Saturday, September 29, 2012

Waterlinks Down (Lucy Liu, The Mindy Project, and More!)

via albafrancomb.tumblr
Well, it has been a doozy of a week here at KMWW headquarters (also known as my laptop). In between cruising Halong Bay, getting super sunburnt, and finding out some crazy stuff about the next few weeks, I am bushed. So, have some links.

1. In ladies-are-funny news, Mindy Kaling’s new show, The Mindy Project (which we will be reviewing on Monday), is poised to be this year’s critical darling. But that doesn’t mean it’s without its problems. In These Times looks at how The Mindy Project could be a step backward for women in comedy.

2. In GIF-not-JIF news, Feministing knows just when I need a nice break, so they’ve given us a gift: the Romney campaign’s implosion last week, as described in GIFs. No matter which side you’re on, it’s still accurate. You’re welcome.

3. In downer news, The Daily Beast reports that Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy has made amazing progress on her quest to investigate the 11,000 police rape kits that she found in a warehouse. They had never been investigated or processed, but in just the first fragment of the kits, Worthy has identified 21 serial rapists, and counting. Depressing, but needs to be done. Now just worry about all the cities where the rape kit backlog is in the thousands, and there isn’t a Kym Worthy making noise.

4. In be-my-friend news, Lucy Liu continues to be terrifyingly awesome. NPR interviews her about her latest role, playing the first female Watson in Elementary. She is fabulous, and very clever. Bow, mortals.

5. In be-my-friend-also, it’s clearly a week for awesome ladies being awesome! Alex Kingston (of River Song fame) talks to The Daily Beast about her roles on Doctor Who and Upstairs Downstairs. Also about what it’s like playing a turn of the century lesbian.

6. And finally, in it’s-Saturday-I’m-tired news, have a video of Taylor Swift being generally adorable, and also reminding us that there’s no shame in dumping someone who doesn’t treat you right.

That’s it for this week, catch us Monday for more reviews and craziness! Crossover Appeal airs on Sunday at 6pm PDT – check out our new Crossover Appeal tab for more!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Pilot Season: Guys With Kids (Burn It With Fire)

Dear Guys With Kids, how do I hate you? Let me count the ways.

1. You imply that a man caring for his own child is both unusual and noteworthy. It’s not.

2. You outright state that women who are overly invested in the wellbeing of their children are overbearing bitches.

3. You imply that all other women are either controlling maneaters, needy neurotics, or nubile twenty-three year olds.

4. Your characters really suck at taking care of their kids.

Okay, so the last one was kind of specific, but suffice it to say that Guys With Kids fails to deliver in a pretty epic way. For a show with such a simple premise (it’s in the title), it did have some potential to be a new look at fatherhood in the twenty-first century. But I don’t think any of us actually expected that it would do that.

The setup is simple, which isn’t actually a point against it. There are three dads. Stay-At-Home Dad (sorry, I don’t remember their names, and I can’t be bothered to find out), Dude Dad, and Divorced Dad. They all have their own issues with both their kids and the women in their lives.

Stay-At-Home Dad is unhappy because his wife goes out and works while he stays home with their four children under the age of six. Yikes. Actually, this was the story I liked the best. SATD was funny and comically tragic, as he laments how his television has been broken for months, but the kids have sucked them dry so much financially that they can’t get a new one.

His exasperation and exhaustion, along with his acting as girlfriend and sympathizer to his stay-at-home mom friend were very well played. Plus, it was nice to see at least one (if only one) working relationship. SATD and his wife burst out laughing thinking about how they may have nothing, but at least this means there’s nothing left to break. It was a clever moment of pseudo-hysteria, and I liked it.

That having been said, the other two dads, Dude Dad and Divorced Dad are a whole pile of nothing. Dude Dad is annoyed because his daughter is all princessy. He’s also in trouble with his wife because she got all dolled up for a fundraiser at their daughter’s school, and he forgot and offered to babysit for Divorced Dad. His problems are negligible, and he’s kind of a terrible person. Not a fan.

Divorced Dad, though, takes the cake in the unlikable contest. Somehow managing to be both smarmy and irritatingly shy, he’s recently divorced and looking to get back out there. 

Of course, his ex-wife is a huge bitch who won’t let him get a babysitter for their kid when he finally gets a date (by which we mean, he finds a girl who will sleep with him—there’s no way he’s actually trying to date that girl). The ex-wife is of course ruining everything blah blah, and while they certainly paint her that way, I didn’t find her too unreasonable. Considering what he actually did in the episode, I’d be pretty hesitant to leave my kid with him too. He brought a baby to a bar.

Overall, the show just falls flat. It’s got standard sitcom gags about mixed signals and trying to hook up with pretty girls and “men are stupid but women are bitches” themes that I was so tired of last year. In fact, this really seems like a sitcom that would have been on last year, when we saw an epic glut of emasculated men shows, like How to Be a Gentleman and Man Up! and Last Man Standing. Ugh. And, lest we all forget, that horrible cross-dressing show, Work It.

