Posted by Zan Romanoff
I'll give Twisted this one: despite all of the extremely predictable drama around the Danny-Lacey-Jo love triange, they have so far spared us the crushing embarrassment of watching Jo actually confess her affections to Danny, who continues to think of her "like a sister." Instead last night's episode saw him dropping that little phrase in casual conversation and destroying all of her sweet hopes and dreams with it, sending her running into the arms of Tyler, Phoebe's cute but slightly creepy older brother who tried to ask her out last week, too. The real suffering is reserved for Rico, who's absolutely haplessly in love with Jo, and Danny, who's being pranked-- and maybe stalked-- by someone who thinks it's funny to decorate his front yard with jumpropes, his murder weapon of choice.
Danny and Lacey are keeping their budding romance quiet by going on late-night romantic picnics in public parks-- a questionable decision on many levels, and especially when one is interrupted by a horde of boys in Danny masks wearing identical green shirts, red jumpropes draped around their shoulders. (Where someone found an army of teenage boys with long dark hair for this particular display is a question best left uncontemplated, really.) He throws a bottle at them to scare them away and they disappear-- only to show up at the house party Danny throws to try to get himself back into his classmates' good graces. This time two of the masked Dannys re-enact the murder on his living room floor-- where Tara Desai's actual death took place five years earlier.
It seems that we're meant to understand that the pranks are being engineered by Tyler in an attempt to create drama for his documentary about Danny's return to Green Grove. Is it him, then, who we see in a mask recording Danny and Lacey making out in his living room in the episode's final minutes? (Seriously, these kids are not great at stealth.) Or is it... someone else? Who knows! It was another entertaining hour with almost zero real plot advancement, though Danny's mother does turn herself into the police for Regina's murder at the very end-- not that I buy it for a second, but at least it's some kind of progress.
There are three more weeks to go, during which time I'm hoping that all of these secrets unravel themselves and the kids will get it together and the show will convince me that Jo and Rico really do belong together after all. Though it's probably not a great sign that I am sort of starting to hope that Danny's a sociopath? There's a lot of promised creepiness that Twisted has yet to deliver on, and dopplegangers in paper masks who get scared away by a little broken glass just aren't going to cut it for me in that department, I'm afraid.
10.10.13 at 9:53 am | Stylish, unsettling, ultimately predictable.
10.9.13 at 8:34 am | Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. gets boring.
10.8.13 at 6:07 pm | Last week, a certain finale brought an epically. . .
10.8.13 at 9:20 am | HIMYM limps ever closer to its finale with an. . .
10.7.13 at 11:16 am | Diablo Cody, Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage. . .
10.4.13 at 9:20 am | The show's sixth season doesn't show any signs of. . .
8.26.13 at 8:17 am | You'd never expect a show about shopping for. . . (8)
8.28.13 at 4:15 pm | Yesterday I asked a coworker, with whom I’ve. . . (8)
10.10.13 at 9:53 am | Stylish, unsettling, ultimately predictable. (7)
July 30, 2013 | 9:06 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
If it's the girls know too much in this episode-- Allison takes her father's careful tracking of the Darach for evidence that he is one, Lydia decides to acknolwedge her power instead of denying it and discovers that she's a banshee, Jennifer, well, Jennifer is the Darach after all-- then it's the men who know far too little. There's poor Danny, letting Ethan tie his tie and fix his hair before a school recital, unaware that his boyfriend is a murderous Alpha. There's Derek, who doesn't know his girlfriend is a murderous druid or how to save his mysteriously dying sister. Then there's poor Sherriff Stilsinki, who finally gets let in on Beacon Hills' worst-kept secret only to get stabbed and abducted in the episode's final minutes.
It's actually a pretty decent hour, especially on the heels of last week's manipulative mess. The plot advances: we learn things about characters (that Danny and Ethan's last pack was a terrible one, that they didn't always know how to Alphasmash themselves into one enormous creature), we learn things about what's been happening-- who's been killing people, anyway-- and gain some more clues as to why. Characters not only don't lie to one another, they go out of their way to tell each other the truth and keep each other up to date. Everyone works together and yet somehow things still happen! There's still tension and drama and feelings galore. ("Mom would have believed me," I mean really, Stiles, Jen threw the knife but you're not at all afraid to twist it.) Let this be a lesson to you, Teen Wolf: sometimes, traditional is more interesting, and less frilly cinematic pretension can mean much more getting to happen up on the screen.
