Monday, January 18, 2016

Short takes on: Streaming, TV shows, Bad movies, Oscars, etc.

A bunch of short-takes on opinions and observations I don't have much inclination to write up as a full blog:

- Only a month after the release of THE FORCE AWAKENS and I'm already fed up with speculation and "theories" about what will be revealed in EPISODE VIII. I'm especially fatigued of the theory that Rey was a Jedi padawan at Luke's Academy when Ben went rouge. The suggestion is that she got training there (thus "explaining" her adeptness with the Force) and then had her memory erased before being sent into hiding. I think it's unnecessarily complicated and rests on some shaky evidence, but mostly I'm just annoyed with how universally this has been accepted as the "obvious" reveal. I'm looking forward to seeing it proven wrong.

- I haven't blogged or even tweeted about it much lately, but THE FLASH and THE GOLDBERGS continue to do excellent work each week and remain two of the shows I anticipate most eagerly. SUPERGIRL also remains pretty great. The flying wirework is amazing, and while there's still a kink or two to be worked out in the show, it's not afraid to be fun. I like a superhero show that doesn't think earnestness is a dirty word. I like that it's even more all-ages appropriate than THE FLASH.

- I still haven't figured out where I stand on DAREDEVIL vs. JESSICA JONES. I feel like JJ hit higher heights, but also lower lows. At times, I definitely felt like both shows bathed in so much unrelenting darkness that I could only watch an episode or two before needing a break. I do hope that both shows find a little more restraint and balance in season 2. Streaming gives license to be as brutal as they want to be, but the JJ episode "A Thousand Cuts" had a lot of brutality that just seemed to be showing off "Look how violent we can be since we're streaming." Kilgrave making people do horrible things to themselves was effectively creepy at first but this ep (and the later scene where a gentleman gets two arms cut off) went a long way towards alienating me from the show. I'm ready for them to explore a new story in that universe next season.

- I also still don't understand what most of you saw in SICARIO, not even after reading several reviews. I felt like it had a great opening, and fell into some blah character work as the focus shifted from Blunt's character to Del Toro's. Every year there's at least one critical darling that has me scratching my head and saying "Really?" This seems to be this year's.

- Okay, I didn't like KINGSMEN either, but I can accept that as a "Shut off your brain and enjoy the ride."

- There are some critical duds I seek out just to see if my opinion swims against the tide. It didn't really happen this year. FANTASTIC FOUR, BLACKHAT, and THE VISIT were among those that were pretty fairly maligned. THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was more fun than the buzz suggested, though.

- My take on the Oscars: CREED was robbed. That's even more egregious to me than STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON being overlooked. It's easy to say that screeners would have really boosted CREED, and maybe that's true, but COMPTON had screeners sent out to little effect. You can blame the aging out-of-touch Academy voters and probably be right in using that to contend that race played at least some part in those films being overlooked.

- Fun movies that didn't make my Top 20: THE DUFF - a sharp teen comedy better than the trailer suggested; THE FINAL GIRLS - a send-up of slasher films that worked because of a strong emotional core; TIMELAPSE - a clever ultra-low-budget time-travel thriller; and UNFRIENDED - a smartly executed horror film that takes place entirely from the POV of a laptop screen as friends are stalked and taunted online during a video chat.

- If you get a chance, binge THE 100 on Netflix and catch the third season when it premieres this week on the CW. Might be that network's darkest, most mature show to date, and I mean that in terms of themes and moral choices as much as violence. It's the one CW show that feels like it really belongs on cable.

- Bringing up THE 100 reminds me of another thought - TV 'shippers have ruined TV fandom. Sad that we have a direct pipeline to writers and creators and a vocal and aggressive aspect of fandom uses that mostly to scream about which characters they want paired with each other and attacking every pairing that threatens that. Occasionally a showrunner for a series with this kind of following replies to me on Twitter and the next several days my mentions get hit with shippers replying to that tweet just to lobby for their particular hobby horse. It sad when these groups attack each other, and it's infuriating to watch them attack the writers for not making a show that matches the way THEY feel it needs to be done. Let's all try for fewer online death threats in 2016, okay?


  1. Can't say I blame you for not liking Kingsman. Whilst I found it thoroughly enjoying as a homage/lampooning of the super-spy genre, it's certainly in the love-it/hate-it camp, in the same way Vaughn's Kick-Ass was for the superhero genre. Also felt the film wasted a good opportunity to subvert the sex-after-saving-the-world trope that the Bond films perpetuated.