I get that men have felt this economic downturn on average more than women have. There’s a prevailing attitude right now that men are on the downslide and women are coming up in the world. Personally, I don’t think that’s true. It’s going to take a lot more than a few years of recession to erase thousands of years of patriarchy.

And I reject the idea that any successful woman must therefore be a bitch. I’ve known a lot of unemployed bitches, and a lot of spectacularly kind CEOs (okay, I’ve only known a couple of CEOs, but they were on the whole pretty nice).

The idea that a guy with a kid is inherently emasculated isn’t just wrong, it’s outdated. It’s the kind of thing we expect to hear on Mad Men, or maybe said by someone in the seventies. These days, though, it’s not weird. There’s paternal leave, dad’s getting involved, and even stay-at-home dads who don’t complain all the time and hate themselves. We’ve moved on. It’s time television did too.

I guess what I’m saying is this: man up and be a father. Stop being a little boy complaining that he’s missing playtime. It’s not cute.

Guys With Kids airs on NBC at 8:30pm on Wednesdays. They took babies to a bar.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Pilot Season: Ben and Kate (At Least There's Punch)

I’ve never understood the appeal of childish characters. You know, the characters who are well into their twenties or thirties, but still live like big kids. They’re usually guys. They’re usually annoying. They’re portrayed as fun, lighthearted, the kinds of guys you want in your corner, even if they are ultimately super annoying.

Which they are. Super, incredibly, exorbitantly annoying. Entire movies have been based on this, like Our Idiot Brother and You, Me, and Dupree. We are supposed to believe that these overgrown children are really just sensitive souls that can teach all of us how to truly live in the moment.

I don’t think I need to explain that I think that’s crap.

Ben and Kate is yet another entry in this genre. The story follows Ben, who never grew up, and his little sister Kate, who grew up too fast. I think that’s actually a line from the show, which displeases me.

Anyway, Kate lives in Los Angeles with her five year old daughter. She’s a waitress, has a couple of good, if odd, friends, and generally seems to be working on her life. She’s dating again. It seems nice. She also has an improbably nice house for a single mother who works in food service, but that’s beside the point.

Ben is her big brother who only breezes into town when he wants something. He’s very fun, of course, but he’s incredibly disruptive. He’s always dragging her into his wacky schemes, and she, of course, can’t have that.

This time, he comes back to town in order to break up his ex-girlfriend’s wedding. He’s being selfish and she calls him on it, but then he calls off his plans in order to help her, and we’re supposed to believe that he’s changed. After a few more sitcom-y twists and turns, he decides to stay in the area to help her raise her daughter. Hugs all around.

Now, nothing in here is inherently objectionable. I don’t particularly care for Ben’s character, because he’s incredibly annoying and I don’t see any change for the better in his future, but nothing actually is wrong here. The problem lies in two places: the writing (it’s predictable and unfunny) and the casting (no chemistry). You need something, some hook to keep people coming back for more. If you don’t have a hilarious script, then you need solid actors. If you don’t have good actors, then you need a really catchy premise.

And if you don’t have any of those things, then just pray that the shows airing against you don’t have them either.

It’s not precisely that I hate immature humor (though I’m not overly fond), I just tend to think that shows that rely on a childish character to “bring out the kid in all of us” are oversimplifying things. Yes, it’s lovely to have a true sense of wonder at the world. But it is also lovely to pay your bills on time.

Just saying.

As a premise, I think this is the sort of stolid sitcom material that has the potential to be anything, depending on its execution. I worry a bit about this incarnation, though, because after Ben’s character growth in the first episode, they must revert him in order to make the show work. He is a character who cannot develop and keep the show running, which will get stale very fast.

However, as I mentioned above, Lucy Punch is in this show, and she is spectacular. Playing essentially the female version of Ben, a woman who refuses to grow up or be responsible, on her it works. She’s slutty, shallow, and positively loves it. I think I like her because she’s just self-aware for her to be funny and not sad. So that’s nice.

But otherwise, the show is largely a wash. It has the potential to be pretty cool if it takes itself seriously. So, we’ll see. For now, though, it’s not a good bet.

Ben and Kate airs on FOX at 8:30pm on Tuesdays. All hail Saint Lucy.

Pilot Season: Animal Practice (The Monkey Is the Best Part)

You take one part House, which is fine because House is over so no one can get butt-hurt over ripoffs, two parts the monkey from the Hangover movies, and a nice dash of a 90s romantic comedy, and that’s pretty much how you get Animal Practice. It’s not original, or even particularly entertaining, but damn is it safe.

Sorry. That was mean.

Look, I can understand that sometimes a writer just defaults to a simple premise in order to sell the show. I need money too, I get it. It’s just, when the result is a chuckle-free, “aren’t we so wacky”, “and the sexual tension is hilarious” half hour of tired jokes and really simplistic characters, I get annoyed.

Dr. Coleman (Justin Kirk) is a veterinarian who hates people and loves animals. He is Gregory House for pets, and that’s pretty much the best thing you can say about him. Played by the able but not necessarily correctly cast Kirk (who was on Weeds for ages and also in Angels in America, so he’s actually a pretty good actor), Coleman is a gruff, largely unlovable galoot who hangs out with his pet monkey (Dr. Rizzo) and generally terrorizes pet owners.