July 29, 2013 | 2:22 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
All right, I'll admit it: I just don't get Orange is the New Black. I watched three or four episodes the weekend it came out and have made my way through three or four more in the intervening weeks, waiting for it to become addictive, delightful-- even just plain old entertaining. At first I avoided spoilers and then I started reading reviews, hoping that someone else's positive opinion would rub off on me and help me to see whatever I was missing. It didn't take. I'm twenty minutes into the eighth episode and I can't imagine I'll ever get much farther. I just... I just don't like it.
I understand all of the arguments for why it's important: the show goes inside of a women's prison and gives us a reasonably realistic sense of what goes on there day-to-day, the extraordinarily mundane details of what's often sketched as a terrifying and awful place. It asks well-heeled viewers to sympathize with a class of people we tend to dismiss or ignore; it has aspirations, the show, I will certainly give it that. All things considered, of course I'd rather have Orange is the New Black than another vapid show about mean housewives or devious maids or whatever. Because OitNB also passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. It puts women on screen-- women of color, even-- and puts them at the center of its narrative, of all of the different kinds of stories it's telling.
it doesn't always succeed in those aspirations though, or tell those stories as thoughtfully as it could. Yasmin Nair has a great piece at In These Times about the way the show fails to reimagine, question or even adequately discuss the class system in America, how different it is to be an inmate like the putative protagonist, Piper Chapman, who can go home to her fiancee when her sentence is up, from being an inmate like Taystee, who leaves only to come back again, finding the outside world punishingly, impossibly tough without any support system at her back. As Nair points out, the show congratulates Chapman for recognizing that her choices landed her in prison without ever examining the stories of women for whom there were no other choices, not in any real sense.
And that's where we come to my real problem with Orange is the New Black: in its attempt to humanize each of the prisoners the show comes off like a heavy-handed morality tale. Everyone's bad behavior-- which is to say their crimes, which range from Piper's fairly minor carrying a suitcase of cash to more serious drug trafficking, and even murder-- is basically excused by the fact that they all had their feelings hurt by someone at one point or another. Rather than pointing out structural racism and inequality, the broken educational system, etc. ad nauseum, the point of the show really does seem to be that these women wanted to fit in and failed to, that they made mistakes so that one person or another would like them better, or because they'd realized that that person would never like them anyway so eff it, who cares.
That could be an interesting narrative thread, the way women assimilate the constant cultural demand that they be liked and likeable, if the show wasn't swimming in such deep waters already. Instead it flattens perspective and renders each characters' dramas more or less the same: it's all a matter of recognizing ourselves in these women, and producing the correct emotional response. The show either catches you or doesn't. It leaves me very cold. Piper is an unlikeable heroine but she's also not an interesting one; her character's complexity is, essentially, that she realizes she's not as nice as she always thought she was. The rest of the show is about how everyone else is nicer than you think they are.
And I'm not terribly interested in nice, I'm afraid, especially in a theoretically groundbreaking show about women and their stories. I've met enough nice girls, on-screen and elsewhere. I wish the show was confident enough in itself to show us their nastiness, to give them the possibility of being complicated and seductive and still basically broken or bad. Orange is the New Black has no bite to it; it renders prison too familiar, too safe, in an effort to make it relatable. It has plenty of feeling but no real drama, which I think is a shame, especially since it's a show about women, who get to talk about their feelings already, and plenty.
July 26, 2013 | 3:35 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
This week's episode of Graceland is the first to abandon its usual procedural format-- a Case of the Week plus or minus some progress on a season-long Big Mystery-- in favor of developing character relationships and moving that one main question to the fore. It makes for a quiet first half, for sure, and I spent that initial thirty minutes wondering whether I was going to have to pan a show I'd just finished enthusiastically recommending. But there are big enough revelations in the second half to keep the first from weighing it down too heavily, and the ending twist is good enough that I'm basically writhing in agony about the fact that it will be another two weeks before there's any kind of resolution.
