I heard recently that considering all the madness happening in the world right now, investing so much time and energy in television and movies seems fruitless. I disagree. I think art mirrors society and vice-versa, and the response to the rise of women in sci-fi and fantasy is a testament to just how much more social progress must be made.
This past Sunday, the BBC announced that Doctor Who‘s Thirteenth iteration of the classic time-traveling alien would be played by a woman, Jodie Whittaker.
Cue the outrage––from men and women alike.
In a dramatic attempt to be “politically correct” Dr Who just lost thousands of fans 😂
But it’s funny that these same die-hard fans seem to conveniently forget about all the women in their favorite franchises that helped shape the success of those franchises. And they seem to ignore that just as men love to see themselves reflected onscreen, perhaps women might too (shocker!).
For reference, here are just a few women who contributed positively to the genre nerds hold so dear. Some are main protagonists, like Thirteen will be, and some are not. The point is that they are dynamic, influential, and prove that making a character male doesn’t deem it more relevant or special to the sci-fi/fantasy canon.
Today, June 1 — the first day of Pride Month — Netflix announced its decision to cancel its original series, Sense8, after two seasons. The announcement has been met with outrage, multiple petitions (including one that has reached over 100,000 signatures), and open opposition over social media.
I thought it was a joke at first. The show, which received critical acclaim for its unadulterated display of diversity in race, culture, gender, and sexual orientation, had its ratings increase significantly between the first and second season (79% in Season 1 to 86% in Season 2 on RottenTomatoes, for example — both seasons considered a significant “fresh” tomato). The choice to end it abruptly leaves me reeling and begging the question: When will television outlets — primetime, digital, or otherwise — recognize the importance of diversity in the 21st century?
You’ve likely heard the hype surrounding 13 Reasons Why, the new Netflix teen drama based on the novel of the same name that’s trending for its “gritty” and “real” depictions of assault, bullying, and suicide. Set at the fictional Liberty High School, we follow student Clay Jensen as he listens through thirteen cassette tapes that his dead friend Hannah Baker left behind. Thirteen reasons why she chose to end her own life. Thirteen people’s contributions to her death––including Clay’s own hand in the matter from Hannah’s perspective. There are graphic depictions of sexual assault and, in the final episode, of the suicide itself.
The show has been met with equal praise and disgust, and I can honestly say that overall, I’m in the middle. The acting was decent for a bunch of newcomer kids. The writing was solid (for a teen drama). The cinematography was surprisingly good, too. The biggest standout of the show to me, actually, was Kate Walsh as Hannah’s mother. Her subtle performance was the most “real” thing about the show to me––I loved every minute she was onscreen. I also related to Hannah. I related to a lot of the main characters for various reasons, and I felt for them. A good show does that effectively and effortlessly, and it uses those characters and their stories to effectively showcase the show’s main message.
13 Reasons Why almost achieved that. Until the very last episode. For me, everything the show attempted to stand for fell apart after that.
It’s not really a secret at this point that I need some daily help to get by in the form of medicine. Most people do. In fact as of last year, 1 in 6 Americans take antidepressants and other medicines for psychological disorders to get by. Life is stressful and wonderful and sad and fantastic, and if you need help being okay through all of it, that is not your fault. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s a literal chemical imbalance in the brain. No strict talking-to or desire to “get over it” will change the science.
Clinical depression is not something to be ashamed of. It is something to try and work through as best you can, and it’s all you can do.
I had not read the book version of 13 Reasons Why before diving into this show, so I had no previous investment in the story. I was simply drawn in by the hype. But while I started the show relatively complacent, I finished it angry.
I’m not writing this to make you feel uncomfortable. I’m not even writing this as an overall review of 13 Reasons Why, which is much more on-brand for this blog.
I’m writing it because it is, as the show calls it, “my truth.”
And I refuse to let it align with the message 13 Reasons Why sends about suicide and its aftermath.
*There are major spoilers and disturbing/triggering topics discussed ahead. You’ve been warned.