His perfect world (which of course involves sleeping with any attractive woman who crosses his path) is shaken up by the return of his ex-girlfriend, something-something. Sorry, I totally tuned out her name. It was really hard to keep paying attention to this.

Anyway, the ex, played by Joanna Garcia Swisher, so we’re gonna call her Joanna, has just come back because her grandmother has passed away. And in a crazy round of hijinks, Joanna’s mother actually owned the animal hospital (get it?), so now Joanna’s in charge! She’s got high hopes and lots of good feelings about this. She’s gonna turn this place around because it just means so darn much to her. Gee.

Coleman, is, of course, nonplussed at this, and decides to make her life a living hell. Blah blah blah wacky hijinks blah Coleman quits blah blah he does the right thing blah they make up. Professionally, of course. The plot is very predictable and decently done. Nothing special or exciting, but it’s doable.

My real frustration with the story (aside from how they substitute gimmicks and “wacky characters!” for jokes) is the romantic relationship. Because, frankly, it’s not very romantic. In fact, it’s mostly insulting.

Two years ago, Joanna left Coleman out of the blue. Immediately I kind of seized up, because while that is the sort of thing that you immediately know will be explained and shit, it paints Joanna in a very bad light. And, unfortunately for her, the light never gets better. It turns out she left because she had just told Coleman she loves him, and he replied with, “Awesome.” Hardeeharhar isn’t that awful of Coleman to do?

Now in this scene I genuinely didn’t know whom we were supposed to relate to. On the one hand, Joanna is pretty and nice and has shiny hair, but she is the one who did the leaving. On the other, I really don’t like Coleman, and sympathizing with him makes me feel icky. So, dilemma.

Later on in the episode, after their “omg sexual tension” has played out for a while, Coleman comes out with his big announcement about how he wasn’t ready etc. Don’t care, wasn’t listening. They sort of make up, and it’s all hearts and kisses, and you just know those two crazy kids will get it together somehow.

Except, I still don’t care. Nothing about this show has appealed to me emotionally, and now I’m stuck watching the two most obvious people in the world tug each others’ pigtails. It’s like watching Newsroom, if Will and Mackenzie were even more irritating. Which would be impressive.

But most of all, I don’t like the way the characters are cast. No one on this show is developed. No one. Joanna is so dull I don’t even remember her real name, Coleman is a clear ripoff of other characters, and everyone else is just there to pad the background and be funny. No. Like.

If there is one redeeming thing to say about this show, it’s that the monkey is genuinely funny. But if that’s the best thing I can say about a show, that’s a terrible sign.

Animal Practice airs on Wednesdays at 8pm on NBC.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Returning Shows: 2 Broke Girls (Turns Out, You Can Polish This)

I almost wasn’t going to write this one. You see, last year I watched the pilot for 2 Broke Girls and freaked out because the title gave a false impression of what broke meant. And given that at the time of writing I was, in fact, super broke (as in, living off of rice and apples and literally nothing else for three weeks broke), it pissed me off a little.

But, I watched the beginning of this season anyways. It was okay. Still a little racist, still relying way too heavily on the Max-is-incredibly-horny jokes, and still not quite as funny as I want it to be, but I suddenly have hope. I think this show is getting better.

I don’t think it’s getting better immediately or on a scale visible to the human eye, but it is improving. Consider this: last season, the jokes regarding various characters were mean spirited gags involving either their race or their sexual habits. It was pretty depressing. 

Now, the jokes still usually involve race or sexual habits, but they don’t feel as mean. Everything’s toned down a lot. You get the impression that the people on this show actually kind of like each other. They may take the piss, but it’s in a loving way. The I-can-beat-you-up-but-no-one-else-is-allowed way. And can I just say that it's wonderful to watch a show where the women are arguing about money, not men?

I think it’s sweet.

Once you get through the first season, a lot of things start to gel into place. Finally, you get to a point where the cast starts to click with each other. There are inside jokes. Or, alternately and in the case of The X Files there is outright hatred. But either way they get to know each other. Their acting gets solid. The chemistry is down.

The writers get used to the way the actors say their lines and the jokes get a lot better as a result. Storylines get tighter. They’ve used up the obvious ones, and now they’re just starting to scratch the surface of how cool this premise can get.

In a way, though it definitely wasn’t quite there, this episode was what it looks like when 2 Broke Girls hits its stride. You had a basic central conflict: Caroline and Max had to go to Caroline’s estate sale (which would be humiliating) in order to bid on a trophy of Caroline’s that had money hidden in the bottom. 

It has conflict on a couple of levels. There’s Caroline’s reluctance to go back and see her old life broken up and sold. There’s Max’s difficulty with the idea of spending money to get money. And there’s the girls’ disappointment when they discover that they were wrong, and there isn’t anything in the trophy. It’s just a trophy.

There’s also a really interesting subplot involving Max coming to understand why Caroline’s dad (a riff on Bernie Madoff) did what he did. The girls go visit him in prison, and it’s clear that he still cares for his daughter. It’s also clear that Max would totally jump his bones, which is funny until it’s not. His reasons for having them get the trophy are actually pretty good, and it was nice to see the show take a quick detour through heartfelt before rounding back to snark station.