    I think I would have liked Unfriended more if the filmmakers took a bolder stance with the story as cautionary allegory for online bullying by making it a more psychological supernatural horror than keeping with the me typical over-the-top killing, jump-scare fest I found it to be -- which is why I found It Follows much more enthralling.


  2. I don’t want to start anyting (and after re-reading this--BOTH COMMENTS--I'm kind of embarrassed at how much I wrote), but something you said up there really bothered me. I spent three years studying shippers in an academic environment, and I gotta complain that your attitude towards them is really condescending. It shows a complete misunderstanding about how shippers watch a TV show, and intimates that watching a TV show *your* way is the only legitimate way to view TV.

    Before I switched to actual TV writing, I intended on doing a Master’s thesis on the gendered audiences of comic book TV shows, focusing on Greg Berlanti’s DC universe. Let me tell you, there is a hell of a lot of misogyny in comic book fandom and comic book TV fandom. In fanboy culture, complaining about shipping - generally conceived as a feminine mode of watching TV - isn’t unusual, but it starts to sound like GamerGate rhetoric pretty quickly. Just like you can’t assume all male gamers or fanboys are all woman-hating cave men, you can’t say all shippers are psychos tweeting death threats to writers.. We both know this isn't true. But I note the shippers aren't the onces doxxing opponents and threatening to bring guns to Anita Sarkeesian's speaking engagements. Just sayin.’

    You mention how much you enjoy The Flash. Totally agree, they balance the serious with the fun perfectly, and every heartfelt chat between Jesse L. Martin and Grant Gustin gets me misty-eyed. I'm loving Supergirl even more, in spite of its cheesiness. A friend with three daughters under 10 has told me how thrilled she is with the confidence levels they've gained, and that usually owe at least a small part to chats about Kara Zor-El, Alex Danvers, and Cat Grant. All the love to Calista Flockheart; she's killing it in that role--and emphasizing how hard it is for a woman in business.

    The thing about The Flash and Supergirl, though, is they both owe their existence to Arrow. They had the benefit of learning from Arrow's mistakes, and I would say are both more cohesive and with a tighter ensemble and storytelling than Arrow, having avoided things that are still dragging Arrow down in season 4. However, when you trace the press releases, the TV journalism, and the critic reviews, it's clear the show "found" itself when it brought Felicity Smoak on to be part of Team Arrow, and it likely owes its renewal for a second season in large part to the excitement of the Olicity shippers. Love'em or hate 'em, the shippers do a lot to keep the show in the public eye.

    When I planned on continuing in academia, my MA thesis was going to argue that shipping is a valid way of consuming media, and that it's reductionist to say shippers influence the writers, therefore shippers ruin everything. There are so many production issues behind story choices that character relationships is only one factor.

    I will say that when a good story falls into your lap, you take it. I cite Felicity on Arrow as my first example; the show was sinking fast under the weight of the Tommy/Laurel/Oliver triangle, that was struggling to move beyond tedium. Along comes Felicity, adding color and levity to the show, and she’s a hit. At their first meeting Stephen Amell and Emily Bett Rickards are showing all the developing chemistry of a Nora Ephron rom com meet-cute, and in a single episode she changed the tone of the show from Nolan-Batman-with-Arrows to something unique.

    If watching Amell trying to build emotion with the Green Arrow’s “canonical’ love interest, played by Katie Cassidy is kind of painful, then you start thinking of other options. You’re already setting up Felicity to be part of Team Arrow with Oliver and Diggle, and scenes between Amell and Rickards (sometimes with David Ramsey) are the best parts of the show, you take notice.

    1. "In fanboy culture, complaining about shipping - generally conceived as a feminine mode of watching TV - isn’t unusual, but it starts to sound like GamerGate rhetoric pretty quickly."

      I'm going to assume that this was just a poor choice of words because if you're seriously comparing what I wrote to a movement that grew out of an effort to slut-shame, threaten, doxx and harass a woman personally and then blossomed into movement directly attacking any woman (and man) for that matter decrying that behavior, then you and I have nothing to discuss.

