Matt Smith as Doctor Who: New Preview from BBC

I’ve been pretty clear on the blog that I don’t like the tweening of sci fi in the states or Britain; while increasingly younger actors bring in new, younger audiences, average age actors attract audiences across the spectrum. And as I’ve said, I think it is short sighted, at best, of the BBC to chase tweens at the potential cost of everyone else.  If you’ve ever read this blog you probably have already guessed that David Tennant is among my top 2 favorite Doctors of all time. I have seen them all and disliked only a rare few. I’ve watched this show my entire life (except when it wasn’t on the air and even then I was probably watching it in rerun). I even made jokes about it while playing lacrosse (ie that our safety gear looked like a “bad” Dr. Who episode.) Through various means, I have even had an inside line to production on Who for several years despite just being a wee little academic who blogs; and, I have been blessed by the anonymous Who-affiliated commenters throughout the years, including when they catch me on a bad day and I curse them out. (Yes, I’m hanging my head in shame on that last one.) And as an academic who studies media, among other things, I have a particular intellectual investment in the current reboot of Dr. Who for it’s contributions to race, gender, and sexuality discourses in modern science fiction. And so it has been both with trepidation and interest that I have watched Eccleston turn into Tennant and now the arrival of Matt Smith.

I cannot imagine a day that Dr. Who is on the air that I would not be watching. Even though I have many complaints about the proposed changes to the show, I am actually excited with the video I have seen so far (only some of which appears below). Despite my misgivings, these “insider clips” seem promising.

Make up your own minds from the 2 clips released by the BBC in anticipation of Matt Smith’s Spring debut; as I said, I think it looks fairly solid:

Goodbye David/ Regeneration Scene

Preview of 11th Doctor

Sorry I can’t give you anything else, but I don’t want anyone getting in trouble.

As always, I will be watching when Dr. Who returns in the Spring and I will be commenting both as a fan and an academic. Unfortunately, having recently met Matt Smith and found him to be cocky, cavalier, and completely out of touch with what it means to be playing the next Dr. Who, perhaps b/c he claims to have never seen the show prior to getting the job, I doubt I’ll be offering too many posts about him. What made Tennant great was that he was an amazingly funny and personable man, an immensely talented actor, and a bigger fan of Who than even I. Matt Smith has a fail on two of those things and the third remains to be seen. What I know about having met him, I would be willing to chew off my own skin to get away but hopefully that will have little reflection in the version of Dr. Who he offers us this upcoming season. We shall see.

Dr. Who The End of Time Pt I Review (spoilers)

UPDATE: My extremely positive review of pt. II here

As the clock winds down on David Tennant’s time as The Doctor, Russel T. Davies and crew offer up another hit or miss episode. On the positive side, Tennant shows off the immense acting chops that made most fans sit up and take notice of the reboot of the beloved Dr. Who. There is nothing more compelling in this episode than when Tennant as Doctor Who ponders what it would mean to die, either for real or as the man he is now to become the tween he is set to be. John Simm, as The Master, also gives his most powerful performance when opposite Tennant as the two discover that the beating in his head is in fact real.

Simm seemed quite the match for Tennant back in the days of Martha and it seems like such a shame to have wasted him here. But wasted he is, as The Master’s role in this episode is mostly to point to the gluttony of the human race and mimic comic book villains of days gone by. The obvious reference to Skeletor, b/c he keeps fazing from normal head to electric skeleton head, is made by Dr. Who himself when he asks aliens masquerading as humans where The Master is being held.  The other villains should be equally recognizable to scifi fans: General Zod and crew from Superman II, right down to the bad special effects and Dr. Who’s flying cape-like coat, and the bad immortals in Highlander; the first of many showdowns between The Master and The Doctor takes place in an abandoned, ruined, part of London with electricity and explosions all around just like any number of final sword fights on the Highlander series. In some ways, The Master’s mania coupled with his cheap effects “flying” is like a bad live action import ala Power Rangers. Whatever they envisioned, his initial high speed vaulting while menacing quickly devolves into circa 1980s Superman movie shame with the addition of electricity shooting from the Master’s hands.

The storyline is also convoluted and, dare I say, a little stupid. First, Davies goes back on his word to take life and death seriously in Dr. Who and Torchwood by bringing back a character that he has definitively killed off. Even David Tennant sounds a little incredulous trying to explain how that happened in the special extras attached to these final episodes. The long and the short of it:  The Master, anticipating losing against Dr. Who for reasons that are unclear & inconsistent w/his meglomania, stores a part of his essence in a ring; he then trains minions to bring him back in the event of his death. Despite having had the ring this entire time, it takes some time for them to get access to his wife who has the essential DNA needed to complete his resurrection. However, she is no passive woman and while The Master is gloating about his impending resurrection, she manages to gum up the works by blowing up the building. He survives but in an incomplete state that has turned him into a cannibal of sorts and only the Doctor can help him; but of course, he does not want the Doctor’s help. Enter some poorly fleshed out Black British villains, their aliens in disguise helpers, and a machine that can rewrite genetic code of entire planets & you have the plot for the final episode of both Davies and Tennant’s successful careers with Who.

In the midst of this story, “The End of Time” wraps up Donna Noble’s story. Donna is on the verge of marrying her working class boyfriend, living out a frustrating and lonely life, when The Master gets lucky and takes over the Earth once again, triggering her memories and her brain implosion.

While Davies gives us a wide array of Black British charactersin this episode, they are tangential at best. The two “master minds” of “Earth’s future” are in fact puppets of aliens masquerading as human and so self-absorbed that when they die I almost cheered. Donna’s fiance is also black and while he is not a servant to a spider queen this time around, her grandfather states that she is “settling” and that the marriage is another sign of how pathetic Donna’s life has become sans Doctor Who. There is also a black homeless teen, while he is cared for by an older white homeless man who genuinely wants him to survive, the teen is too stupid to keep his thoughts to himself when The Master starts on one of his looney binges attracting the Master’s attention and leading to his gruesome death. Yep, real winners in this bunch. Add to that ongoing references to President Obama, that seem oddly out of place, and the reference to “The Master Race”, an intentional joke that lacks any humor, and you have a hodge podge of unflattering images of blackness unbecoming the show. I expect more from Davies no matter how much criticism I dish out for lapses in the Martha-Doctor storyline or the death of Lisa on Torchwood.

(There is one exception, an elder black man who is friends with Donna’s grandfather is smart and helps find The Doctor when the older people in London figure out there is something wrong; his part is small but significant given these other portrayals.)

On the bright side, not only are Tennant and Simm giving their all, but one of those aliens I keep mentioning is played by the lovely Sinead Keenan from Being Human. Though her part is fairly small, she infuses it with the same wit and presence scifi fans have come to expect. It’s a pleasure to watch her work, especially in scenes that would otherwise be setting of my racial critique mode. Her energy is matched by an equally subtle performance by the actress who plays The Master’s wife. Her quiet resolve upon discovering The Master’s plan to return reminds me of the same quiet Toshiko had when Jack frees her from prison to join Torchwood. There is also a mysterious older white woman, who could be a Time Lord, popping in and out of the story. She acts as a guiding voice to Donna’s grandfather, who also turns in a poignant performance here. Finally, Donna is also her usual bossy self rounding out the roles of women that are mostly empowered and in charge.  On the negative side, there is one black British woman in this episode who is a pretty, pretty, princess who thinks she can manipulate alien technology and The Master in order to harness the future and live forever. For a villainous Mastermind she is a woman of few, and mostly insipid, words who has little more presence than the fuzzy pink sweater she wears. In light of the other female characters in this episode, or in the Who universe, she is a joke unworthy of the last episodes.