I do wonder a bit if the new found maturity on the show is a result of less meddling from the two producers, Whitney Cummings (of the much maligned Whitney) and Michael Patrick King (Sex and the City, much maligned by me). But I have absolutely no proof for this, and my friend in production at CBS has signed all these pesky NDAs, so really I have no idea.

But it’s something to think about.

2 Broke Girls airs on Mondays at 9pm on CBS.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Returning Shows: HIMYM (Actually Meeting the Mother)

I know I’ve mentioned How I Met Your Mother a lot in the past couple of weeks. And months. But we’re going to dive back into that well once again because the eighth and possibly final season has just begun, leaving us with a very interesting situation: we might actually meet the mother.

Crazy, right?

Since the beginning of the show, we’ve all kind of known that we can’t meet the mother right away. The more genre savvy among us have pointed out that the show is structured in such a way that we absolutely can’t meet the mother, or we can’t know she’s the mother, until the very end of the show. So where does that leave us?

Well, seven seasons ago, it left us intrigued and wanting more. These days it leaves us a little annoyed and impatient. We are totally ready for Ted to meet the damn mother. Marshall and Lily have gotten engaged, broken up, gotten back together, gotten engaged again, gotten married, gone through a significant family tragedy, and had a freaking baby already! Get it together, Ted.

Of course we all know that it’s not Ted’s fault. It’s the stupid show’s fault for being good and popular and therefore getting renewed and making us wait. Dumb show. But this does leave us with a weird problem. After eight years of anticipation and hopes and ideas of who she is or what she’s like or who’ll play her, what if the mother, wait for it, sucks?

Trust me, I don’t like thinking this any more than you do, but we have to admit that it’s a distinct possibility. We all have actors we intensely dislike, some of whom have done polarizing guest stints on the show. Zoey was pretty divisive. Current opinion on Quinn seems to be that the jury’s still out. How do we know that when we get the mother we’ll like her?

We can always go with the assumption that we’ll have to. I mean, after all these years, we almost can’t let ourselves not like her. We’re ingrained to love her on sight, right?

I’m not saying that I want to hate the mother, and I’m not saying that her casting will ultimately matter at all. We still have no idea if she’s going to appear in the final episode, a season arc, or just the last thirty seconds of the last episode. The creators are pretty close mouthed about that, as they rightly should be.

What I’m more getting at is this: long running shows based around an anticipation premise run the risk of disappointing audiences when the plot finally pays off. We all felt the burn when The X Files started its decline. And we all cringed when the Luke and Lorelai thing just did not work out. Anticipation means that we’ll be eager for it forever. But milk us for too long (and isn’t that a disturbing mental image) and we’ll start to resent it.

I just hope you guys know what you’re doing, is all.

How I Met Your Mother airs on Mondays at 8pm on CBS.

Pilot Season: Partners (Pity Brandon Routh)

Most people can identify the sorts of things that go into a CBS sitcom. It’s multi-camera. Shot on a sound stage. Live studio audience. Quick jokes with pauses for laughter. Really obvious premises.

Well, you’ve pretty much just described Partners, but I have to say that so far this is the show I am most mixed up about.

The premise is really simple. Made by the creators of Will and Grace, the show features wacky odd couple Joe and Louis (David Krumholtz and Michael Urie). The two childhood best friends now live near each other and run an architecture firm together. They’re successful, happy, and both have loving significant others: Joe has his gorgeous girlfriend Ali (Sophia Bush), while Louis has his equally gorgeous boyfriend Wyatt (Brandon Routh).

Everything is going fine until the day that Ali drops an ultimatum on Joe: marry her or break up. Naturally, Joe freaks out. Louis counsels him through it, and Joe decides to break up with her. But, of course, when he tries, he realizes how much he loves her and proposes instead.

That’s all lovely, but the next morning in yoga class, Louis tries to comfort Ali through her heartbreak, which spills the beans. Ali calls off the engagement, and Joe freaks out on Louis. There’s lots of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Finally, though, Louis convinces Ali to take Joe back, and there is a makeup kiss, etc. All happiness is restored.

All of this is actually just fine. Sure, is a super standard sitcom, but nothing really bothers me about it. It’s cool seeing a main gay character on a sitcom, especially on CBS. I like David Krumholtz. The story was adequate, and while the writing was definitely a work in progress, I trust these guys to actually progress.

So what’s the problem?

The problem is Wyatt. Brandon Routh has literally nothing to do on this show. He appeared in only three scenes, all of which were painful, and added nothing to the story. It kind of stinks.

Routh is a good actor, and I even think he’s right for the role. He’s got a big puppy attitude about him, which fits the character, who is supposed to be Louis’ super laid back boyfriend. Wyatt doesn’t even mind when Louis goes around telling everyone that he’s a doctor, instead of the truth, which is that Wyatt is a nurse and perfectly happy with that, thanks.

It really serves to highlight the flaws in the writing for this show. While the show worked just fine and got everyone to the places they needed to be, it largely failed to deliver on conflict. All of the drama was incredibly overt: Joe and Ali are in a fight. Joe and Louis are fighting because of Ali. It’s all incredibly clear. 