You can read my thoughts on last year’s Sherlock Christmas special, “The Abominable Bride,” here. I had lot of strong feelings about Moffat’s usual misogyny, and since the disaster that was Series 3, I’d kind of just shut my mind off to Sherlock by the time Series 4 rolled around this month. For a little while, anyway.
As much as I’d like to, we aren’t going to cover the blatant mistreatment of Mary Watson’s character, the lazy case-writing, or the deus ex machina deductive characteristics Sherlock Holmes has miraculously developed, though it’s important to note that they all contribute to my main subject. (Those are posts for another time.)
We are going to talk about the principal reason I fell in love with the show––why and so many people have invested so much of their time and energy into it over the course of 6 years: Sherlock Holmes and John Watson’s relationship. Where it started, and the awful place the writers have taken it now.
From playing Prince of Camelot to starring as Prince of Hell, Bradley James has certainly built up quite the resume. I tuned into the Damien premiere this week for two reasons: (1) I was (and still am) a total BBC Merlin geek, and (2) I love a good scare. The Omen is a great film and I was very excited to see the new, present-day twist on the story. Overall, I was impressed–the show is well-shot and has great potential, even if it’s a little slow getting started.
Episode 1, “The Beast Rises,” isset 25-ish years after The Omen and follows Damien Thorn, quite literally just-turned-30 and pursuing a very promising career in war photography. It appears he’s kept his job so long–despite getting in trouble on location in Syria in the first five minutes of the episode–because he’s “the only one” who can get so “close” to the action. Why is it, the viewer is led to wonder, that Damien can get so “close”–physically and otherwise–to the ruin and chaos of war? Why does it follow him?
Well, because he’s the Antichrist. He doesn’t really know that yet, though. So the audience is meant to follow grown-up Damien over the course of ten episodes in his discovery of himself.
What’s particularly gripping about Episode 1 is that, on the outset, Damien appears to lead a very normal life. We learn he’s had love interests, he has friends, he regrets the loss of his parents (even though he can’t remember what really happened to them, or much of his childhood with them, for that matter). But he’s experienced some pretty weird things over the course of his life, too. In this episode, the writers lay the groundwork for his making sense of those pieces that don’t seem to fit–and because of these realizations, Damien’s world begins to crumble. The writers have done a great job in just one episode of creating sympathy for a character about whom we previously knew very little besides the aforementioned creepiness. The show humanizes a classic figure of paranormal horror, which is a hard thing to do, especially with a film that’s been around for so long.
But Damien also pays tribute to its inspiration with a plethora of references (the three hounds lurking in the dark, flashbacks to the iconic hanging scene in The Omen), as well as significantly spooky religious imagery. One of the final scenes in which Damien confronts the crucifix statue in the Church is particularly disturbing and definitely sets the tone for the series. Damien also thrives in cinematography and coloring as a whole. Visually, it’s quite captivating and overall shot very well. Add a creepy old lady speaking Latin and you’ve got the recipe for the significant spooks. Those looking for spidery, subtle scares over hide-under-the-covers tropes will be impressed.
What Damien lacks so far seems to be acting strength and effective pacing. I’m extremely pleasantly surprised with Bradley James as an actor (he’s grown so much since his early days in Merlin–holy American accent, Batman!), but the other actors and characters fell flat to me. I hope these ten episodes allow for recurring characters to grow by the efforts of actors and writers alike. Furthermore, overall Episode 1 is, like most pilot episodes, quite exposition-heavy. Damien faces the challenge of both captivating its audience and providing the Cliffsnotes version of the Omen trilogy’s lore in 43 minutes. So far it seems to focus on the latter, choosing to tell rather than show what Damien’s been up to since we last saw him and winding on about Biblical explanations that just happen to fit what he’s going through. I’m looking forward to what will hopefully be some more creative storytelling, because the premise has such promise. There are many opportunities to expand on Damien’s character and on the lore without getting too dense, and I hope the writers take them up.
Overall, I give the Damien premiere a solid 3 stars out of 5. I look forward to tuning in again next week. Despite my nitpicking, the episode left me with a shudder running down my spine–so I can’t deny it achieved its goal!