Besides the compelling melancholy of Dr. Who, his pathos filled conversation with The Master, and the exciting changes in the evolution of the Ood, the music score also creates a lot of tension and drama in an episode that is mostly just Dr. Who and The Master running around in the wastelands of London’s poor areas playing jump over the rock pile.

Even more exciting: The whole episode is narrated by Timothy Dalton as a Time Lord. While my gf likened his voice to the narrator in the Grinch, I’m chalking that up to too much eggnog and not enough Flash Gordon nostalgia. Dalton is the perfect mix of all knowing and dark. More than that, the idea that this hodge podge of a plot might lead to the return of the Time Lords for good and the rebuilding of Gallifrey is enough to forgive its failings.

—–

all images BBC 2009 Dr. Who “The End of Time Pt. 1”

Time Lord Victorious (Dr Who Waters of Mars Review)

By now you have all seen Waters of Mars, the latest installment of Dr. Who and the third to last episode staring David Tennant.  For me, despite the hype surrounding this episode, it is the most uneven episode of the season so far.

fan art for Waters of Mars/Lazy John

The Plot

Dr. Who arrives on the first human run Mars base in history moments before a virus/alien race begins infecting the crew.  While the Doctor makes a point of saying that he needs to leave the base because there is nothing he can do, he ultimately interferes with a time line both he and the Daleks have determined is fixed in time and must not change.

The Cons

On the negative side, the “monsters” and the “companion” in this episode leave a lot to be desired.  We are told Captain Adelaide Brooke inspires human exploration of space and her descendants even start a new race of people. Though the Doctor clearly idolizes her in some ways, Capt. Brooke comes across as a stand-offish woman who barks orders at her crew, is invested in a top down model of leadership, and is most of all, afraid to die. When it comes time to make critical decisions about the base, Capt. Adelaide has to be reminded about protocol from her second in command, a male officer who clearly thinks he knows better than she does. And when Dr. Who tells her she will eventually have to blow up the base in order to save the Earth, she initially refuses on the basis of not wanting to die. By the time Captain Adelaide begins to live up to the Doctor’s expectations she has already come across as dictatorial, unapproachable, and afraid. Her moments of heroism on the base, from her attempts to save the crew to her ultimate decision to blow up the base even as the Doctor is trying to work his magic, all ring a little hollow as a result.

The monsters are also a disappointment, partially because they seem like an after thought. Within moments of the Doctor’s arrival one of the botanists working to create sustainable food on Mars becomes infected with a virus that transforms him into a cracked-face, crazed-eyed, water producing creature that wants to infect the crew.  He quickly infects his female counterpart and then the only physician on the crew. Visually, they just aren’t scary. The make up is something more akin to a bad SyFy Saturday Z rate movie than Dr. Who and their motivation, though frightening, never really rings true to the episode. It would have been much more effective to simply see the shifting of water to break through various barriers they remaining crew erect without close ups with the infected crew while Dr. Who’s explanation of the infection “water waits” “water always wins” “one drop will change you” played in the background. That, coupled with a slightly longer, slower shot of the ice, while Dr. Who explained that it may have been the Ice Warriors who trapped the aliens/virus on Mars and then the scene of the ice cracking  would have been up to par with the terror and intensity we were supposed to feel.

As it was, I seldom cared about the threat nor connected with the fear that the crew was feeling.

The pros

However, I would argue that the virus was never the point of this episode. Instead, Waters of Mars asks us to consider what it means to be the last of the Time Lords. By this point in the new series, Dr. Who is a broken man in many ways. He has survived a great war that left him torn and shaken. Even though his companions have all helped him begin to heal from the loss of his people and his planet, they have also all torn a piece of his heart. From the loss of his great love, Rose to his shame about the dual  failures to look out for the feelings of his equal Martha and the destruction of the empowered woman Donna had become, Dr. Who is a traveler unhinged from time and companionship. He is man accountable to no one and mourning everyone.

Into this profound sorrow comes a moment in time that cannot be changed and yet, we are told, is a great tragedy.

Much more than a companion, Captain Adeliade is a mirror. Like the Doctor, she wants to live even when she knows she is meant to die. And like him, faced with the facts, she fights again reason, time, and even the future to stay alive. But unlike the Doctor, Captain Adelaide ultimately realizes that there is more at stake than her fear of death. Where the Doctor stumbles, believing in his own unchecked power, she puts him and time back on track by making the ultimate sacrifice.

One could also argue that the virus/aliens in the water are an equal mirror to Dr. Who’s dilemma. They too want only to live in the face of a kind of death. Like Dr. Who, they have lived and died and have hope of living again. And also like the Doctor, they have decided that their survival is more important than the lives of others. This is why they are the monsters in the story. And while I have argued that the makeup on this episode is sub-par, one could easily argue that the infection of humans and the slight but disturbing alteration of their appearance is a metaphor for the ways that the Doctor we have come to love has been infected by fear of death and that slight alteration transforms him from hero to potential monster.

Ultimately, the Doctor is reminded of his role in time and the universe. Like a child who falters, he stands alone in the snow and asks “Does this mean it is my time?” And though he gets no answer, he knows that the end is around the corner.

While it is hard to see the Doctor this way, especially since what makes him so endearing after all this time is the bravado and the bravery that comes with knowing you are essentially immortal, it is a take that is both unexpected and ultimately poignant.

Other points of interest

  • The base is named Bowie Base One a clear nod to David Bowie in the good old days 🙂 (I’m surprised there was no Major Tom)
  • The crew is multicultural and includes both men and women in prominent roles – though the two highest ranking roles are both white
  • There are no queer characters nor queer window-dressing which is always too bad b/c Davies does it so well
  • There is an adorable reference to K-9 both verbally and visually

Major Spoilers

  • Davies has seemingly gone back on his snipe about killing Ianto, when he responded to criticism about killing major characters by saying people die and that fans who didn’t like it could watch Supernatural instead, by bringing back The Master
  • There is also some indication that characters from the past will make an appearance in the two part finale

—–

all images are the property of the BBC except where indicated

Do You See What I See Take II

And since I am pointing to “subtle” shifts in already problematic media, I thought I’d play one more with you readers, this time from the land of “Super friends”:

Original Zan and Jayna

co Hanna Barbara

The originals were part of the DC comic franchise and became popular as part of the Hanna Barbara hour, and other HB offerings, on Saturday morning cartoons.

Smallville’s Zan & Jayna

co Warner Bros

It may be harder for you all to notice the difference this time around unless you are familiar with racial encoding in similar comic book characters for the same period as the original Zan and Jayna.

Suffice it to say that while The Wonder Twins original back story was that they were aliens, many saw them as people of color because of their visual similarity to other characters, usually stereotypical orientalist villains, and embraced them as one of the few positive images in this vein.

In typical Smallville fashion, Zan and Jayna have been white washed by both casting white actors and replacing their original storyline with the idea that they are meteor infected small town white teens.

Again, this is not really worth the amount of blog space I am giving it in isolation but certainly worth documenting as one of many moments in which Smallville has failed to depict diversity in any significant or lasting way. After all, though Smallville started out with a racially diverse cast, it’s Asian-Canadian female lead was in a role originally written as white and the character was never updated to reflect the background of the actress playing her. It’s African American character/actor original faired much better but soon degenerated to stereotype before ultimately being written out.  Other characters on the show have been cast using white or white appearing actors for Latin@ roles & were written to be read as white by those who did not know their back story; while characters like Victor Stone were among the most under utilized.