What isn’t clear is where Wyatt fits into this. As the only cast member without a storyline in the first episode, it becomes very difficult to figure out what Wyatt is supposed to be doing as the story progresses.

He doesn’t want anything, he doesn’t need anything, and he doesn’t appear to have any deep dark secrets. His one funny habit is being blissfully un-self aware, which actually makes everyone else just seem mean for picking on him. Yes, he says things like, “I have a heart on today,” completely ignoring the ways that sentence could be misinterpreted (say it aloud), but he’s so blank and puppyish you actually feel bad that anyone pointed it out.

I think this has the potential to be a solid series. All of the actors involved are the kind of unshowy workhorses that make sitcoms great. It’s a solid, if boring, premise, and there is real potential for drama as the significant others war against the titular relationship. It’s a show about attractive young people living in a big city. It’s got room to grow.

I just want it to actually take that room and grow, because where it is right now kind of sucks.

Partners airs on Mondays at 8:30pm on CBS.

Monday, September 24, 2012

I Can't Believe It's A Movie About Women! (Butter)

Okay, so when I decided to write this review, I didn’t realize that Butter, the satirical comedy starring Jennifer Garner, Olivia Wilde, and a whole host of hilarious people, hasn’t actually come out yet. So, I’m going to try to do this without spoilers, and hopefully some of you will go see it. Because it was good.

And if anyone with the government or entertainment industry is reading this, I totally saw Butter in a legal way. Promise.

Like I said above, Butter stars Jennifer Garner as Laura Pickler, the devoted wife of Bob Pickler (Ty Burrell), who has been the champion butter carver in Iowa for the last fifteen years. But that’s all about to change, because the butter carving board has decided Bob needs to give someone else a chance, forcing Laura to face the horrifying idea of someone else being the face of butter.

I never said this was a normal premise.

Anyway, stuff happens and Laura decides to enter for herself. Mucking things up are Olivia Wilde as a vengeful stripper, Kirsten Schall as a superfan, and newcomer Yara Shahidi as a foster child with a knack for butter carving. It’s a sometimes heartwarming, sometimes scathing, usually hilarious movie about the seedy underbelly of competitive butter carving, which is not something I even remotely knew was a thing.

It also stars Rob Cordry and Alicia Silverstone as foster parents, Hugh Jackman as a used car salesman, and Ashley Green as Ty Burrell’s angsty teenage daughter. Also some other people. The casting is pretty epic.

Without giving too much away, I’d just like to examine for you why I enjoyed this movie so freaking much. It’s not a perfect movie, is the thing. In fact, I am well aware of and capable of pointing out its flaws. That’s not the basis of its appeal. The appeal comes from how this is a movie about a bunch of women from all different backgrounds, generations, and motivations arguing.

Why, you might ask, is that a good thing? A movie about a bunch of people arguing, butting heads, and generally trying to make each other’s lives miserable does not sound like a good time, right?

Except for the part where that’s precisely what movies are. Movies are about conflict, and in Butter, despite how inane the conflict seems to us, it means everything to the people involved. That makes the movie entertaining, engrossing, and just plain fun.

The other main reason I love it though comes from the fact that the people doing the arguing and butting heads are all women. There are three main male characters in the movie. Ty Burrell, Rob Cordry, and Hugh Jackman. 

And all of them, all of them, are described or identified in relationship to the women around them. Bob (Burrell) is Laura’s husband. Ethan (Cordry) is Destiny’s foster dad. Boyd (Jackman) is Laura’s ex-boyfriend. I cannot think of many other movies, in fact I’m currently drawing a blank on naming just one, where the male characters were all defined in relationship to women

It’s incredibly common the other way round. When was the last time you saw an action movie where there wasn’t at least one female character (and usually exactly one in the entire film) who was defined as so-and-so’s girlfriend or wife? That’s what women usually get to be in films. Wives and girlfriends, sometimes mothers or daughters, seldom imbued with an identity of our own.

So I think you can imagine how shocking and refreshing it was to watch a movie where the opposite was true.

But more than that, Butter is about the relationships between women. It’s what The Women should have been. I mean, I can’t get too much into the relationships without spoiling the plot, but it actually takes a strong look at the ways that women relate to each other, across class, race, and moral lines. And it’s kind of awesome for that.

A lot of the reason that I love this movie is the way that the women in this movie aren’t circulating around a man, like in The Women, and they’re not constantly talking about their vaginas and sex like in Sex and the City. You don’t really notice that it’s anchored by women, until you stop in the second act and realize that all of the important relationships, decisions, and conflicts are by women about women. It makes me want to jump up and down with joy.

Look, I have nothing against a good romance, and I think that Sex and the City has its place. But I can’t get over how nice it is to watch a movie where the women are just people. They’re just normal people in a normal story, and it’s all about them. It could be a movie all about men, and it could be a movie that’s intermixed. And it’s not. It’s a movie about women being people. That thrills me.

