Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Sci Fi series mini reviews, part two

This is a continuation of last entry. I wrote it all as one entry, but it was a lot of text, so I split it up. These last two shows are new.

Stranger Things (2016)

A US show. How can I put this. I enjoyed the show, but it incited great rage in me as well. It is so Steven Spielberg that I really was trying to make “Duffer brothers” (actual creators) be an anagram of “Steven Spielberg.” Some men simply cannot seem to see women as full people.
(“But we included all the types of female,” the Duffer brothers protest. “There’s your shrieky, hysterical mom—she shows mother love—there’s your clueless mom—all suburbanites know that this is how moms are, amirite?—there’s your sex-obsessed teen girl, and there’s your magical girl. Honestly, what more could you ask for?” “But you couldn’t have included a girl as just a friend in the friends group of the protagonist?” I ask. “Eww, gross, no,” they reply, horrified.)

You think that maybe the magical girl is going to get to achieve full human status and be a friend, but no, protagonist boy makes it clear that he wants to put her into the date-object category at the end. “But- but… that’s what girls want most of all, isn’t it?” ask the bewildered Duffer brothers. “I mean, she’d be fulfilling her ultimate purpose then.” Fortunately she’s saved from that fate by sacrificing herself for a bunch of people who were pretty much as emotionally abusive to her as the Evil Bad Guy who kept her locked up. But that doesn’t matter, because she’s not a real person. Let me direct your attention to the young male protagonist. He’s who you should care about.

So yeah, given that rant, it would be understandable if you thought I hated the show. The story was exciting, though, and a lot of the details were great. If I pretend that men and boys are the only real humans, it's a cracking yarn.

Cleverman (2016)

An Australian show. I’d learned about it from heliopausa, and littlemoremasks recommended it, so we watched it. The premise is that a whole other humanoid species (referred to most neutrally as “the hairy people” but also as “hairies” or “subhumans”) has existed alongside Homo sapiens I guess in the outback of Australia (because an Aboriginal character mentions having lived in tacit mutual accepance since forever) but only revealed themselves in the past six months--whereupon they’ve been rounded up and forced to live in a containment zone and subjected to terrible abuses, with worse just around the corner.

First two episodes were unpleasantly torturific, and the young man who becomes the new cleverman (a master of powers in this world and the dreaming) starts out as a pretty major jerk, but as it was only six episodes long, we stuck with it. The mythic elements were excellent, and the young man comes round in the end, but perhaps because the premise made me uncomfortable, I kept on focusing on problems with it. From a meta perspective, by making the story about hairies, the creators are able to address issues like Australia’s treatment of Aboriginal peoples, its offshore detention centers for asylum seekers, etc. without talking about them directly--but that’s a very tricky tactic to use. Plus, while it’s great to have Aboriginal traditions and culture valorized, within the story, the characters who carry those traditions end up acting as the protectors and champions of the hairies: we’ve traded in white saviors for Aboriginal saviors. We get to hear dialogue in an Aboriginal language (which is very cool), but we get no sense at all of hairy language, culture, history, or anything. What’s been going on with them for all these millennia? This season ends with a cliffhanger. Despite qualms, I’m curious to see what happens next, and I’ll watch another season if they make one.


( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 24th, 2016 03:07 am (UTC)
"If I pretend that men and boys are the only real humans, it's a cracking yarn."

As so many are.

I am stunned by your brilliance.

(Have seen some "Stranger Things," no "Cleverman.")
Sep. 24th, 2016 03:29 am (UTC)
How did you feel about the episodes you saw of Stranger Things?

(And thank you!)
Sep. 24th, 2016 11:46 am (UTC)
I was more unnerved by the Stephen Kingness than about the Steven Spielbergness, but they're both certainly there. I did not see escapee girl's end, and had less sense of how the show was treating her, but in reading what you wrote, yeah. About the other women characters, oh, yes indeed.