In the sense of a pattern of increasing homogeneity, even at the expense of actual characters of color, The Wonder Twins reboot is worthy of note. (And yes, there is far more to complain about with said reboot than just race.) Outside of this context, not so much …

Black Face is Never OK – Memo to “Miss Tyra”

There have been a lot of black face incidents in the fashion industry of late. Since fashion is no less removed from culture than anything else, and since it is guilty of many messages that demean women (from glorifying violence against women, reducing women to parts, and starving women so that girls watching hate their bodies), I have not really weighed in on the issue. However, last night on America’s Next Top Model, a show I do not watch, Tyra Banks decided to not only put together a photo shoot that depended on superficial cultural appropriation but also paint white models brown or black:

Under the guise of celebrating interracial relationships, and our President, Tyra Banks informs wannabe models that Hapa means 1/2 Hawaiian and 1/2 something else and that they will all be given bi-racial identities to emulate for their photo shoot. As seen in the video, most of these girls have no clue about the cultures they have been assigned and are given no help in learning anything about them. So there are three layers of wrong here:

  1. cultural appropriation – when members of the dominant culture take or emulate often superficial aspects of a non-dominant culture
  2. black face – the use of make up & or hair dye to change the color of primarily white people to that of people of color for the purpose of ignorant portrayal (usually to demean & always based on stereotype &/or ignorance)
  3. ignorance and failure to educate – the models not only know nothing abt most of the cultures they are assigned but are given no way to learn them; worse, the show relies on them making ignorant comments about their black face & grooms them to think such behavior is acceptable & outside of racism

This continues a longer thread in Tyra Banks’ career, starting with her Talk Show. Often on that show, she tries on identities of marginalized people for 24-48 hours and then reports on the experience while showing clips. She then, inevitably, informs her audience how much she has learned from passing for the day with a full camera crew at her side. Under this superficial consciousness-raising model, Tyra has put on a fat suit, dirty designer jeans and sweat shirt to be homeless for the day, altered her facial features to be “ugly”, etc.

Her narrative, like that of the models in last night’s show, does less to provide the credibility she so desperately wants and instead reveals how ridiculous her behavior is in the face of real oppression. Thus “homeless Tyra’s” biggest issue is that she is bored b/c there is nothing to do when you are homeless and she is humiliated because she has to use a public bathroom to brush her teeth.  Real homeless people worry about where they are going to sleep, how they are going to stay safe from physical and sexual violence, whether they will need to engage in extra-legal activities to eat, sleep, or live another day, or simply where they will go if the weather drops below freezing or a heat wave settles in their town. “Fat Tyra” is astounded that people don’t open doors for her or smile at her when she is buying coffee, while real large women worry about being harassed by random men and children calling them ugly and unlovable on public streets, picked on or mocked by passersby and friends and family alike, ostracized from economic and social events including jobs, or provide demeaning health care that compromises their level of care or ability to receive preventative care. Her minor moments of clarity pale in comparison to her colossal failures to understand the basics of the oppressions she attempts to expose. And her revelations are like a sitcom in which gross inequalities are solved in the course of an hour.

No matter how insulting this formula is however, Tyra Banks has always made the pretense of learning about her subject and consulting experts before and after playing dress up in the house of oppression. She makes no such claims on last night’s Supermodel, instead informing the models how important their clothes and make up will be in order to pass for bi-racial. In short, she encourages the grossest kind of cultural appropriation because of its seeming “harmlessness”.

As a black woman, standing beside a queer man of color, she capitalizes on their shared status as people of color and intersectionally marginalized identities to justify cultural appropriation and black face. As the second most successful black woman in media, she harnesses considerable following and economic power in order to reinscribe practices that are inexcusable. In a desperate plea for ratings, she tries to hide this offense in a 5 minute lesson about Hawaii that is as superficial as the task she sets for the models.  Besides convincing a handful of young girls, some of whom are clearly poorly educated, that trying on cultures for fashion is acceptable and fun, she also provided every racist watching, an out for the next time they put on black face.  And as if encouraging it, the episode aired just 3 days before Halloween.

I am insulted as a woman of color, as a biracial girl, and as a thinking human being. And despite all I know about history, I am astounded that this show got a greenlight from the network; though I don’t doubt the fact of Tyra’s blackness made them think they’d get away with it and they are likely right.

If you would like to complain, and I hope you do, here is the contact information for both Tyra Banks and the WB. Please tell them that cultural appropriation and black face are never acceptable:

Tyra Banks Production Company:

Bankable Productions
6310 San Vicente Boulevard
Suite 505
Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone: 323-934-4308

Tyra Banks Manager:

Benny Medina
Handprint Entertainment
1100 Glendon Avenue
Suite 1000
Los Angeles, CA 90024
Phone: 310-481-4400

CW Network:

Dawn Ostroff, CEO
Warner Brothers Network
4000 Warner Blvd., Building 34R
Burbank, CA 91522
(818) 977-5000
E-Mail The WB

Sadly, this stunt got Tyra exactly what she was looking for, the internet is lit up with discussion of this week’s show. In some ways, I think the best thing we can all do is send our letters of concern and education to the network and to Tyra and then refuse to discuss anything she does again. Sometimes the deafening silence is the best solution to a person who would sell out their own for ratings.

Monday Morning and TV’s on My Mind: What Fall Previews Did You Watch

So yeah, a whole week of  “Top 3” network previews has come to an end and I find myself wondering when the mid-season replacements will arrive.

As expected, I watch way more tv than the average person, and certainly more than the average intellectual will care to admit. My excuse: I’m a media whore?!? …. No, puritanical “I don’t own a tv set” folks, that is not why.  My excuse is that I teach media. Right now I am teaching a 3rd course, for the love of g-d why? why? why?!?, on youth culture. That compels me to be even more plugged in than usual but not enough to make me watch Mischa Barton.

couch_potatocatunattributed

So here is my quick and dirty breakdown from an intersectional perspective & it brings on the serious snark, so if you don’t want bitchy you are in the wrong place:

