming up to help Malia drive, and Malia overpowering kanima venom to fight Tracy to save Lydia’s mom, this seems to have been Teen Wolf’s Girl Power episode. I’m not opposed, though I’m still waiting for a sequel to Lydia and Malia: Private Eyes from last season. (Lydia and Malia play really well off each other for a lot of the same reasons Lydia and Stiles play well off each other; they’re both smart, both opinionated, and have completely divergent views of the world.)

  2. I realized that the flashes Malia had last week and this week are flashbacks to the crash that killed her family, and a) I feel like SUCH AN IDIOT for not getting that, and b) I’m proud of Teen Wolf for dealing with it.

  3. Teen Wolf has apparently given up on having full subplots, opting instead to focus vaguely on a single character or theme. In the premiere, it was “getting/keeping the gang together”; in “Parasomnia,” it was “What the fuck is up with Theo and Tracy?”; in tonight’s episode, it was “MAN THAT MALIA’S PRETTY AWESOME AND TERRIFYING.” So we get Malia learning to drive, and then we get Malia seeing a picture of the Desert Wolf’s destruction, and then we get Malia overcoming the kanima venom to save Lydia’s mom. Those three things together make up at least half the episode, and while they share a kind of thematic focus—Malia’s power, and how that makes her potentially amazing and potentially dangerous—they’re only tangentially related, in terms of plot. I’m like 90 percent sure that this is why Teen Wolf is so confusing.

  4. Speaking of kanima venom, for those playing along at home, Stiles has now been paralyzed by it four times. If I remember correctly, Derek has been paralyzed by it twice, and no one else has gotten hit more than once.

  5. Man, Teen Wolf is really trolling its audience with the Sheriff/Lydia’s mom stuff.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x02, "Parasomnia"

  1. I can’t be the only person who has no idea what’s happening with Tracy. Was she already a werewolf? Did she get turned into a werewolf? I don’t even know, man. Teen Wolf kinda thrives on this sort of thing—even in this episode, we had another unexplained and unremarked upon mystery in Malia’s weird flash while driving. But the difference between the Tracy mystery and, say, the Theo mystery is that while I can easily formulate questions to ask about Theo—Is he really Theo? Is he really from Ethan and Aiden’s pack? What does he want?—the only question I can come up with about Tracy is “What the hell?”

  2. “Why can’t you trust anyone?” “Because you trust everyone!” This is a really interesting way of framing Stiles and Scott’s relationship. I’m not sure the text fully supports it—Scott kind of wavers in how much he trusts people he obviously shouldn’t trust—but I buy it on an intuitive level. And I definitely buy that that’s how Stiles sees their friendship, because Stiles is an overprotective neurotic crazy person who thinks he’s responsible for everyone. The trailers for the rest of the season make it seem like this may turn into a Thing, but this is Teen Wolf, so who knows.

  3. Speaking of this being Teen Wolf, I’ve thought about it, and I’ve figured out how a reasonable show would handle the Lydia/Eichen House flashforwards. We know season five is a 20-episode season split into two 10-episode half-seasons, but following a single story the entire time. (Unlike season 3, which told distinct stories in its first and second halves.) So the thing to do, of course, would be to spend the first 10 episodes building up to Lydia in Eichen House, catch up with the flashforwards in the midseason finale, and then move on from there in the second half. This makes so much sense that I would be shocked if Teen Wolf did it.

  4. I was so happy to see Lydia’s mom back. (And amused to see her lecturing about night terrors; she is such her daughter’s mother.) I love their relationship—how prickly it is, how weird the power balance is, but how much genuine love is obviously there. It’s one of the show’s most consistent relationships, up there with Stiles and his father.

  5. Theo is played by Mike Montgomery from Pretty Little Liars. I feel like that makes an absurd amount of sense (Mike is always going out of town on lacrosse trips, after all), but also it means that every time the show tries to be, like, suspenseful about Theo, all I can think is, “Mike! Get back to Rosewood! Mona’s not done with you!”

  6. BONUS THING: With the increased focus on Mason and Liam’s relationship and Mysterious Girl from Sixth Grade, I can’t help but feel like Teen Wolf is trying to establish a new generation of supernatural teenagers in case its current stars move on, a la Degrassi. I cannot emphasize enough how terrible that idea is.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Five Things About Teen Wolf 5x01, "Creatures of the Night"

  1. Though we don’t have much more than a bubbling glass case and a couple of gas masks to go by, it’s pretty clear that this season, Teen Wolf is going to do its version of the “secret organization that does science experiments on magic.” Possibly the first, and definitely the best -known, plot line like that was The Initiative in Buffy the Vampire Slayer season four. Every teen fantasy show eventually does The Initiative. (Even some non-teen fantasy shows do; Being Human, for one.) On the one hand, it’s rarely a good idea. On the other hand, since literally no one does it well, it’s actually kind of ripe ground for Teen Wolf to explore, since at least people are less likely to say, “Buffy did it better.”