So, I hope you guys go out and watch it. You don’t have to love it as much as I do, though, seriously, it was epic, but I want you to appreciate how rare what you’re seeing is. And I want you to think about how if we all go see this movie, then just maybe they’ll make more like it.

P.S. I just thought of another movie where the women define the conflict: Bridesmaids. But I’m having trouble coming up with more. And even that was a bit of a romance and focused on a wedding. So, almost.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Man from L.I.N.K.S. (XKCD, Inspector Spacetime, and More!)

via whitestuffknowslimits.tumblr
Okay, let’s get through this! The weather here has taken a strong hike to the hot and sweaty, and I really just want to take a nap before dinner, so have some awesome links!

1. In yay-TV news, Alyssa Rosenberg at Slate talks about how feminist and cool Bones and Sons of Anarchy are.

2. In please-be-kidding news, Rush Limbaugh just announced, on purpose and on air, that he thinks feminism is causing men’s penises toshrink. Seriously. He said that. I’m not exaggerating.

3. In ooh-shiny news, there’s a new XKCD comic out that lets you explore the world and awakens your sense of wonder. Unless you’re dead inside.

4. In double-standards news, tumblr user hannahorvath has a great explanation why Kristen Stewart’s stigmatization in Hollywood is so disgusting.

5. In worlds-colliding news, The MarySue is reporting that Katee Sackhoff will be playing Karen Gillan’s mother in an upcoming movie. In other news, Gillan may actually appear on Inspector Spacetime. *Dies.*

6. And finally, in holy-crap news, production designer Adam Levermore created an entire short film as his resume and application to the new S.H.I.E.L.D. pilot Joss Whedon is putting together. I hope he got the job.

That’s all for this week! Crossover Appeal will be up on Sunday at 6pm PDT – you can look for us on Facebook, Google+, and Youtube. See you on Monday!

Friday, September 21, 2012

She's Just The Girl (Community and How I Met Your Mother)

When you’re writing a television pilot, generally speaking you have a protagonist (usually male, but that’s evening out) who has an undefined goal in life and will be shaken out of his doldrums into the wacky world of your story. If you’re going to do that, then the easiest way is with The Girl. That’s right, just introduce your guy to a girl character who represents everything that he actually wants, and this will force him to grow and advance the plot.

I hate it when they do this.

In the pilot episodes of both Community and How I Met Your Mother, our straight white male protagonist isn’t spurred into action until he meets The Girl. She is the perfect girl for him. Pretty, unattainable, interested in the same stuff he is.

Utterly lacking in her own personality.

On Community, the influential girl was of course Britta. In the very first episode we see that Jeff starts the study group so that he can have an excuse to hang out with her. Which is fine, there are much worse reasons to do things, but it leaves the show a little bereft. You see, Jeff does things because he wants Britta to notice him. The story, though, doesn’t give any validity to Britta’s side. We are entirely in Jeff’s pocket, and Britta doesn’t exist as a person. She is a thing to be won.

It’s not until the later episodes, when Britta starts really filling out as a character (and a damn funny one at that) that we start to actually get an idea of who she is. Upon first glance, Britta is just an amalgamation of all the things that Jeff finds attractive. She’s The Girl. She doesn’t have a role in the story of her own, she’s just there to move the plot along and be the carrot dangling in front of our main character, spurring him on.

In How I Met Your Mother, it’s even more pronounced. Unlike Jeff Winger, who is a confirmed womanizer and proud of it, Ted sees himself as a sensitive guy. When he sees Robin across the bar in the pilot episode, he knows that he wants to get to know her. To date her. Maybe even to marry her. Which is ridiculous because he has literally never spoken to her. At least Jeff is honest about how little he really cares for Britta’s feelings at first. In the pilot, Ted treats Robin like some magical being created just for him, despite not knowing her at all and professing to be a nice guy.

It’s not until later in the first season, and then the second, when we actually get to know Robin as more than just that chick Ted wants to bang. It’s when she actually suits up to have bourbon with Barney, or when we find out about Robin Sparkles, or the later episode when we find out she was raised as a boy. Until we find out Robin’s quirky little flaws, she’s not a person. She’s an object. Just another thing Ted thinks he needs to feel complete.

And, ultimately, that’s the problem with “The Girl”. She’s not a real character, she’s a level. It’s lazy writing, assuming that all our hero needs to be inspired or to be complete is a girl. It gives said girl no agency, and just assumes that she’ll be happy playing in to the male protagonist’s fantasy.

As the years go on, this actually becoming more prevalent in female lead shows as well. I mean, it’s equality, but really? Not what we want.

In the first episode of Heart of Dixie, Zoe spies a cute guy, talks to him, and decides to stay. Said cute guy really has no personality for most of the first season. Or in Grey’s Anatomy, where McDreamy exists just as a fantasy to all the female characters. I think. I don’t actually watch that show. It seems nice?

Anyway, creating a character whose sole existence is just to jolt your protagonist out of his doldrums is annoying and bad. That should be pretty self-evident.

But the reason I’m still talking about it is because those two shows up above (Community and How I Met Your Mother) managed to pull it off. And they did it by developing the shit out of those characters once they got going.