  • Accidentally on PurposeDharma & Greg meets Knocked Up. Don’t care. Not Watching. Predict it will be canceled soon. (There are moc on this show. didn’t watch them either.)
  • The Beautiful Life – not only am I not watching, no one else did either. This show has already been canceled by the network.
  • Brothers – this show is fairly standard fare for black comedy on mainstream tv. What I appreciate about it is that it has a differently-abled central character & that the actor playing him is actually differently-abled. Daryl Miller’s background story speaks volumes about how far Hollywood still has to go with regards to ability.
  • Cleveland Show – is it me or do these cartoons actually look like they just used the wrong pencil on a sketch of the Family Guy? No. just. no.
  • Community – I missed this premiere but I love every single one of the promos. The one where he tries to sound smart in Spanish had me almost peeing. anybody see this?
  • Cougar Town – everyone has weighed in on how offensive this title is. I am also trying to wrap my mind around shows that are pitched largely to female audience engaging in promotions that insult them. In this, Cox plays with belly & arm fat meant to make her unappealing & in Lifetime’s Drop Dead Diva a skinny girl whines and screams in horror at waking up in a plus-size body. I’m told neither one of these shows actually revolves around body hating anti-woman storylines but rather challenge them, so why the promos? Women need to demand better from the network. And did I mention I miss Dirt?
  • Eastwick – by some fluke I actually watched this. Even bigger fluke: I liked it. The bones for something funny and a little bit guilty pleasure with a bit of intelligence about women’s desires/abuse/parenting etc. thrown in is all there. And while Lindsay Price’s lip work is completely distracting (her post-plastic surgery mouth looks about as real as Planet of the Apes),  & she provides some of the clunkier junk in the pilot, Jamie Newman and Rebecca Romijn both shine as does the return of one of my favorite Popular girls Sara Rue. And Paul Gross is divine as the devil. So far no men of color in this show but Price, a woc, is one of three main characters; no LGBTQI characters either tho I think some might show up.
  • FlashForward – I was really looking forward to this one. It has a multiculti cast, strong female leads, and an intriguing plot. I watched 5 minutes and was bored. bored. bored. For those who liked Lost, and there are so many who did, this will likely be your new show.
  • The Forgotten – forget it. (Why watch this poorly acted retread when you could watch the ever queer, feminist, and often insightful Code Case?) I am predicting this will also be canceled before season end.
  • The Good Wife – Again with the hiding a potentially feminist plot under a not-so-feminist premise?!? Despite what you might have heard, this show is not about a long suffering politician’s wife who oscillates between standing behind her man who wronged her and hating on him. It is actually about a woman who gave up an up-and-coming legal career to be the politician’s wife and is now trying to find herself, her career, and an empowered world in the wake of marital infidelity. It’s got great bones and amazing talent: Margulies and Baranski to name just two.
  • Glee – oh how I love this show. Despite its 1 of everything (1 fat black girl, 1 closeted Asian lesbian, 1 closeted gay jock, 1 out fabulous gay kid, 1 kid in a wheel chair, 1 macho latino, the cheerleader, etc.) and occasionally clunky storylines, it manages to mix truly entertaining musical numbers, angst, and heart in entertaining ways each week. Jane Lynch is superb as the wisecracking, dry witted, nemesis, who has me practically peeing every week with her one liners. The only thing I really don’t like about this show is the adult plot with the teacher’s wife faking a pregnancy, not only is her character offensive, she is utterly unnecessary. There are plenty of quirky and interesting people within the realm of the school to entertain.
  • Melrose Place – Yes, I watched it. It isn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be but that isn’t saying much. Some of the actors are very wooden, and at least one of them has been universally panned for bad acting in all of his other roles (soaps) so I don’t get why they were cast anymore than I understand why hidden talents like Stephanie Jacobson and Katie Cassidy are wasting their time here. Jessica Lucas, who showed so much promise as a child actress, is also wasted in this role but is doing roughly the same job and same character she has played in far too many previous “adult” roles so … Add to that, the fact that the Asian doctor (played by Jacobson) is reduced to high priced hooker on the first episode, and by a man she actually likes and is on a date with, and you can see that the all kinds of wrong transcends remaking this show and goes straight to the racism and sexism place. I didn’t stick around long enough to see how poorly they handled homosexuality, and aren’t you glad? – low ratings = slated to be canceled if they don’t pick up
  • Mercy – I wanted to like this show. It centers a largely female and queer profession, highlights the hard work that nurses do with little respect or thanks, and it has at least one person of color in the main cast. However, this show is such a watered down rip off of Nurse Jackie that the writers of the later should file suit. I assume they haven’t already b/c they don’t want the edgy, intelligent, and entertaining Nurse Jackie to be associated with this poorly ripped off drudgery.  Mercy steals all of the basics (the plot outline, most of the basic quirks of the characters, even the pub on the corner lot!!!) but fills in the blanks with melodrama and cliche. And if that wasn’t bad enough, they even had a “black boyfriend” joke that both insulted black people and working class white people (you know b/c the later all racist). Put this shlock behind you like the bad demon it is. Instead, happily enjoy the true writing and acting talent of Nurse Jackie re-runs until it returns. (It’s got qoc, snarky adult women w/ actual sex lives, happy faced newbies, and a doctor w/ two moms, not to mention really intelligent and poignant storylines and a cliffhanger to die for.) I’m told this week’s Mercy will include an out Latino actor playing a gay nurse – this too is derivative.
  • Modern Family – has so much good buzz you’d think I would watch the premiere to see what it was about. You’d be wrong. Sorry but the 3 minutes of the self-righteous gay couple with their Asian baby and the overly sexed up Latina whose accent is so heavy no one understands her on the promos was more than enough for me.  While I empathize with white middle class people’s anxieties about sexuality and miscegenation, oops no I don’t, I am blissfully without these hangups and ain’t watchin’.
  • NCIS LA – first let me say, I watch NCIS. I watch NCIS in rerun. I watch some episodes twice in a night. I can’t explain it. I just do. NCIS LA however … I actually fell asleep 15 minutes in to this show and when I woke up to the last 5 minute reveal, I was disgusted to discover I figured out the plot before I even saw who was playing father and child. Also, that tech board they have is extremely distracting for people with disabilities like mine, it actually makes my head hurt (as in ache not disgust). It has a main character of color and a little person at the helm but it also made a mockery of the only other person of color on the team and continues the vein of white cops poc criminals. While there are two women, the testosterone level is extra-specially beefed up in this show & I expect the main female teammate will be reduced to love interest, victim, or ex before the end of the season. I could see them also making one of the team gay, tho in that “we never talk about” way. Won’t be watching this again, but I suspect it will stay on the air because of its placement in between two well-watched shows.
  • Three Rivers – hasn’t premiered yet. All I have to say for now is Katherine Moennig. If you read this blog, I think you know what that means. (And for you boys who were turned off with how poorly O’Loughlin handled his one homoerotic scene in Moonlight, don’t worry, Daniel Henney is also a main character in the cast.)
  • The Vampire Diaries – this show is blowing up in ratings for CW. I don’t know why. The male lead is almost 30 not 15 and his older brother actually has laugh lines. Newsflash, teenagers don’t have wrinkles. It is so hard to take this seriously. So hard. I tried to watch twice. The first time I obsessed about the age difference between the 30+ male actors and the 20 or less female ones. The second time, I wondered what attracts young women to shows that depict them as snarky sex objects and insecure nerds & why anyone would believe that a vampire could have a public fight and get his hand sliced up in front of half the school, heal in seconds, and no one thought it was weird except his gf. Oh and did I mention half the second episode involved the main vamp joining the football team while his gf agonized about wanting to quit cheer leading? There are so many young adult vampire fiction novels to adapt out there, that are so much better than this, why not use one or at least higher writers and actors that will not just create Gossip Girl meets Friday Night Lights w/fangs?  Really it isn’t just that I am old. (tho yes, fan girls and fan boys, I will give you that part of it is because like the male leads, I haven’t been in high school in more than a decade)
  • Durham County – what a rip off. The director interview before this show aired, talked about how they wanted to produce a show that questioned the ongoing fascination with brutalized and murdered women on television as well as examine “what makes a serial killer act the way he does.” Lofty feminist goals I am firmly behind. Except, that never happened. Instead this show starts with a brutal rape and murder of two teenage girls in Catholic school uniforms, followed by the most disturbing re-violation of them by the show’s serial killer next door. By the time the episode ended, another strong woman was murdered and dragged in shot through the woods. The second episode had a “mild by comparison” domestic violence incident and a gang rape threat, followed by marital infidelity. Yep, real feminist re-write going on here … I’ve seen less violence on CSI: Miami & less criminal misogyny on SVU.