      My experience with shippers have been fairly gender-neutral. I'm aware of the stereotype that it's largely women, but I don't know how much credence I give that, particularly when anyone can hide behind a screenname. Here's what I CAN attest to:

      1) A female writer I'm friendly with who works on THE 100 tried interacting with a fan board a few months ago. As it turns out, this particular board happened to be a major camp for a specific base of shippers. They immediately started lording this over a rival shipper pairing, apparently passing off this writer's presence as proof that the writer's favored THEIR pairing. This lead shipper group #2 to start attacking the writer when all she had done from her perspective was reach out to passionate fans. That's where all I can see is immature behavior and pissing contests among the shippers.

      2) I'd noticed a curious trend that occurred whenever showrunner Julie Plec replied to any of my tweets, for the next several days, my mentions would get fairly consistently hit by shippers. usually these were advocating for their cause, demanding a specific pairing, and occasionally arguing with each other in the mentions. Eventually I took a look at Julie's mentions in general and wondered how she managed to even look at her mentions considering almost every tweet she wrote got an instant dozen or so replies along the lines of "Stelena" or "Klaroline."

      It seems harmless until you see it cross over into weirder stuff. There was one guy (or gal) who sent several messages in quick succession, all of them "Klaroline." I looked at this person's feed and NONE of there tweets were absent that word. It was a weirdly obsessive behavior. And then there were the shippers who openly tweeted death threats to an actress who was a threat to their chosen 'ship.

      Plec's experience with online bullying was so distressing that she's attempted to raise awareness with anti-trolling hoodies that carry the hashtag #HeyBeNice.

      (If shipper culture is disproportionately female, that doesn't excuse any of this behavior. Just this week, fanboys really gave the entire culture a bad name when they attacked Drew McWeeny personally for a report he posted about internal concerns at WB over Batman V. Superman.


  3. 3) A friend of mine runs a TV website that covers many shows, including ARROW. The shippers have become a bane of his existence because if he interviews Katie Cassidy, it's "evidence of a pro-Laurel bias." (Never mind that Katie might be the only actress offered up for publicity that week.) If there are more pictures of Laurel in a photogallery, people scream that he's "anti-Olicity." (Again, those pictures are provided by the network, not chose at a whim by the webmaster.) And god help him if an episode review he posts is critical of either character at any point. It became more than mere noise last year when these fan groups started tweeting the producers en mass complaining about my friend and basically trying to cause trouble for him professionally.

    I've been a part of online fandom for a longtime. There have always been shippers pushing for one pairing or another. But even among Dawson/Joey fans versus Pacey/Joey fans (or Buffy/Angel fans against Buffy/Spike fans) I never saw the levels of nastiness, immaturity and pure persecution complexes I've witness in shows of the last five years or so. The goalposts have moved from "I wish the writers made different choices" to "They're not writing the version of the show that I have in my head and that's makes it wrong!" That probably reads like a tiny shift, but it changes the entire tone of the fan/creator interactions.

    As a matter of fact, I do watch ARROW. I saw a couple eps in the first season, a handful in the second season and graduated to full-time viewing in the third. That gives me a different perspective on the shipper wars there.

    First, since I started watching regularly, I've rarely seen anything that would make me view Laurel as a romantic partner for Oliver. It's not just that they don't have the chemistry those characters have in the comics, I don't even see the creators writing towards it. So on that front, the Olicity people come off as fighting a battle they don't need to.

    On the other matter, there's something about actually pairing Oliver and Felicity that seems to diminish both characters. I think it's that it drags an often-fun character into less enjoyable relationship angst. I like Felicity when she's an antidote to all the brooding and self-seriousness around her. She doesn't get to shine in that capacity when she's reduced to Oliver's girlfriend. (Though I admit, her interaction with Ray was a lot of fun.)

    For me, Felicity's best romantic chemistry was with Barry. (and his with her.) But I also think that's the direct result of the writers being liberated by NOT having to play a long, drawn-out "will they or won't they?" They got to do all the fun cutesy stuff while secure in the knowledge that both characters will remain separated by their two shows.

    I agree that Felicity is a bright spot on the show, but I don't think she's the ONLY bright spot, nor the sole saving grace that she's held up to be. She was an important element that got added as the writers refined the show. I think it's naive to credit Olicity shippers with "saving" the show. I see it as more a result of an overall rise in quality, coupled with the growing trend in comic book TV shows, and boosted by a compatible line-up (and spinoffs.) ARROW struggled with its paddle out into the ocean, but it managed to get up on the board right when the wave was cresting.

    I don't know if they could have gotten there without Felicity, but I also don't think they got there ONLY because of Felicity.