Two weeks ago Charlie discovered that one of her confidential informants had overdosed in the course of a meeting with a drug dealer; when the suspicious dealer challenged her to shoot up from his stash to prove she wasn't a cop, she took the bait. Last week Briggs set her up in a crash pad stocked with high quality heroin to ride out the come down, dosing her with just enough more when she had to meet with the higher ups to explain how the case had gone wrong. This week she confesses her crimes to the rest of the house. She feels like it's crucial to come clean to them because she views them as family; Briggs takes her to task for it at the end of the episode, claiming she's burdening them by putting them in a position where they may have to lie for her in the future-- and where they'll undoubtedly have trouble trusting her as she continues to work investigations undercover as a (possibly) pretend junkie. The episode is in large part an exploration of each character's code of ethics, and the way that those ethics inform their relationships to one another. It gives depth to the rest of the proceedings; it's a confident move, to spend an hour on relationships in a high-adrenaline cop show, but I think it totally works here.
If Graceland is, per the show's closing conversation, Charlie's family and Briggs' palace, then for rookie Mike it seems to be little more than a job. He's been charged with quietly investigating Briggs, who seems to be skimming serious quantities of drugs from the busts he makes, and while he was at first reluctant to do it, every week finds him more convinced that there's something to his bosses' claims, and less argument for Briggs' innocence. This week he tells his girlfriend-- who believes he's a pilot, since she can't know he's an undercover agent-- that he'll likely be moving back east when she does, indicating that he think he's close to wrapping up the Briggs case to his bosses' satisfaction.
It's kind of a dick move, but it's also hard not to be on his side when Briggs slips away from his housemates' surveillance to meet with a high-level drug dealer named Bello. It seems that the mysterious Odin, who Briggs and Mike have been chasing all season, is none other than Briggs himself. Or that's what he claims, anyway. He's pulled enough crazy stunts that it's possible for this to be another one, and being able to see it either way creates some truly delicious tension. The show has really effectively set up an scenario in which one of the main characters could well be hero or villain, and in which I'm certain that, whichever it is, the results will be exciting, which is no small feat, especially in its rookie season.
July 25, 2013 | 3:24 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
There are all kinds of careers in reality television. Last night's Top Chef Masters, which pits established chefs against one another in a bid to win money for their favorite charities, saw the return of a runner-up from the original Top Chef, Las Vegas' second place finisher Bryan Voltaggio. Bryan is a married father of two who owns a successful restaurant in Maryland; his return to televised cooking reads as a smart, genial publicity bid, an effort to get his restaurant's name out there and prove that, though he lost to his brother in his season's finale, he's still a world-class chef.
Top Chef Masters is somewhere between pleasant and boring to watch; there's nothing but professional pride at stake, which mean the losses are cringier (how can someone so successful screw up frying oysters??) and the wins aren't exactly thrilling. Still, sometimes it's nice to have that kind of thing on the menu, the sense that reality television can raise up the deserving and talented, that some people are still willing to put their rep on the line and play for charity, maybe even a little bit for fun.
Then there's Project Runway, which is limping into its twelfth season this month, having been jettisoned by Bravo and picked up, none too successfully, by Lifetime in 2009. Like Top Chef, Project Runway has done All Stars seasons, giving former contestants the opportunity for a do-over; for this season, fans were asked to vote someone back into the Parsons workroom for another shot at a Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and sartorial immortality. (Or collaborations with Payless, a la the show's most successful winner, Christian Siriano-- whichever.) Of course the fan favorite was a pretty but apparently prickly girl named Kate. There were the requistite determined statements about proving herself this time around. Mostly it was interesting to see other contestants crowding around her for little pieces of wisdom, a reminder that reality shows run on their own odd sets of rules ("when do we start tomorrow?" one girl asked, and Kate said they'd probably be in the workroom from "6 to 11," which puts a lot of the show in perspective-- a seventeen hour day of sewing would make anyone a little prickly, I think).