That the show reminds us so strongly of King and Spielberg ("of course," I want to say) indicates that its characterizations are pretty cardboard all round. But you're quite right, all things aren't equal, and the Plucky Cardboard Boy is the One to Watch, and everyone else is a stage for his dancing.
Sep. 24th, 2016 12:55 pm (UTC)
Only males are allowed to be more than one note,** and only males get to have a sense of imagination and fun. The vanished boy has a whole hideout and likes to draw. The (male) teacher who provides the ham radio tells them interesting theories about space and dimensions. The (male) diner owner who initially helps El is the only person who gives her anything that isn't tinged by self-interest.

**To be fair, I can see how people could make arguments that the older sister and shrieking Winona Ryder were more than one note, but their primary notes were so overwhelmingly distasteful, and the nods in other directions were so minimal, that I can't really credit them.

Seriously, that whole scene--if you saw it--with Winona Ryder putting up the Christmas lights completely undercut her cleverness in figuring things out, and her commitment to what she's experiencing, by making her do everything at a quivering, shaking fever pitch of emotion and instability. "But she's lost her son, Asakiyume! Can't you credit that she might be a little unhinged??" Actually, no. Imagine it's a single dad figuring out these things. Would he behave that way? No? "No... he would be roaring and breaking things." "Right, so we're talking in pure stereotypes."

And it's not like we don't have real-life examples of how people behave when their kids disappear. News bulletin: it's not like Winona Ryder. Or, to put it another way, a little snuffling and sobbing goes a long way. If you make it the ONLY way you ever see the character, it undercuts the power of it.

But as always, people's mileage varies. And I know they're creating a cracking yarn, not a sensitive intimate portrait, and I understand that your more likely to use types in that kind of a tale. I would have put up with it more happily if ANY of the female types had been likable. But the only likable one was El.

Edited at 2016-09-24 01:20 pm (UTC)
Sep. 24th, 2016 04:55 pm (UTC)
About Winona Ryder: So much that. As she's played she must always have been extremely neurasthenic-- not someone who could have worked at a hardware store (or anywhere else) for years without missing a day.

And, yeah. In this world only a woman with superpowers can be strong or interesting, and she Must Go.
Sep. 24th, 2016 05:32 am (UTC)
I've seen Stranger Things all over Tumblr. I think... that is where I'll let it stay.
Sep. 24th, 2016 12:44 pm (UTC)
My favorite character was the magical girl. I was pissed at how things ended up for her. I could see why it seemed necessary for practical plot matters, but I hated it.
Sep. 24th, 2016 05:40 pm (UTC)
I could see why it seemed necessary for practical plot matters, but I hated it.

Since I'm never going to watch this show—?
Sep. 24th, 2016 06:01 pm (UTC)
spoilers for Stranger Things (though actually this whole discussion is spoilerific)
A door has been opened to the Upside Down--another dimension whence cometh an awful monster. (Actually, El herself opened the door in her terror when she was being experimented on.) She sacrifices herself to close the door and seal the the monster on the other side.

At the very end, you see that the boy who's been rescued from near death is still linked to the Upside Down, so in a sense that sacrifice was in vain, too.

I guess if they had let her stay alive, they would have reduced her to a Mere Girl. They had already had her express concern and interest in being "pretty"--because of course that's an innate desire of females, even ones that have grown up in a lab with their heads shaved, being forced to bend spoons and punished when they won't kill cats. Yeah, surely being pretty will be top-of-mind for someone like that.
Sep. 24th, 2016 06:05 pm (UTC)
Re: spoilers for Stranger Things (though actually this whole discussion is spoilerific)
They had already had her express concern and interest in being "pretty"--because of course that's an innate desire of females, even ones that have grown up in a lab with their heads shaved, being forced to bend spoons and punished when they won't kill cats.

Er, what?

. . . I take it, then, that "magical girl" is then a literal designation of her powers, not a description of her function in the plot?

I can see a girl who had been raised in lab rat conditions becoming concerned with her physical attractiveness and her un/successful presentation of femininity if she was all of a sudden exposed to a bunch of normally socialized American teenage boys and their expectations of her: sure, you can bend spoons with your mind and that's really useful, but my real estimation of your worth relies on whether I think you're hot. I would just want that to happen in a narrative that was willing to point out how incredibly fucked up that would be.
Sep. 24th, 2016 06:12 pm (UTC)
Re: spoilers for Stranger Things (though actually this whole discussion is spoilerific)
Yeah, I meant magical girl just in the sense that she has powers.