During my small bout of post-grad unemployment thus far, I’ve had a lot of time to watch television. I’ve blasted through five seasons of The X-Files and have begun laughing along to 3rd Rock from the Sun, both of which can be found streaming on Netflix. Not to mention I’ve been re-watching some of my go-to favorites, like Buffy and Star Trek.
I’ve always been a lover of television. Movies are great, too, but there’s nothing like the expansion of an epic story arc over the course of twenty-odd episodes, culminating in a probably even more epic two-part season finale. My taste in television is diverse–you can catch me watching anything as embarrassing as Glee, to as “vintage” as Bewitched, to as gripping as Six Feet Under. And yet when I look at the fall primetime TV lineup this year, I’m not that excited. In fact, I had to drag myself into watching the premiere of Doctor Who this past weekend, which used to be one of my all-time favorite shows. Why is it that, especially lately, I’m gravitating towards shows made in the ’60s thru ’90s rather than checking out what’s new on my screen?
Upon really thinking about it, I found the answer to that question isn’t as direct as I’d hoped it would be. In fact, it’s the product of a plethora of influences and attitudes, particularly created in media–for what are we, as human beings, but ever imprinted upon by our surroundings? And mainstream media–particularly the Internet–surrounds us all the time. So, I’ve concluded thus: We (“we” of course being my Tumblr- and Twitter-addled generation) are more apt to reach out to “older” television because of (a) technology/ease of access provided by streaming sites like Netflix, and (b) the cynical, particularly Millennial view of mainstream television that makes essentially everything airing right now problematic enough in some way to stop watching altogether.
Those were a lot of words, I know. But think about it. A few paragraphs up, I referred to Glee as “embarrassing.” When it first premiered in 2009, however, it was regarded as one of the great up-and-comings on FOX, receiving a viewership of nearly 10 million people in its first episode and throughout the first season. As illustrated by this chart, though, ratings dropped and dropped and dropped to a drastic 2 million by the end of the show’s run. It’s no coincidence to me that the rise of Tumblr “fandom” culture coincided with Glee’s downturn.
The majority of Gleeks, myself included, are millennials. Millennials who spend a lot of their free time online, particularly on Tumblr, Reddit, and Twitter. The Tumblr fan community, in case you weren’t familiar with it already, spends a great deal of energy analyzing and over-analyzing their favorite things. I, too, take part in this trend, writing paragraph upon paragraph analyzing the Star Trek reboot franchise’s treatment of women, or criticizing Doctor Who writer Steven Moffat’s “destruction” of the Doctor’s character with the rest of the angry Tumblr Whovians.
But where did my opinions of these things I used to love come from? I believe it’s a combination of groupthink and Millennial Cynicism. Honestly, if I’d just stayed off the Internet from 2009 to 2015, I’d probably still regard Glee as a pretty fun show. But every time I logged on Tumblr and searched through the Glee tags, I’d see fans tearing the show apart for its decrease in diversity, unwillingness to talk about real LGBTQ issues, and sloppy character arcs. All of these, I should clarify, are very real issues to have with Glee. But once one or two people got behind the idea, Millennials came together and quit on Glee altogether. Now, this isn’t to say that the ratings 100% directly correlate with the Internet’s gradual annoyance with the show–but I definitely think that’s part of it. If posting those five paragraphs about the flaws in Kurt and Blaine’s relationship got you 10,000 notes–it means 10,000 different people want to discuss it, and 10,000 different people will be questioning whether or not to tune into Glee next week.
It comes down to this: if Tumblr doesn’t deem it “progressive” enough, it’s not worth watching. There are components of this mentality that I agree with. I’m ecstatic, for example, at the success of Cartoon Network’s Steven Universe (which features essentially all female leads and open lesbian relationships), and ABC’s How to Get Away With Murder (which stars a woman of color, Viola Davis, as a protagonist with power, intelligence and grace). The ratings for these shows are consistently high–and that’s because Millennials really are, through social media, in control of what’s considered “good” television. But these shows are considered anomalies online. They’re creations to be looked up to, for other “lesser” programmes to aspire to. Everything else? Well. Everything else is garbage.