But then there's the kind of show that's only marginally skill-based, that's intended mostly to exploit exhaustion and drunkenness and youth. I'm talking, of course, about MTV's The Challenge: Rivals II. I'm not even going to attempt to explain it-- Wikipedia has an exhausting and exhaustive summary-- only to say that it's a marvel to watch for maybe five minutes at a time, which was as long as I could stand it. Mostly what the experience verified was that people who started out making a living being themselves on MTV in the late 90's and early 2000's, which is the last time I watched the channel regularly, are still doing it. I mean, I guess what else are you qualified for, at a certain point? But it was pretty miraculous to witness girls who I watched throw down with one another when I was fourteen or fifteen still doing it now that I'm twenty six (and they must be... in their thirties?)
In some sense it's a job like any other: as reality tv has become codified, the bright young things who get plucked up for fame know that they earn their keep by getting drunk and hooking up, getting in fights, causing drama all night and then moaning about it in the confessional rooms all day. On The Challenge there are labyrinthine rules and grueling physical challenges but the draws are the same: I caught a bit of the after show, which focused ten minutes on two men who'd hooked up their first night in the house, another few on who one of them had hooked up with after, whether the girl he'd kissed counted as hooking up or not. There were, by the end of it, six or eight adults in the room, all of them making money off of the conversation, watching clips of themselves doing things they only blurrily remembered. I changed to channel back to Top Chef Masters. There were no stakes, really, but at least there were skills involved.
July 24, 2013 | 2:59 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Twisted seems to have stalled out in the last few weeks; it feels like it's being mired down by the simplicity of its own plot, by a plodding hesitance to reveal anything for fear that anything might lead to everything. Last week we learned that Danny's dead father was sending murdered Regina hush money for keeping quiet about something (while they were both still alive, of course)-- whether it's a possible affair between the two of them or something connected to Danny's five year old murder case and Regina's recent death, we don't know.
Also in the dark is Danny; Jo and Lacey decide not to tell him what they've discovered for fear that it will upset him. Instead, most of this week's episode is tied up in teenage lovesickness: Jo has a steamy dream about Danny and finally confesses her feelings to herself, and then to (a surely heartbroken) Rico, and finally her mother. It's hard to hear her so earnestly announce that she might be in love-- especially when Lacey shows up on Danny's doorstep in the episode's final minutes to say that she's finally had it with her boyfriend, Archie, and is ready to fall into Danny's possibly-sociopathic arms.
It's a fun thought experiment to imagine how different this show would be if anyone ever told anyone else the truth. If, for instance, Danny continued to keep whatever dark secret justifies his having murdered his aunt, but told the cops immediately when he found Regina's necklace in his locker, if Lacey had given the envelope containing the note and cash directly to the police. I don't think the mystery would be much farther along, but it would make it significantly more believable, more compelling and easier to watch.
It's nice that the show isn't built around mysterious, impenetrable plot twists, but watching people lie to and withhold from one another gets old in its own way. It makes the show frustrating, because characters are working to piece together truths the viewers already know. It's a technique that can work when handled carefully and sparingly-- it's a very different show, of course, but The Wire's bodies in the vacants is a perfect example of this done well-- otherwise, it's hard not to feel like the show's plot is stalling and sputtering. You feel like you can see the hands of the writers at work, trying to spin out the plot to last as many episodes as they're required to deliver.
For what it's worth, though, this was also the first episode in which I felt legitimately creeped out by Danny, and I think that's a good thing. I've never believed that the show would have the guts to make him a serial killer but there was something seriously off about him this week. I want to believe he was framed for poisoning his teammate Cole, but part of my brain insists that there's something more devious going on here: Danny poisoning his teammate and framing himself so obviously in order to gain sympathy from Lacey and Jo, and possibly to convince Jo to leave her boyfriend, Archie, who he blames for the incident. It would be a serious turn for the show to take, and a ballsy move for ABC Family, so I'm not getting my hopes up here-- mostly I'm hoping that this means something darker and more interesting on the horizon for Danny: less stonewalling, more twists and turns ahead.