The boys aren't concerned with her being hot--in fact, at the start they're just embarrassed and freaked out that she might change clothes in front of them. (She barely talks and has probably never seen another person her age before.) The issue of pretty only comes up when they're disguising her--they give her a blond wig and a ridiculous smocked dress that we're supposed to believe belonged to the older sister at one point. (Excuse me, I was a teen in for part of the 1980s. No one ever wore anything like that.) The main character makes an offhand remark that she looks pretty--and she takes this to heart! She doesn't even know the word "friend" when they encounter one another, so I doubt she knows "pretty"--but I guess an understanding of it comes with the extra X chromosome.

Edited at 2016-09-24 06:13 pm (UTC)
Sep. 24th, 2016 06:14 pm (UTC)
Re: spoilers for Stranger Things (though actually this whole discussion is spoilerific)
She doesn't even know the word "friend" when they encounter one another, so I doubt she knows "pretty"--but I guess an understanding of it comes with the extra X chromosome.

Ah. It's like the Problem of Susan, Spielberg edition.
Sep. 24th, 2016 06:17 pm (UTC)
Re: spoilers for Stranger Things (though actually this whole discussion is spoilerific)
Duffer brother edition (seriously, as heliopausa says, can that be their real name? Whatever), but yeah, exactly.
Sep. 24th, 2016 01:21 pm (UTC)
I love your round-up of female characters in the Stranger Things show (of course I haven't seen any of these). The name of the brothers is to my ears an odd one - I'm used to "duffer" as an old-fashioned, amiable word meaning "slightly silly person" i.e. it might be used in cheerful conversation to a child by an oldish aunt, if the child had done something slightly silly. (It's got an older meaning still in Australia, too - cattle-thief.) So it's odd to see it as a real name. (If it is?)

And Cleverman!! I still haven't seen it! I've heard that it gets pretty tough, hard to take. :( But I'm still very keen to catch up.
The Hairy People are a long-standing Aboriginal myth. (There are people who think they're not a myth.) To me, this - making fiction about other people's beliefs - is the trickiest thing about the concept of the show, but since the idea of the show began with an Aboriginal man (and was developed by etc etc) and they cleared it with the people most concerned, I lay my hand over my mouth, and hope to see it before the year's out.
The Outsider-saviour aspect is one I'll be watching for and thinking about, when I do get to catch up with this one.
I don't think I know any of the actors in it except Deb Mailman - how was she? (Clue: I really like her. :) )
Sep. 24th, 2016 01:32 pm (UTC)
She was *fabulous*. Really. Her role was an excellent one, and she was perfect in it. Her interaction with her mother-in-law (whom, for family reasons, she's way more close to than her husband is), her interactions with her husband, with her daughter--just brilliant. I had such deep feelings for this character. Man, the contrast between this show and Stranger Things in terms of women characters is just amazing.

Regarding the hairy people, I think I had heard--maybe from you--that they were part of Aboriginal myth (or possible reality). But if we're going to imagine that in the world of the Cleverman that they've actually come out to, or been discovered by (but I think it was a matter of their revealing themselves--it's just one throwaway line, though, so I could be misremembering), then I think we need more of a sense of who they are **apart** from the Aborigines.

It would be cool if their appearance in our world was due to fiddling with the dreaming by the antagonists--maybe that's where the show will ultimately go. In this season, there are two examples of things from the dreaming that get brought into this world that shouldn't have been, so it's not inconceivable that that would be a plot development.
Sep. 24th, 2016 02:08 pm (UTC)
Ahh... in response to that hint of what happens in the story! Interesting!
I expect you're right about the story needing more of a sense of who the Hairy People are. I mentioned their being a part of people's beliefs because I think that's terribly delicate stuff to be story-writing about. If it wasn't being done by Aboriginal people, I'd be backing right away.
Wonderful to hear about Deborah Mailman! I'm so glad her strengths as an actress powered through in this. :)
editing to add: she's been terrific in every role I've seen her in. :)