  2. Another thing Teen Wolf will apparently be doing this season: nonlinear storytelling. I mean, maybe we won’t see any more of the Eichen House Lydia bits. (That would be pretty much par for the course, given Teen Wolf’s penchant for introducing things, forgetting about them for seasons at a time, and then picking back up on them seemingly at random.) But whether it gets picked back up or not, flashforwards seem like a terrible idea for Teen Wolf, which has a hard enough time constructing a sensible narrative when everything’s going in the right direction.

  3. “Fun like bowling, or fun like sex with other guys?” Stiles and Malia are THE BEST, and I will fight anyone who says otherwise. (Also, Stiles and Malia got the scene that sets up the theme of the season. It’s nice to see that Teen Wolf is continuing its grand tradition of having Scott be the guy super special things happen to, but Stiles be the actual protagonist of the show.)

  4. Despite the glowy-handed werewolf fight and the creepy Eichen House flashforwards… nothing happened in this episode. I sort of get the idea of taking an episode to “get the band back together,” especially in a season that is presumably about testing the longevity of friendship, but seriously, Kira spent half the episode sitting in a car. Teen Wolf episodes often end about halfway through whatever the hell story it is they’re trying to tell (see “Anchors” and “More Bad Than Good” from the beginning of season 3B), but it’s worth pointing out, because literally all Kira did was sit in a car.

  5. The most successful scene of the night, by far, was the Senior Scribe. It showcased all of Teen Wolf’s best qualities: its attention to detail in character work, its attention to continuity in backstory, and its occasional bursts of real, visceral emotion. Stiles lingers longest on his initials, thinking of those who have passed through the school before them, and what happened to them; Malia hesitates over which initials to use, a moment made more poignant by her adoptive father’s appearance earlier in the episode; Scott memorializes Allison alongside himself. Stiles’s pause at Derek Hale’s initials might be read as queerbaiting (though I go back and forth on the degree to which I think the show is doing that, and the degree to which I think they legitimately just have fun playing those two characters off each other) but it’s also a nod to a character who Teen Wolf could just as easily not have remembered. At a time when Stiles is remembering the past and worrying about his future, it makes a great deal of sense for him to think about the only friend he has who’s graduated high school, and it was a fairly seamless way to reference a character who was once a huge part of the show. Scott writing Allison’s initials is an even clearer example of Teen Wolf’s long memory. Teen Wolf takes a lot of flack for “forgetting” Allison, but she was a huge presence throughout all of season four, and the show actually deserves some praise for continuing to make her loss felt.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Gender Disparity in American Showrunners: Another Descent into Excel Madness

A couple of years ago, I published an in-depth look at the gender make-up of British and American TV writing staffs, with a particular emphasis on sci-fi/fantasy shows. In that case, I was looking for data to justify yelling about Steven Moffat. Alas, the data did not bear me out on that one, so I was forced to yell about Steven Moffat for other reasons.

Anyway, since then I've thought a lot about the kinds of entertainment questions that can be answered with publicly available data. It probably shouldn't have taken me two years to get from "gender disparity in writing staffs" to "gender disparity in showrunners," but in my defense, "Day of the Doctor" aired three months after that post, and the frothing rage it inspired sort of blasted everything else out of my mind.

But I've now mostly recovered, so I decided to do a deep dive into the gender make-up of American showrunners. And as an extra-special Father's Day gift to my dad, who believes I would be the most popular blogger in the world if I would just cut down on the f-bombs, I will not swear a single time.

The Study

I looked at every primetime, scripted show that aired on an American broadcast network (ABC, CBS, the CW, Fox, or NBC) in the 2014 - 15 season. This left out reality shows and soap operas. For each show, I recorded the names of its showrunner(s), whether it had at least one female showrunner, and whether it had at least one male showrunner. My data was gathered from Wikipedia and several dozen (probably over one hundred) interviews and news articles.

Studies should have specific questions going in. In keeping with the sci-fi/fantasy theme of my 2013 study, mine were: What percentage of American TV shows have at least one female showrunner? Are some networks more gender-equal than others? Are some genres more gender-equal than others?