July 23, 2013 | 9:46 am
Posted by Zan Romanoff
People who need to justify the public's sudden widespread interest in fictional supernatural creatures tend to cast them as metaphors: zombies are the stumbling hordes of viral infection and pandemic. Vampires are the simultaneous threat and promise of penetration, consumption, absorption: they turn sex into death and death into life. Werewolves are our inner beasts, the animals we keep under our skin. It's no accident that all three conditions are transmitted by bite: the fear of mixing fluids is ancient and primal. There is always some kind of violation, some kind of transformation, when skin is broken and blood is revealed.
Having a supernatural body means physical strength and stamina and quite often the ability to heal (zombies are obviously the exception: their power is their illness and the mindless spread of contagions). The flipside of that is losing some measure of control over yourself: turning into a wolf when the moon is full or popping fangs at the scent of human blood. Depending on the myth you turn into a creature or live with one inside you. To be turned, to let someone turn you, gives them power over you, especially in the werewolf world. It's established in the first season of Teen Wolf that an alpha can call and control those he's bitten. The rule of the pack turns family into hierarchy. It's the same play of control and surrender that always governs our relationships to our bodies writ large. That's the real draw of these myths: they are all in some sense about how monstrous and alien the human body can feel even when we're still living inside of our own familiar skin, how terrified we are that our humanity could coexist with-- might like to be consumed by-- something animal and wild.
Teen Wolf does an interesting thing by giving us a hero who never wanted the bite, didn't ask for it and doesn't like it. Scott is a reluctant werewolf (and now a reluctant Born and Magically Deserving Alpha). The narrative never makes as much as I think it should over the issue of Scott's consent, the fact that Peter Hale found him in the woods and turned him because he was a warm body, because he was there. The show's stories are full of similar incidents: Peter tries to turn Lydia and, when she proves immune, uses his connection with her to posess her from beyond the grave, manipulating and seducing her into resurrecting him. As a teenager Derek was raped by a woman who then used her to connection to him to burn down his family's home, killing everyone inside of it. Last week Alpha Kali impaled Derek's packmate, Boyd, on Derek's claws, in effect forcing him to commit murder.
So this week's story about why Derek is so consumed with pain and always has been-- apparently the part where he was raped and then his rapist murdered his family isn't enough trauma?-- is a particularly odd and tone-deaf one. It turns out that teenage Derek fell in love with a girl named Paige, and evil Peter convinced him to have her turned into a werewolf without, you know, asking her if that was okay with her first. We see this happening in flashbacks, the visual storytelling sometimes at odds with Peter's narration (Stiles gives the world's cringiest expository line about unreliable narrators at the end, as if we might have missed the part where Peter is lying through his teeth). The bite doesn't take; Derek kills her, beileving she's about to die anyway.
There's a lot of background mythology being shoehorned in here, stuff about Celts and druids and emissaries and Nemetons. Paige dies by the roots of a tree that's supposed to protect the surrounding community from fires and plagues, the suggestion being that ten years ago Peter mysteriously manipulated Derek into getting his girlfriend bitten and killing her there, that all of the suffering that's happened in the years since has been a result of that. And it's mythologically interesting, sure, and if they can really pay it off it might be beautiful, plot-wise, but I wish to god the whole thing didn't rest on the murdered body of a teenage girl.
Because the point of this episode is basically: Peter is awful and you can trust him even less than you thought you could. (There's a second story being told by the Argent's patriarch, Gerard, about how Deucalion went from being a peaceable, reasonable guy to the rabid Demon Wolf we've come to know, the moral of which also seems to be that Gerard has always been an evil creep.) Also, Derek has suffered mightily and that's why he's so angsty and guilt-ridden and awful all the time.
But what about Paige? Here's what we know about Paige: she was fifteen and she played the cello. She was tough and self-reliant and, like most teenage girls, suspectible to tease-flirting, a boy who seemed to show his soft side only to her. She knew Derek was a werewolf, she tells him just before she dies. And she loved him anyway.