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Returning Shows

  • House – I fell out of my chair with bitchy glee when House derailed the basketball game in the psych ward. Stuff like that is the kind of demented priceless that make the world worth living in. The rest of the episode was a little implausible, especially the love affair with a patient’s sister. Yet, this episode gave me renewed faith that House has not passed its television prime. It does have ongoing problems with gender (trans & cis) however.
  • Supernatural – somebody get the writers a Bible. They are so off script on theological issues I cannot help them. Not only has the show rendered the core plot of good vs. evil unrecognizable but it has also so utterly destroyed the core relationship of the main characters that I can’t imagine how they get to keep calling it Supernatural b/c it isn’t the same show. That said, it was inspired casting to make Rita’s evil ex from Dexter the Devil’s host and the angst surrounding g-d’s seeming absence rings true with the state of the world. I particularly liked the idea of the angels as petulant children trying to get g-d’s attention after feeling abandoned. I don’t think angels are that petty nor that they are so easily distracted, fooled, or corraled. While the demons were always creepy on this show, the Angels lack the moral dilemmas of The Prophecy, the disillusionment and desperate need for hope of Gabriel, or the awesome power of The Mortal Instruments add to that the last episode which has Dean taking an Angel to get laid in a brothel, which thankfully did get back on script before scene end, and Sam once again saving a doe-eyed damsel in distress while yet another black character acts out violently and you know why I feel the need to turn the channel. Oh and every episode seems like a Supernatural-fied version of an upcoming film; methinks McG is just angling for viewers at the box office after wrecking the Terminator franchise.
  • Dexter – I really thought the whole married w/ kid thing would be the end of Dexter for me. But the last 5 minutes of the show was a game changer. Not only are there body parts floating around from his car wreck (altho I have a pretty good guess who has them) but John Lithgow is the kind of creepy goodness that might make this the best season yet. Drawbacks: Maria, the main character Latina on the show, is still up to her “who can I have sex with in the squad now” tricks that undermine her position of authority and her skills as a detective. Debra, who looked like she was finally going to have an established enough relationship so that we could see her focus on blossoming as a detective is back in “why can’t I get it right” hell.  Worse, her relationship w/ her Afro-Cubano boyfriend opened all kinds of possibilities to depict race responsibly on this show, return a black man to the main storyline after the dismal treatment of Dokes, and address racial tensions insightfully, since Debra often puts her foot in it without ever intending offense. Rita has turned into a nagging _itch that totally shrinks her character from its complexities in the first season, but that has been happening for a while now. I really liked how complex Rita used to be and wish they’d get back to that. And of course, the show revolves around serial killers and often the crimes are against women and children which is both realistic and problematic.

So what about you all? What did you watch and what did you think?

Oh, one last thing: haters on livejournal, if you are going to disagree with everything I say about film and tv, that is your prerogative. But at least get my gender right when you are trashing my critique of gender and nitpicking abt my “facts”, otherwise you prove my point.

Reflections on Being Human (A Series Review – Spoilers)

On the surface, the plot of Being Human is fairly simply: A vampire named Mitchell and his closest friend, George, a werewolf, move into a home already inhabited by a ghost named Annie unbeknownst to them. The three of them make a commitment to look out for one another while they figure out their “lives.” Each character spends the short 6 epi series wrestling with their identities with the hopes of fitting in and appearing human.

Under this seemingly simple surface, is a long term musing on the nature of humanity. What does it mean to be human? Is humanity any better than the “demons” they fear? And what makes people who have the kind of power which allows you to easily kill, herd, or terrorize others, choose oppression over cooperation and understanding?

being_human - CopyBeing Human/BBC 4 2009

Sitting down to watch the second to the last episode of Being Human tonight (it’s the second time I’ve watched the series through), I find myself reminded of what I learned from the first season of Torchwood: trust the process.

You see, watching the first few episodes of the series, I wondered about the entertainment value of a show that perpetually insulted women’s basic reproductive functions in order to explain away or belittle their anger, sorrow, or expression of sexuality. There is at least one derogatory reference to menstruation in each of the first few episodes of Being Human. The kind of misogyny necessary to demean women in that way makes how weak and insipid both main character Annie, a Annie-being-human - Copyghost, and secondary character Lauren, a vampire, initially seem almost expected. However the real straw, involves Annie being assaulted by a werewolf named Tully. After Tully terrorizes and literally sends her shaken into the street begging for help, Mitchell finds and comforts her, but when they tell George, he responds by screaming “And I bet she loved it!” Though he regrets this comment later, it’s his decision to let Annie’s attacker continue to live in the home she is spiritually bound to that seems utterly inexcusable.

However, one of the main questions in the series is about what it means to be human and sadly, part of humanity is misogyny and violence against women. The series is unapologetic about those moments when even good people resort to cruelty; and in doing so, it makes us question the idea that “good people” cannot do bad things. More importantly, and the reason I give this show a pass when I have failed others for less, Being Human does not allow cruelty to women to go unquestioned. Nor do the directors shoot the show in a way that encourages the audience to empathize with misogyny. Instead, each of these scenes juxtaposes misogyny with caring. When George constantly refers to Annie’s mood swings as her monthly, Mitchell is always there to make a correcting look or remark. And when Tully attacks Annie, not only does Mitchell help and stand up for her, but he is horrified by George’s behavior. George himself acknowledges he was out of line twice when alone with Tully and again when he is next with Annie.

The show avoids the simple construction of good guy vs. bad guy as well. Despite George’s behavior above, he is the kindhearted one to Mitchell’s bad guy. As a vampire, Mitchell has millenia of violence against humans in his past and has particularly targeted defenseless women in homosocial rituals with his maker. Much of who Mitchell is now is an atonement for who he was then. Thus George is as much Mitchell’s conscience as the other way around. In fact, George confronts Mitchell’s violence early on in the series b/c even tho Mitchell is reformed from the bad old days, he continues to drink from young, pretty, women and either kill them or turn them. George reminds Mitchell that his hunger is no excuse for targeting young women.

When George discovers his new girlfriend, Nina,  has been permanently disfigured from abuse, presumably done by a male attacker, George makes it clear that violence against women is wrong. More than that, George does not take the typical “patriarchal” approach to violence against women by making it all about his hurt feelings and turning into a rescue, but rather encourages & expresses his concern for Nina. He has the same reaction to Annie’s abuse at the hands of Owen, their landlord and Annie’s ex-fiance/murderer. He consistently encourages her to stand up for herself.  In scenes meant to be funny, he even coaches her on being scary when she proves too nice on her own. There is something quite telling about those moments when juxtaposed with Annie’s eventual coming into her own power, both in the ways they illustrate how women are taught to behave and how the latter scenes assure us that it is Annie’s strength and not just coaching from a man that make her able to stand up to her abuser. Thus, both Nina and Annie are encouraged to stand up on their own by both George and the narrative arcs of the series itself.

In many ways, George’s behavior toward Annie could be seen as projection. George is as afraid of life as Annie. He is awkward around women and when he fails he annieandgeorge - Copyoften returns home to sulk. His general passiveness often leaves him desperate to hideaway in his house and/or disappear in his entry level positions. Annie is far more out going with people on the surface, but she is equally shut in. Like George, she often retreats to the house or a fetal position on the couch whenever things go wrong. Thus, its easy to believe that George sees himself in her. When he yells at her to stand up and take control of her life, he is really yelling at himself. His real feelings crystallize in last night’s episode, when he begs Annie not to go. His pain-filled begging for her to “just stay” with them is like a giant light shining on the entire relationship. As she hugs him and says, he never really liked her anyway, he admits it in a way that makes the connection between them permanently clear; George loves Annie, he just hates the things about her that he sees in himself. And as we will see from season’s end, Annie feels the same way about George.