"Showrunner" is an uncredited role on American television productions. The showrunner, usually credited as an executive producer, is in charge of the day-to-day running of the show--as you might expect. This also generally makes them the ultimate authority on the creative direction of the show; they decide on long-term plotlines, assign and revise scripts, and incorporate notes from executives.

Because most shows have numerous executive producers, figuring out which one is the showrunner when you are unfamiliar with the show can be a tricky business. Showrunners are often, but not always, the creator of the show. In the end, I just googled extensively. If a preponderance of news articles/interviews named a person as a showrunner, I went with that. I used a combination of names and publicly available photos to determine gender. This is not a 100% foolproof system, but it's the best I have.

As always, the full data set is available for those interested:

The Breakdown

Edit: A concerned reader pointed out that my tables are less than clear. (Thanks, concerned reader!) To clarify: The second column in each table lists the number of shows in each category; the third column lists the number of shows with at least one female showrunner in each category; the fourth column lists the number of shows with at least one male showrunner in each category; and the final column lists the percentage of shows with at least one female showrunner (that is, female showrunner shows divided by total shows) in each category. The third and fourth columns may sum to more than the total number of shows, because some shows have more than one showrunner.

# Shows
# w/ Female SR
# w/ Male SR
% w/ Female SR
The CW

# Shows
# w/ Female SR
# w/ Male SR
% w/ Female SR


So, 30.1 percent--or slightly less than 1/3--of American network primetime scripted shows have a female showrunner. Meanwhile, 78.5 percent--just over 3/4--of shows have a male showrunner. (Those numbers don't sum to 100 because some shows have multiple showrunners.)

Obviously, those aren't great numbers. Three times as many shows have a male showrunner as have a female showrunner, On the other hand, they're not unexpected numbers; in my 2013 writers room study, I found that the average American show had a writing staff that was 33.4 percent female. And the actual ratio--that is, the total number of credited female writers on American television, divided by the total number of credited writers--was .317, which is extraordinarily close to the showrunners number.

In some ways, that's good news. TV writers' rooms act as a kind of training ground for showrunners; most showrunners have put in at least a few years writing for someone else's show before they're handed the reins of their own. If 31.7 percent of TV writers are female, and 30.1% of showrunners are female, that's an indication that showrunners are drawn with relative gender equality from the pool of qualified TV writers.

Of course, that just means that the problem for women isn't getting out of the writers' room--it's getting into it.

What About Those Network and Gender Questions?

Right! Well, I'll start with genre. Right off the bat, you can see what I'm going to call our "problem genres": comedy and procedurals. Meanwhile, dramas are the best out of any genre, and do better than any individual network; they have total gender equality. Sci-fi/fantasy, my old frenemy, rides the fence; 38.9 percent of SFF shows have a female showrunner, which is juuuuuust above the average.

The networks show a starker divide. ABC and The CW both have 50 percent or more of their shows with a female showrunner; all the other networks have less than 25 percent, with NBC showing an especially dismal 11.8 percent.

Correlation is not, of course, causation, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that the network numbers go a long way toward explaining the genre numbers. ABC and The CW, the two networks with the best gender equality, account for 13 of the 18 SFF shows, and they account for all of the SFF shows with a female showrunner. CBS, meanwhile, the second-worst network, accounts for 2/3 of all procedurals--the worst genre. Though it is possible, I suppose, that networks are first specializing in genres, and then the gender biases of the genres are determining the networks' make-up, the reverse seems more likely.

But again, correlation is not causation. That SFF number is interesting to me, because back in 2013, SFF shows were also just slightly above the average in terms of female writers--but at the time, SFF shows were much more spread out among the five networks. Also interesting: CBS has only two dramas, but those dramas both have female showrunners. And among procedurals, only CBS has any female showrunners.

There are methods by which we might try to suss out the causation, but unfortunately, they rely on us having more data than we do. The fact that there are only two shows that are both dramas and on CBS makes it difficult to figure out how "drama" interacts with "CBS."

But... But Conclusions!

Fine, fine, you can have conclusions. No matter what the causation, it's still a fact that ABC and The CW are doing better than the other networks in terms of gender equality. And it's a lot easier for a network--a defined entity with a relatively small number of decision-makers who regularly communicate--to enact purposeful change than it is for a genre to do so. So if we want more gender equality among showrunners, the thing to do seems to be to applaud ABC and The CW, both with words and with viewership. Make an effort to watch shows with female showrunners, and then write publicly about why you're doing so.

Now, go out there and watch TV!