But the point of her life isn't an end in itself: it's to further all of these men in their plots. She's the blank center on which the rest of the story turns, her body used and then discarded. She's the object upon which the action happens, the stable point from which everything else spins out. She's silenced when Derek doesn't ask her what she wants for herself, and muted when he decides for her. It's an absolutely classic example of fridging, a woman's body being used to fuel a man's pain and a man's plot. There's a lot of complicated consent in Teen Wolf but Paige's story is just the same old rape narrative with no chance for redemption.
The point of using vampires and werewolves and zombies to tell stories is that metaphor gives us space; it allows us to explore aspects of opression and consent, sex and violence and death that are hard to look at--much less talk about--head on. So the greatest failure of the episode, for me, was in the lack of imagination and the failure of that metaphor. The supernatural justification for Paige's death is ultimately superficial: at root, this is about Derek (and perhaps his family) not wanting to lose access to her body, wanting to keep it young and strong and healthy and pretty. Paige isn't bitten out of desperation but out of simple human cravenness. It's not the animal or the monster in anyone who takes her down, in the end. It's the Hales' fear of rejection and discovery, human calculation getting in the way of any kind of animal empathy. It's not a werewolf story at all; it's the most tired kind of myth about bodies: that especially the young female ones are anyone's for the taking, and that whoever survives to tell the tale gets to own her story in the aftermath.
July 22, 2013 | 5:15 pm
Posted by Zan Romanoff
Addiction is a tough thing to talk about on a television show. It's a disease that defies the typical narrative arc: there's a slow start and a long middle, and getting treatment never guarantees that anyone will stay sober. So it tends to be relegated to Very Special Episodes or dealt with sparingly. Nashville's first season did a good job of portraying Deacon's alcoholism, both in sobriety and in relapse; it did the painful but necessary work of reminding viewers that addicts aren't addicts because they aren't loved or supported, necessarily, but because they're people who are sick. A particularly heart-rending late season scene showed his young neice pleading with him to sober up, and Deacon telling his sponsor he that he knew what he'd done and needed to start over, only to sneak off to the shower to drink in private. That's the true, terrible story of addiction in all of its various forms: that it isolates people who are loved and well-supported, that sometimes it makes it impossible for us to love them and support them the way that we want to.
So I was deeply disappointed by one of the storylines on last week's second episode of Camp, which featured one of the senior counselors, Robbie, dealing with his mother's gambling addiction. They don't call it that on the show-- Robbie always refers to his mother's problem, taking great care to minimize it, insisting that it only flares up every now and again. While the rest of the camp competes in a color war she calls him from a local casino asking for a ride, asking him to lend her the rent money she's gambled away and then, when he gets her the money she needs, going back to gamble it, too. That particular day it happens to work out, netting her several thousand dollars that she insists will keep her comfortable for a long time coming. They argue about whether he should go to law school (she thinks he's not smart enough for Stanford) and make up when she buys him a day planner with her winnings, writing a supportive note in the front.
It was distressing to watch the levity with which the show treated the issue, instead making it out to be about affection and attention. His girlfriend Sarah couldn't understand why he didn't want to have to bail his mother out yet again; "she's your mother," Sarah kept saying, essentially guilting Robbie for not caring enough. The episode ends with the two of them laughing in the kitchen together, taking quarters to scratch off lotto tickets. I couldn't help flashing back to earlier in the episode, when Robbie talked about a childhood of living in fear that the electricity would get shut off or the car reposessed, to the scene in which his mother gives him scratchers for his eleventh birthday and then has to use his money on utilities. Everyone has the right to handle the addicts in their lives in their own ways, of course, but it was depressing to see her behavior normalized and accepted, to essentially be told that Robbie would be wrong to cut her off, to witness the notion that addicts just need to be loved to be healed reinforced on-screen.
The rest of the episode wasn't much better, shlocky and heavy-handed, without the fun summer romp vibe that kept the pilot on the move. I'll give the show another week, but my guess is that's it's over for me and Camp-- my first summer fling already fizzling itself out.