While Annie often plays the victim in the series, not only does she help save the day in the last two episodes of the season, but she is also the most successful at making the human connections all of the housemates wish they could. She is outgoing and friendly, reduced to depression and self-pity only when her abusive mitchell-and-annie-in-being-human - Copyex-fiance is in the picture. While this may be annoying too many, it is a fairly accurate depiction of how many women feel similarly when caught up in the cycle of violence. Like Annie they oscillate between love and hurt, between anger and defeat, trying to find the strength they once had and needing validation b/c abusers are so good at stripping everything good away. If there is any confusion as to why Annie yo-yos through emotions, it should have become clear in last night’s episode when Owen is not only unphased by her attempts to frighten him but also uses her attempts to gain back her power as an opportunity to tear her down emotionally and sexually. Though it initially takes George telling her to take control of her life, and all three of them to scare Owen, Annie’s ultimate stand against Owen is all her own. What she whispers in his ear drives him mad. And when she believes that George has abandoned Mitchell for a “normal life” she tries to rally him the way that he did for her. When that fails, Annie rises up on her own to fight back the vampires and save the innocent. Fully in control of her life and her power, in more ways than one, Annie then discovers what is really going on with Mitchell’s last stand against the vampires and drags George into the fight. Where he once called on her to be strong, she now calls on him. And where George initially shows fear, Annie stands strong against Herrick. Her strength finally shining through.

The other women in the show have equally deceptive characters when it comes to gender stereotypes. Lauren, a 20 something vampire, seems to be a needy, laurenmitchell - Copycontrolling, desperate woman who is stuck on a single man, Mitchell, instead of getting her own “life.” She often shows up just to make Mitchell feel bad about turning her; she clearly hopes that his guilt will permanently bind him to her in a way that desire failed to do so. When tears don’t work to manipulate him, she uses sex, making her character the worst kind of derogatory image of women. Worse, when she isn’t doing these things out of her own obsessing, she does it at the behest of Herrick and his lackey Seth. In other words, Lauren is a stereotypical whiny woman motivated and manipulated by all the men around her.

However, as the series continues, Lauren’s humanity starts to shine through. She stops obsessing about Mitchell and instead asks him for help in breaking her addiction to killing. Part of her admission that she wants to be stronger is the revelation that Herrick and Seth forced her to have sex with an abusive man and let them videotape it. Her story isn’t another manipulation, but part of a larger backstory Lauren tells that shows she has always been controlled and bullied by others; for her sex and tears are some of the only tools she knows to turn the tide. As the series concludes, Lauren, like Annie, finds her own strength and desperately works to develop new tools that will make her proud of herself. The person Lauren wants love from the most is herself not the men around her.

While she fights the lust for blood, Lauren slowly builds the strength to take control of her life. Not only does she finally detach from Mitchell lauren - Copycompletely, but she begins to center her life around her own needs. When Mitchell rejoins the vampires, Lauren is the one who tries to tell him what is really going on. she endures his scorn and the thinly-veiled threat from Herrick and his minions to try to rise above the genocide they are proposing. She also tries to help Mitchell see that turning the people he loves into vampires is not the solution, foreshadowing her own revelations about who she wants to be vs. whom she is becoming.

Both Lauren and Annie are pivotal in saving Mitchell and George when they try to escape the vampires. When the others are out-numbered and destined to fail, Lauren is the one who ultimately rescues them. Though Lauren’s final decision may not seem like an empowering one to many, the choice is on her own terms and for all the right reasons. Her decision brings her the freedom she never had in life nor un-death. It also acts as a lesson to the others about making hard choices and owning the consequences of bad behavior (both Lauren’s and Mitchell’s). And while it might have been stronger to see her complete the task on her own, I understand the director’s wanting to bring Lauren’s story full circle.

Nina, George’s girlfriend, rounds out the main female cast. Nina, as far as we know throughout the majority of the season, is human. And while she too comes across as a stereotype nina - Copyin her introduction to the show, she is the quickest of the three to establish herself as a multi-dimensional character. When we are introduced to her,  Nina is a cranky shrew who mocks George because of his job, his awkwardness, and seemingly b/c he is a man. When George takes misogynist advice from Tully on how to ask her out, Nina emasculates him with little effort. In an act of supreme irony, the writers construct this scene so that Nina also unknowingly dings George for all his “monthlies” comments earlier on.

As the series continues, Nina stands up for her sexual and emotional needs more directly and consistently than any of the women on the show. When George lies and says he has sexual problems, she gets sex positive pamphlets out and delicately explains to him all of the different ways they can be together, with an emphasis on ensuring her pleasure. The humor of this scene helps to alleviate the anxiety many people have about having such frank conversations about sex and sexual pleasure, and I think despite the real issue, George’s werewolf status, encourage other women to be bold.

Nina also confronts George about his secrecy and lets him know that despite loving him she will leave if he cannot create a healthy -honest relationship with her.  And when George tries to break up with her without any explanation, Nina demands he take her and their relationship seriously. In other words, she models for other women how to be fully alive and establish mutuality in their relationships. She acts as a counterpoint to the initial actions of the other women, not as the empowered woman vs. the victims, but rather as a survivor of violence herself.

Lest viewers mistake her empowerment as power over George rather than mutuality, Nina’s finest hour comes when she provides George the strength to not be overtaken by the wolf inside him. Despite not knowing about his condition, she walks boldly into his transformation and subsequent battle with Herrick without ever looking away. While the revelations in the final episode might lesson the impact of that a little, she still comes across as bold, strong, and clear headed. Like the other women in the show, her presence was essential to the triumph over the vampires.

Nina’s character is extremely well-rounded. She shows George her vulnerable side on more than one occasion and always when he has earned the right to see it. She also opens up to him and encourages him to do the same. When he hurts her by hiding who he is or what is going on in the roommates’ lives, her character feels that hurt on screen rather than just stuffing it under some man-hating commentary that other lesser well-written female character’s would do in cinema. And I especially applaud the way the writers are able to create her softer edges as part and parcel of her strength, intelligence, and forthrightness rather than as a curative to them.

Being Human also takes on queer issues, though they are largely relegated to a single episode. When Mitchell starts spending time with a child from across the street,mitchellandgeorge - Copy his mother, Fleur, makes a seemingly innocuous comment correcting her son’s use of a homophobic slur and referencing her brother and his partner. Like other complexities in the series, the moment establishes Fleur as queer positive only to complicate that when she thinks Mitchell is a child predator with a particularly kinky gay porn collection. When her own child is at risk, Fleur mobilizes homophobia to her advantage, whipping up a child protection frenzy predicated on the myth of the gay male predator.  Her actions mirror many people who have queer friends or accept same sex desire in theory but are quick to resort to homophobia and heterosexism when talking about gay marriage, employment protection, or gay neighbors.

However, this episode is problematic from a child protection stand point. Fleur is not only acting on/ mobilizing thru homophobic myths, she also has clear evidence that Mitchell is into violent kink, kink that she catches her child watching in the middle of the night. In any other circumstances but these, that would be more than enough concrete proof that Mitchell was a child predator. Though the show makes much of how her son denies what is going on to no avail, such denials fit with children so intimidated by their abusers that they minimize or deny what has happened. More than that, while Mitchell is incredulous about Fleur refusing to let him explain, I know very few mothers who would let someone explain after giving their child 1) a sex video and 2) a video that ends with the star bleeding out while an invisible figure walks thru his blood. Thus while Fleur’s main reason for not listening to Mitchell is a homophobic reaction that instantly transforms him into pervert b/c, as she exclaims, “it was a naked man!” in the video, I think the point would have been better made had Fleur simply suddenly stopped letting Mitchell see her son when she realized he lived with George. If she had then begun spreading rumors clubbing - Copybased on the noises coming from the home, which included growling, furniture being shoved around, dishes crashing, and any number of other things that in a homophobic mind could lead to utterly unfair rumor and innuendo, her behavior would still  that still have exposed the myth of the gay male child abuser. More than that, it would not give those inclined to believe in it room to find alternative explanations for Fleur and the neighbors outrageous and violent behavior.