Look, writing is hard. Sometimes you make shortcuts. I don’t think anyone here is saying that Dan Harmon is a bad writer or that the HIMYM pilot isn’t hilarious and awesome (at least I’m not saying that), what I’m saying is that those shows succeeded because they didn’t keep these characters underdeveloped. Very quickly we learned to view these women as characters in their own rights. Funny, psychotic, and occasionally violent characters.

If it weren’t for their development, neither show would actually work. They would bring the whole level down, to have two women who are just there for the male protagonist’s sake? That would suck. So they aren’t. They’re there for them.

The bottom line is that if you’re making a piece of art, and you want it to be good, whether it’s a show or a movie or a book or whatever, you have to treat all of the characters in it like people. You can’t pick and choose which ones get to have agency and which ones are just cardboard props for your lead to react against. The whole thing has to jive. If you want it to be good, make everyone a character. Not just the easy ones.

And if you’re going to make a comedy, make everyone funny.

I will forever thank HIMYM for giving us Robin Sparkles and the Beaver Song. Never forget.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Pilot Season: The Mob Doctor (Sigh.)

There comes a point in pilot season, usually a lot later than this, when everything starts to look like shit. When you’ve seen so many shows and so many stupid pilots that are stupid and boring and repetitive and stupid that you just don’t care. And when that happens, it becomes very difficult to tell if the show you’re watching is bad or if you’re just cranky.

Fortunately, I’m always cranky. It makes this easier.

Today’s venture into the swamp of mediocrity that is network television (really cranky, sorry) is Mob Doctor. The plot of the show is in the title, and I hate that. It’s about Dr. Grace Devlin, a Chicago doctor, who owes a debt to the mob and therefore has to treat gunshot wounds and stuff. Oh, and try to kill an expert witness who’s going to testify against her mob boss.

It’s all frightfully obvious stuff. Grace has strong moral principles, as we can see when she yells at her boss for ignoring a patient’s condition, but she can succumb to the problems she’s in. And, of course, she’s only in debt to the mob because she asked them not to kill her brother.

Look, I want to like procedural shows. I even do like some of them. But I can’t stand a show that seems to think its audience is disposable. There is nothing in this show that is unique. The entire plot seems to have been cribbed from an episode of House. I’m not being figurative. There is literally an episode of House with this plot, it’s just a lot funnier and involves more Hugh Lauries. Which is good.

Part of the problem with the show is that the casting is atrocious. Jordana Spiro, who was great in My Boys and is a fabulous comic actress, sinks as the dour Dr. Devlin. She’s supposed to be some sort of gruff, attitudinal hotshot doctor, but unfortunately just comes across as annoying.

The other actors are generally fine, but no one stands out. Their characters are underwritten and immediately forgettable. Pretty much you get Grace, the mob boss, that other mob guy, and Grace’s mother as the characters to remember. Not a whole lot.

And from a purely technical standpoint, the show feels unfinished. Some of their science was wildly wrong, and if I notice that the science is wrong, then it’s pretty bad. A whole diagnosis rested on the existence of a young girl’s hymen, which is stupid and also ignores the fact that for the past forty years most women have been born without or with incomplete hymens. This even glosses over how unnerving that storyline was regarding consent issues, pregnancy, and emotional trauma. Did not like.

There were three medical plotlines running concurrently, alongside plots about Grace’s relationship with her family, her boyfriend, and the mob. That’s just not good writing. In all the bustle, we got absolutely no idea of who Grace is as a person. Instead, she just came off as irritating and dull. I don’t think I need to explain why that’s a bad thing.

I don’t want to sound all harsh on this show. It wasn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen or personally offensive. It just wasn’t very good. It lacked a single spark or memorable thing to hold it in place. The internal logic of the universe made no sense, the acting was subpar, and the plots were obvious and predictable. Even the final twist was not hard to see coming.

Overall, I give this show a C for effort, because it really doesn’t feel like they were trying too hard. If I were flipping channels and landed on it, I’d consider finishing out the episode. I think that’s the best I can say here.

The Mob Doctor airs Mondays at 9 PM on FOX. Have fun.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Problem with Penny (and The Big Bang Theory)

When The Big Bang Theory came out a few years back, I wrote a review of it on my then-blog (which I hope none of you find because it was awful). I called it mean-spirited and just generally rude, seeming to make fun of the characters that were supposed to be at its center. A few months later, having kept up with the show, I recanted, saying that it grew into its premise and had become a better show.

Well, now it feels like I’ve come full circle again, because I’m back to thinking the whole thing is just plain offensive.

If you haven’t read this already, it’s a clear explanation of why so many self-professed geeks and nerds can’t stand that show. It’s not because of the traditional multi-cam format, or the laugh track, or even that it’s on CBS and made by the same guy who made Two and a Half Men (even if all of those things are true). We don’t like it because it’s mean.

Allow me to explain.

The whole premise of the show rests on a group of nerds, but mainly Leonard and Sheldon, trying to ingratiate themselves with their pretty blonde neighbor, Penny. In so doing, they run into wacky hijinks, get beaten up a lot, and make lots of nerdy references that Penny can roll her eyes at.