Edited at 2016-09-24 02:11 pm (UTC)
Sep. 25th, 2016 01:47 pm (UTC)
This is exactly the problem I had with Stranger Things (although I clutched to my bosom the consolation that Nancy got to pick the boy she wanted to be with, and she picked the jerk instead of just being the reward for Will's brother. But the rest, yeah. Really annoying).
Sep. 25th, 2016 01:49 pm (UTC)
Yeah, it was quite the selection Nancy was offered. As one of my daughters said, she got to choose between the guy who threatened violence and defamation at the first hint of rejection, or the guy who took pictures of her without her consent. Niiiiiice.
Sep. 27th, 2016 05:16 pm (UTC)
I really liked the way the show undercut horror tropes (and a few others as well). I think there was a tendency to speak to the era's typical tropes, while subtly undercutting them. For example, usually Nancy would be the one to die. The "slut" who abandoned her friend. Instead she gets a HELL of a speech about how her having sex literally DOES NOT MATTER in the context of her friend going missing.

The sheriff looked like he was going to be clueless, useless law enforcement stereotype... until he got his shit together & developed some real investigation. WR's mother character was the "useless, hysterical mom" until she wasn't. The boyfriend was the abusive jerk who clearly is going to be dumped for the nice, quiet geek boy... except that wasn't what happened. Instead he broke it off with the friends who incited garbage behavior.
Sep. 27th, 2016 07:19 pm (UTC)
With the exception of thinking that Will's mother never stopped being hysterical, I agree with you that all those subversions of tropes are good. I felt pretty terrible for Barb, though. Nancy does set out to rescue her (which is good), but after it's confirmed that Barb is dead, she just drops out of everyone's consciousness.
Jan. 1st, 2017 11:23 pm (UTC)
I just now finished Stranger Things and wanted to come back to this post. Let me see if I can articulate what is in my brain. I apologize, this might be a little roundabout and/or pedantic; I'm writing it out as much to tease out what's going on in my head as anything.

One of the aspects of the show that Brian and I continually remarked upon was its formulaic nature. However, we didn't do so disparagingly; formulas become formulas because they work. They slot into the gaps of expectation left by our natures and our sociocultural conditioning, much like pop music, where the familiar chord progressions give us pleasure both in anticipating the resolution and when we reach said resolution. (I read a fascinating article on this awhile back, but I can't seem to find it...although the Googling has given me more than a few new articles to read on the subject, heh. But I digress.) A mediocre (or even outright infuirating - I'm looking at you, Ready Player One) story that follows a formula can still be compulsively readable (sigh). A well-told, well-crafted story that follows a formula will, in your words, make for a cracking yarn.

Part of what makes formulas so useful to storytellers, even beyond the above, is that they provide shorthand. Character development is time-consuming and difficult to do well; stock characters are therefore a helpful way to lay groundwork quickly and efficiently. Given the time constraints they were working under (eight hours is not a lot of time to tell an ensemble story this complex - Brian is convinced that the preciously meta "this campaign was too short!" D&D conversation at the end was the writers taking a jab at their editors/producers), they practically had to make use of stock characters. So the fact that the female characters were largely two-dimensional, while certainly not a point in the show's favor, is (I think) as much a reflection of our failures of imagination as a culture as it is the writers'. I guess we'll just have to imagine for ourselves. :)

I like your idea about how much more powerful it would have been if Will's mother had been portrayed as "powerfully determined" instead of "half a step away from a breakdown" - it could have set up a fascinating tension of "is she actually handling it this well? Is this denial? Has she just gone all the way crazy and come out the other side scarily sane?" I also liked Nancy's speech (the one dulcinbradbury pointed out); I wish she'd been a little more defiantly feminist, but that might have been difficult to make work with her character's background. I have both hopes and fears for the next season; there's a lot of potential here to make these characters into more than their origins, but for all their virtuoso pacing and use of tropes here, I'm not convinced the Duffer Brothers have the ability to develop past their formula. It'll be an interesting test.
Jan. 2nd, 2017 04:35 am (UTC)
Thanks for coming back and sharing these thoughts!
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

February 2018


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Paulina Bozek