So we respond to our own disdain in a number of ways. For one, we put on an air of nostalgia. We say we long for when television was good. We go back to Special Agent Dana Scully, who set the precedent for strong women in procedural dramas on The X-Files. And we can excuse these shows for their bad behavior–like Darrin telling Samantha to stay home and cook dinner as are her wifely duties, or the football coach slapping Sally Solomon’s ass without warning or consent as the audience chortles–“because of the times.” We praise shows like Buffy (1996-2003)and Wonder Woman (1975 -1979) for, despite their flaws, creating a platform for discussion of diversity. And a lot of these shows, especially as of late, have been made readily accessible through Netflix instant streaming. We have vintage television at our fingertips, and we’re certainly using it. It’s fueling more discussion than ever–or, if it’s the same amount as before, it’s certainly more accessible through online social platforms. We watch and re-watch and sigh, “Ah, those were the good old days.”
And the fact that a lot of generally popular new shows, like Sherlock and Doctor Who seem to take steps back in feminist/LGBTQ/POC issues, leads millennials to vocally demand something better than what’s on now. For one, that’s really inspiring. Because of technology and access to TV shows through various (legal and illegal) mediums, it’s not necessarily the ratings that shape a success of a show anymore; rather, it’s how much it’s talked about through shares on Facebook or Twitter statuses. Having these discussions, really furthering knowledge of what it means to be progressive through entertainment and media is very, very important. We need more diversity in mainstream media. That is a fact I refuse to dispute, and anyone who would clearly isn’t living in this reality.
But in the same vein, the permeation of constantly negative thinking construes every decision every writer or director makes into something political. Good shows get positive attention–but are the “bad” shows really irrevocably “bad”? I read an argument on Tumblr the other day in which users discussed whether or not Sailor Moon‘s main protagonist choosing to end her life in the first arc is “anti-feminist,” when the show and manga have been regarded for decades as extremely empowering for women. Usagi’s suicide was very clearly meant not merely as a reaction to the death of her boyfriend, but as a means to save the world. Did…everyone forget about the part where she entirely avoids a fated repeat of a terrible apocalypse? Does the fact that the gay couple on Modern Family seems too “stereotypical” to some, negate the fact that they represent a powerful overthrow of the typical nuclear, heterosexual family on the average sitcom?
We take whatever’s airing, whatever’s “mainstream cool,” watch it, and before writing up our own opinions, scour the Internet for opinions to latch onto. I’ve been caught more than once by my friends with the question: “Is that what you believe, or is that what the Internet believes?” Groupthink among fandom culture has created a dichotomy wherein everyone questions creative entertainment, but no one is allowed to question that questioning.
No matter your viewpoint, the fact remains that our generation is shaping what “good” and “bad” television is. We’re redefining expectations and standards–and plus, with the internet and technology, you’ve got to make something really good to hold our attention. My fear is that, with sites like Tumblr, something “good” doesn’t stay that way for long. I think it’s important to think critically in all you do, even if it’s watching your favorite show. But when the show becomes ruined for you because of what you’re told you are supposed to believe about it–isn’t that negating the purpose of your being a “fan” at all?
Especially with the Internet, television has become more than just entertainment. It’s inspiration, fuel for discussion and empowerment. So, yes. Maybe Supernatural needs a lot of work in the “keeping female characters alive for more than two episodes” department. Maybe writers and producers could be taking bigger social strides forward in what’s played on our screens every night. But I don’t think anything should be looked at in such black-and-white terms as “this show is god-sent” or “that abhorrent show must be canceled.” To think critically is to look at all sides of a situation–to be willing to understand multiple points of view, multiple avenues of thinking. Perhaps if we looked at the positive side as well as the negative, we’d find a lot more to be happy about in modern television than we’d seen before.
On that note, I’m going to go check out the series premiere of Scream Queens (created, ironically enough, by Glee‘s Ryan Murphy). And in case you were wondering–I won’t have the Tumblr tag open as I watch.