Any other queer elements in the show are solely window-dressing.  As the writers of The Lair once said  “vampires and werewolves are always a metaphor for being gay, b/c of their alienation from themselves and the mainstream world.”  No one embodies this concept more than George, whose ease with Mitchell is juxtaposed against his misogyny toward Annie and painful awkwardness with other women. Though the show ultimately pairs all of the characters up in heterosexual relationships by series end (even Annie has a male ghost in love with her), until the characters embrace their identities, the homosocial relationships at the core of the show. For instance, George is mostly only cruel to Annie when she is seemingly in the middle. He resents Annie’s presence in the house b/c it was supposed to be just him and Mitchell. Mitchell’s hero complex means he is unusually protective and attentive to Annie which George remarks draws the attention away from him on more than one occasion. And as I’ve said above, he demeans Annie after Tully attacks her mostly b/c Tully is quickly becoming the center of his universe. One could easily re-read George’s hurt and anger at Annie’s accusation as one in which he sees the man he desires choosing her over him; this of course, requires ignoring the fact that it was assault.

Yet, I think it is a stretch to see George as queer precisely because he spends so much time trying to talk to and date women. From the very first episode to the second to the last, George’s struggle with establishing a long term relationship with a woman is as important as his coming to terms with being the wolf. And while it is easy to presume a quiet, awkward man, with so many successful homosocial relationships and failed heterosexual ones is queer, it seems to buy into a certain kind of stereotype about masculinity and sexuality that I think those of us who do queer media need to get away from. As I’ve argued earlier, the writers of Being Human are troubling easy constructs throughout the show.

The writers/directors of Being Human do play on the George-Mitchell window-dressing for a brief moment however, when the characters try to hide the fact they were spying on Annie. They jump onto the couch in a make-out pose without thinking. They are fully entwined when they look at one another and realize what they are doing. As they mitchellherrick - Copypull themselves apart, there is the briefest moment of homophobia, but mostly they just laugh at one another with an ease that plays much more subversively if they are straight.

Herrick’s seething resentment of George is also a less direct exploration of this phenomena. Before George, Herrick and Mitchell were inseparable. Much of Mitchell’s violence against women was set up by Herrick in the homosocial rituals I mentioned earlier. These moments in which they bonded and were excited by each other over the death of an innocent women, smacks of problematic Fruedian constructions of sexuality in which internalized homophobia manifests as misogynist homosociality. Herrick’s disdain for George and inexplicable anger at Mitchell’s having chosen him over the vampires also plays out like the jealous lover. And the final battle between Herrick and George reinforces this reading as the fight is as much about who has Mitchell’s love and loyalty as it is about the fate of the human race.

Unfortunately, these storylines never make it beyond window-dressing, While some viewers can imagine all kinds of backstory about who George and Mitchell were to each other before they moved in with Annie, not only do George’s denials of homosexuality in the same child abuse episode discussed above work against them but the final episode of the show tells us exactly how Mitchell and George met. Not only were they not lovers, Mitchell’s rescue of George includes George’s complaint that he has just lost his long term girlfriend and cannot lose anything else. This loss is regularly referenced throughout the show to explain why George is so timid with women in the present. More than that, Mitchell’s rescue of George has no homosocial overtones, instead Mitchell seems to pity George. He is motivated both by that pity and his own growing discomfort at being a vampire. Ultimately, George’s weaknesses in this scene, all tied to his girlfriend and the wolf, provide Mitchell a means of escape from the vampires he desperately needs. There is no desire here.

Despite the desire to read George as queer, it is perhaps easier to see Mitchell as open to the possibilities. While his character does not resonate with standard markers of gay identity on television the way George’s does, his character is consistently more easy going about making wide and varied connections. Not only does he let his glasses linger next to George after their accidental embrace but he is unfazed by accusations of queerness. His anger in the child abuse episode stems from how easily identity is used to stir up a mob, create violence in the absence of extensive documentation, and ultimately lead to the death of innocents. He does not care if his neighbors think he is gay and clearly finds George’s denials ridiculous. More than that, he has has two long term homosocial relationships on the show that define him, one with the George and the other with Herrick. And as I’ve said, it is easy to imagine that part of why Herrick is so desperate to get Mitchell back into the fold, and why Seth hates him so much, is that Herrick resents Mitchell sharing his life and his adventures with any other man.

For me, while we can queer the way we watch Being Human, the entire vein of seeing actual queerness present is a stretch. SugarRush - Copythe show encourages us to see heterosexuality in these characters, not by default, but by careful construction of it into their core identities. Every single one of them has both a heterosexual past and a heterosexual present. Much of their struggles are intimately tied to these relationships. While we often see George getting unusually close to his male companions, be it Mitchell or Tully, this closeness is always undermined by heterosexual narratives and explained away by clearly presented alternative narratives.

As implied there are no same sex attracted women in the series, an ongoing issue in many of BBC’s cross-over sci fi offerings. But we do get the other requirement for this show to get a pass on gender issues, women do talk to one another and they do so about more than the men they are dating. (For those who don’t know, the standard Bechdel rules are that there must be more than 1 woman, they must talk to each other, and they must talk about more than the men they are dating/want to date for it to count as female positive. Of course these rules assume heterosexuality.) I don’t know, the series has so many positive homosocial relationships and accepting main characters that I think it has room for actual queer characters in the future. And certainly Crichlow, the woman portraying Annie, could pull it off. Cross your fingers.

You may have noted that I did not mention race in this review. Despite the fact that Annie is played by a woman of color, the character was written before the actress was cast and was originally given to a white woman, presumably b/c the character was imagined as white. While Gregg Chillin might be partially South Asian, no reference to him being a man of color is made in the show and he will likely read as white by most viewers. The decision to go with race blind casting and the fact that all of the women in the show experience some form of male violence leaves little to deconstruct. More salient in this show is the decision to cast and/or write so many Irish and Scottish characters into the script/ as main characters. Overall, the show is extremely diverse when you think about race and ethnicity together being_human_21 - Copyand as far as I remember there isn’t a single racist moment. There are ethnic slurs howeverm but they only occur when the celtic vampires are laughing about draining the people who used them. One thing I would like to see improved in a second season however is more visible diversity in the “crowd shots”, they work in a hospital but there are no people of color, there are no Black British vampires in the lair, no people of color in club shots or their neighborhood, etc.

Ultimately, Being Human gets off to a rocky start with gender issues but soon presents us with complexity that is both fantastical and extremely astute about the human condition. While the first few episodes likely turned feminists off, as well as viewer’s sick of supernatural creatures who feel guilty about who they are rather than embracing it, the series offers varied characters and complex interactions that soon undermine easy reading. The last two episodes in particular are not to be missed. Not only does the series fill up with unapologetic vampires on the hunt by season end, but all of the women in the show come into their own in these episodes. Lauren and Nina both display immense strength and self-reflection, and Annie becomes a powerhouse neither the vampires nor her abuser can best.