On the surface this seems like just another battle of the sexes comedy, which it would be, were it not for the fact that we are supposed to side with Penny.

“What losers!” we’re supposed to think. “How can they even imagine that a girl like Penny will give them the time of day?” We’re meant to think it’s all ridiculous, and to think that Penny’s decision to humor the guys is a great favor to them. When she eventually dates Leonard, we’re supposed to be just as surprised as he is, and just as grateful on his behalf.

Which is of course shit.

Look, the few things about this show that don’t grate me as a geek grate on me as a woman. The whole problem with Penny comes down to a pretty hardcore case of idolization. Leonard is supposed to be counting his lucky stars that he gets to be with Penny, because she is so perfect and pretty and funny and normal.

Leonard puts Penny on a pedestal the instant he meets her. Ignoring the fact that Penny’s behavior in the pilot is really weird (sending two guys she doesn’t know to go get her stuff back from her ex-boyfriend) and kind of mean, we have no reason to think that she’s any better than these guys. They’re highly educated men with good jobs who happen to enjoy Battlestar Galactica and comics. I fail to see the issue.

But Penny is held up as the gold standard, both to the boys and to the viewers themselves. When other female characters are finally introduced (a couple of seasons into the show), they are invariably female geeks themselves. Amy Farrah Fowler is a female Sheldon, with no social skills and a perpetually laughed-at curiosity about sex. While I actually find her constant queries and interest in exploring her bisexual tendencies interesting, the show plays it for cheap gags and insinuates that it would be weird.

More than that, though, is Bernadette, Howard’s love interest. While Howard is portrayed (incredibly stereotypically, I might add) as the horny nerd, he eventually finds a woman who loves him and also happens to love a lot of the nerdy things he loves. What does he do? He talks about how amazing Penny is and how Leonard won the lottery with her. No, Howard. You won the lottery. You have a wife who not only loves you, she is also smart, capable, financially-secure, and likes the same stuff you do. What the hell more do you want?!

This doesn’t even mention that the boys view Penny as someone to be “won”. She is the prize. She is not a person, she is a thing to be gained when she finally “gives in” and “lowers her standards”. I find this offensive on two counts. First, that as geeks they consider themselves something that is lower than “normal people”, which is just weird and a little creepy. And second, I object to the fact that they want to “wear her down”, as if dogged persistence is the ideal characteristic in a lover.

Penny’s character has the potential to be a fascinating study on friendship and personal growth. You saw it in the first season or so, when her relationship with the guys didn’t just change them, it changed her. Unfortunately the tipping point was found quickly. In an episode that is actually reasonably funny, Penny discovers online gaming. She discovers that she’s very good at it. So she plays it. A lot.

A lot of jokes are made about how Sheldon, who introduced her to the game, “broke” Penny. Now that she’s playing, she cares little about her social life and is enjoying the achievements she can unlock online. She’s good at it and she likes it. That’s cool.

But the guys want the old Penny back. The one who made fun of them for liking that same game. They try to reason with her. They insist that she’s using this game as a substitute for real life, where she’s a frustrated waitress.

Who cares?

If the game made Penny happy, and she wasn’t neglecting her job or her responsibilities to play it, then it makes absolutely no sense why Leonard wanted her to stop. He could finally do something with her. Something they both could share. But the narrative doesn’t support this.

Instead, at the end of the episode, we see Penny playing the game intently. She’s got messy hair and is wearing a sweatshirt. Clearly we are supposed to infer from this that she is a horrible gamer now. A moment into play, Penny realizes what she’s doing and shudders, horrified. The next time we see her, she’s back to her immaculate hair and dress.

The thing is, I fail to see what was so bad about her playing the game. Leonard’s objection actually seems to imply that he didn’t want to share things like that with her. That if she were to like the same things he likes, she would be tainted. And that means that deep down, Leonard thinks that the things he likes (and therefore the person he is) are bad.

The self-loathing is disgusting. But more than that, Leonard’s self-hatred seems to make it clear that the show is not on the side of the geeks. The show is on Penny’s side. The normal side. And no matter how much Penny’s character might seem to want to switch sides, the narrative won’t let her.

We’re all educated enough to know that “normal” is really just a result of cultural conditioning and norms. Geek is normal now, what with Avengers breaking box office records, Hollywood freaking out trying to woo their audience at Comicon, and everyone on the planet knowing the story of Harry Potter. It’s not actually that weird.

The problem is that The Big Bang Theory still thinks it is. It seems to assume that nerd is still hilarious, that no one gets these weird references the guys make, and that we’ll all be on Penny’s side when she rolls her eyes.

It claims that if we want to keep Penny as the idol of female perfection (which we don’t but that’s a separate issue), then she can’t like these things. She can’t be a gamer, or else she’s not a prize to be won. All of that is bad to me. Every last drop.

So, producers and writers of The Big Bang Theory, please, I’m begging you, make your show a product of love, not revulsion. Let us laugh with the nerds, not at them. Let us have a show that actually represents our subculture. Let us be the comedians, not the punchline.

And for fuck’s sake, let Penny be a gamer if she wants to be.

Because fictional characters deserve to make their own choices.