Being Human has been confirmed for a second season. Given what they have promised about both Annie and Nina’s characters in the final episode, the series can only get better.

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  • images 1-4, 7-8 & 12 – Being Human/BBC 4 2009
  • images 5-6, & 9-10 –  BBC Touchpaper 2009 via Being-Human.tv
  • image 11 Sugar Rush/BBC 4 2005

B/C I Miss Ianto and Godric just . . . (TB Spoilers)

An unfinished thought piece (Torchwood vid @ bottom):

So I was sitting  here thinking about writing a post about the gay window dressing on True Blood between Godric and Eric. I’ve been intrigued by the character precisely because of the homoeroticism in an otherwise hyper-heterosexually saturated program. While the existence of Lafayette certainly argues against reading the show as completely heterosexist, I don’t think we can underestimate how his stereotypical flame-a-licious-ness helps to uphold the overriding depiction of sex and sexuality on the show; moreover, Lafayette’s storyline has been largely devoid of either sex or overt-sexuality for the better part of this season and last season he only had sex for money or drugs. Godric on the other hand, who never identifies but instead is read both visually and through innuendo and fact as a queer figure (in multiple senses of the term) allows for a counter-narrative to both Lafayette’s flamboyance and Eric’s misogyny. The connection between nativism, humanism, and queer identity wrapped in a childlike body that acts as “father, brother, and son” to a hypermasculine vampire who thrives on violence, erotic submission, and manipulation was an interesting one because it humanized Eric while playing off of both gender and “noble savage” stereotypes.

When Godric finally meets the sun, in a scene that is heartwrenching tho expected, I couldn’t help but wonder if his statement about being too different and concern about what punishment awaited from God was as much code as the desires that ground him as a queer figure. If we think of Lafayette’s own racialized “punishment” this season, the issue of hetero bodies vs. queer or queered ones becomes all the more salient b/c his response is to reject those outward signals that marked him as queer in the original season. Eric’s involvement in both storylines further complicates both the sexuality and racial narratives at play in this show, narratives that have been largely absent from fandom.

My attraction to these questions and these relationships as ripe for theory, and also as counterpoints to the Tom Cruise driven heterosexualizing of Lestat and the heterocentric Twilight, meant returning to the source material. Who is/was Godric in the books?

From what I can gleam through secondary sources, Godric in the books is not Eric’s maker. Nor is he someone who has evolved to a point where he “no longer thinks like a vampire.” Instead, Godric is a pedophile. His insatiable appetite for the violation and murder of young boys leads him to commit suicide via the Fellowship of the Sun.  Suddenly, the potential for heterosexist messages in the Godric character of the tv series transformed into potential homophobia and heterosexism in the books.  What does it mean that the True Blood creators, ppl who chose to use footage of kids at a Klan rally as part of the opening credits every week and who have shied away from showing same sex sex while saturating the show with unending hetero kink, transformed Godric into a god-like figure of latent sexuality and sorrow beyond measure? What does it mean that both Godrics meet the same death and both as atonement for their appetities? Is the lesson of his death different b/c he is no longer a gay pedophile or is it just more palatable b/c his quest to “make amends” is for something that dare not be named? Certainly the show should be applauded for undoing the stereotype of the gay pedophile from the books, but my question remains, did they do much more to reverse the overarching fear of the queer Godric seems to represent?

Somehow, these unfinished thoughts made me return to Ianto and something Gay Prof said about BSG killing its only gay character and making all the lesbian characters psychotic shrews who they also eventually killed. This year has been one of the worst for queer characters on televsion with more networks receiving a failing grade on representing positive images than possibly any other year since the ratings began in 2006. Ianto and Jack’s relationship has been both groundbreaking and profound in its depiction of love through the lifecycle, both normal and ever changing, comfortable and erotic, and most of all beautiful and compelling. Yet, as After Ellen so astutely noted, Ianto’s death seems to serve no purpose except heartbreak for fans and punishment for Jack. So it could be said his death and Jack’s subsequent retreat to the stars, not to mention the utter absence of homo- or bi-sexual desire outside of Ianto and Jack and manipulative Rupesh, is part of the disciplining and punishment of queerness on television.

That depressing thought, meant that I had to move away from my favorite research area for a moment and look at something joyful that celebrates not only queer characters (yes, Ianto, I keep saying queer even tho it isn’t 1950) but also the reality that more people are open and celebratory of our differences than the networks or the news wants you to believe. In this 2008 Comicon panel with Barrowman and  David-Lloyd, fan girls and fan boys, straight and gay, and all of the wondrous identities in between, laughed along as the boys delighted with decidedly queer innuendo. The heterosexual castmates and writers/producers were as astute in moving within a queer aethetic and humor as the gay ones, showing us that while the media has largely failed the people making it are becoming more and more clever about pushing the envelopes where they can.  (forgive the interrupting titles/captions on this video, I wish it just played through w/out editorializing but its still lovely):

Laughing along with this video (except mb that Mexican comment that I do not understand and worry about), I suddenly forgot how sad this season of scifi/fantasy television has made me through the killing of gay characters or worse, the creation of queer characters that are offensive or predicated on offensive originary texts. And again, I find myself wondering how Torchwood will look without Ianto next season much as I wonder how True Blood will continue to hold my attention for the rest of the season when all it can offer up is a crazed psuedo-God and a series of increasinly racially questionable moments, you know accept for the Jessica storyline which is both compelling and problematic for other reasons.

My first large lecture on the import of Torchwood to queer media is in a few months, so maybe by then I’ll have wrapped all these thoughts together in a pretty little academic bow. (If not,  I’ll just rock my heels and hope they miss my teary eyes, after all, it’s not TB so my eyes won’t leak blood.)

Quickies: The Sci Fi Edition (Tennant/Barrowman/Davies Kiss & Singer goes BSG)

Thanks to Bilerico (via twitter), I have video of the infamous unscripted kiss between David Tennant and John Barrowman at Comicon. Barrowman was as giddy with the stupid about it as I expect some of my readers will be even tho it was the tamest kiss ever. (I’ve said it before, if anyone could pull off window dressing on Dr. Who,  it would be Tennant.)

In other news, Brian Singer has signed on to do a BSG movie for theater release. I didn’t even know they were thinking of going to cinema instead of milking the franchise with more video prequels to the new series. Long time readers know, I think Brian Singer redefined the comic film genre and has set the bar so high that very few people come close to reaching his cinematic accomplishments. More than that Singer has consistently offered films that challenge stereotypical misogyny, homophobia, and racial erasure or racist characters in the graphic novel to film genre. His somewhat absence of late has witnessed the genre slipping back toward extremely offensive and xenophobic characters. I cannot imagine a better combination to put that in check than BSG and Brian Singer.  I can also only hope that with Singer at the helm, the queer storylines that were given such short shrift in the series will actually be integral to the film and there will be a return of at least one butch girl on screen ‘cos a femme deserves a little somethin’ once in a while too.

Between Brian Singer and Russell T Davies, the world is a beautiful place.

here’s a longer version of the comicon panel just b/c

Dr. Who: 11th Doctor Look Revealed

the more I see, the less I want to watch.

11thdoctor

I’ve seen every Dr. Who episode ever made and yet, as I’ve said in more thorough posts on the issue, the tweening has me desperately unimpressed. Losing Davies and Tennant at the same time is like when QAF went off the air but having them replaced by these people and the rumored “new focus” of the show is like . . . opening a vein with a rusty can lid and hoping tetanus isn’t that bad.

Please prove me wrong. please. oh please.