Ah, summer. Beaches, camping, hiking, pools, and … T.V. ‘Cause I mean, it’s freaking hot and we all need breaks.
So Sam, what T.V. have you been watching lately? How about the end of Season 2 of Westworld? Pretty crazy huh? I for one did not see the crossover of the dinosaurs from Jurassic Park making it into the park of Westworld Universe whilst Jeff Goldblum rides atop their scaly backs and leads a mass slaughter of the town of Sweetwater, jk.
Thanks to my newborn daughter I’ve been watching quite a lot of television, some good, some not so good, and a LOT of local news. Don’t ask me how or why. I’ve watched some Archer, season 2 of Legion, was quite hooked on Westworld, and also watched some funny shows like the new season of Arrested Development and Wet Hot American Summer. I gotta be honest though, the two shows that have stood out the most to me are not what I would have thought—Law and Order SVU and the new seasons of Queer Eye.
Law and Order SVU
Is Law and Order SVU a good show? That’s the question I’ve been asking myself lately as I find myself with a lot of free time to watch television thanks to my newborn daughter. And not the type of television like Legion or Westworld which requires me to think a lot. The type of television where you can sort of fade in and out of consciousness while you watch it, give in to mind-numbing distraction and turn your brain off. I used to hate those types of shows, Seinfeld excluded. I first wrote Law and Order SVU off as a tacky crime drama that was formulaic and cliché, and while the show definitely still has elements of a rather straightforward cable television crime drama, the thematic elements of the show combined with the way it rips off news headlines predicates some fascinating episodes in this cluster of a year in 2018. I mean, sure, SVU might not be able to hang with the serial T.V. greats out there like The Americans, Breaking Bad, Sopranos, Wire, Mad Men, and such, but over the last couple years I’ve gotten increasingly hooked on the cases of Detectives Benson, Rollins, Fin, Carisi, and DA Barba along with the shows willingness to dive headfirst into the violence and mayhem of our current society. I just finished the eighteenth season and watched episodes that dealt with the sexual abuse of Olympic athletes and a woman army ranger, a transgender beating, sexual harassment in the workplace, immigration, and ICE. So what originally started as a “show my wife watched” has now turned into a show we watch together.
Law and Order SVU is a strange show because despite the shows brutal plotlines of rape, murder, and sexual assault there is an almost comforting rhythm to the episodes. Most of this is due to the fact that the cases need to be wrapped up in an hour time limit, and while in 90% of cases we see these SVU detectives doling out justice and cracking cases in a quick and efficient manner, there are the 10% of episodes which end in a more, say, realistic manner. Justice is not served. The bad guys get away. I imagine we as a culture like Law and Order SVU because it deals with real threats to society but presents them in a way that is manageable and contained. We know rape, murder, and sexual assault happen through the news and our experience (either personal or by proxy) but in the real world the way these actions play out are often out of our control. SVU is a distillation of these terrible crimes into something cathartic and satisfying.
Still the shows gives me pause for a few reasons. Is the vast amount of violence committed against women in this show necessary to watch on screen? Is SVU desensitizing us to the very atrocious acts we encounter in the show? Or is it attempting to deal with real issues through the platform of T.V. and perhaps even help victims of sexual assault in some form of processing? I don’t know. It helps that we have the terrific Mariska Hartgay playing the lead character of Detective Benson. No longer is the show made up of mostly white guys investigating crimes of a sexual nature. Now we have a strong female lead whose very mission in life is to find the to make sure no person who commits crimes of a sexual nature gets away. She believes the victims almost to a fault, except it’s not a fault, because it’s her job and mission to believe, protect, and seek justice for any person who comes through her door. The episode featuring ICE felt particularly prescient as a Syrian man who witnesses a crime is afraid to testify for fear of being deported, same for an El Salvadoran wife of one of the accused. The eighteenth episode ended on quite the downer about how people are now “emboldened” to act in a certain way against immigrants and minorities because of a certain president. I can’t quite binge Law and Order SVU because it quickly makes one think the worst of humanity, filling one’s head with rape and murder before bedtime, but it’s GREAT afternoon daytime T.V.
A show that is quite the opposite, one that I also thought I wouldn’t like, is Queer Eye, now with two new seasons on Netflix. The shows holistic approach to fixing up straight men (and a gay man and woman or two) is pure gold. By the time the Fab 5 have done their work on transforming their subject’s food, dress, lifestyle, design, and culture habits you can’t help but smile. Or cry. Literally every episode has a teary moment.
Queer Eye works because it is in the business of pulling people out of ruts. We all fall into a rut from time to time after all and Queer Eye is about getting people out of them. Whether it’s in one’s dress, eating, and living habits, or overall outlook on life. As the Fab 5 make their way across Georgia they’re provided plenty of opportunities for cross-cultural interactions. Whether it’s the interaction between black men and police officers or gay culture and the church or loners who feel isolated. Often the show helps its subjects find self-confidence enough to also find love and success in their work and personal lives. Some episodes are a bit silly and surface. Others quite profound. Mainly it’s a joy to see five gay men, all living out perfectly healthy expressions of masculinity, turn their eye upon a subject who doesn’t feel worthy of such adoration and interest, and transform that individual through some of the most positive male interactions ever captured in camera. It’s nice that Antoni, Jonathan, Bobby, Karamo, and Tan are in the business of empathy and self-empowerment as much as they are about the French tuck or dishes made with avocados (I swear, it’s like Antoni thinks Georgians have never encountered avocados before) thus providing some of the most emotional resonant T.V. ever made. Growing up in a conservative evangelical home I almost find myself reverting to old tendencies and thinking that these gay men must also employ sorcery of some kind to make us like them so much. But no, it’s just simple listening and caring.
So yes, what I first thought of as a surface reality television show about gay men giving straight men makeovers, has now turned into one of my favorite shows on T.V.
What you got Sam? What’s good on T.V. for you?
My summer TV:
Dude Queer Eye is amazing.
Okay. So long story short.
The original Queer Eye for the Straight Guy made me really uncomfortable. As a young kid in rural New Hampshire exposed to homophobia as a norm, I witnessed the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy through an imperfect lense. Now, much better educated on LGBTQIA+ rights, I think anyone, even the most stauch homophobe would benefit from this television show. It’s dive into unhealthy routines, repetitions and ruts, as you mentioned, is powerful.
I will admit I’m drawn most to Tam, because as the fashion expert, he has the utmost power to tear down the people he works with. Yet, he is incredibly gentle. And coming from a cis man who deals with body image issues I find that impressive.
Also is it just me or doe Antoni look like Christian Bale’s son?
I confess myself disappointed, Levi. I thought the first season, much like the first season of Lost, almost flawless. Character development, especially with the Man in Black, the reveal of non-sequential storytelling, and vision of AI coming to grips with reality was masterful. In season two I have lost interest and given up on the show. Here’s why:
Shows that venture outside the sense of reality but aren’t quiet genera shows like Stargate or Game of Thrones often fail to ground us in a setting. WestWorld had an impeccable setting, and through the whole first season the show felt like a train firmly set on it’s tracks. However, this season it feels as if we might shoot off in any direction at any time. Rather than producing the desired feeling of keeping us on our toes, it gives a listless feel to the narrative.
The aims of our characters seems loose, as compared to the first season. With the reveal that (SPOILERS) Jimmi Simpson’s character is a young man in black, his storyline lacks a sense of urgency. We all knows he survives, so it’s not a heroic or villanis tale, it’s an educational optic on how he goes from young businessman to evil/anti-hero Man in Black. But we also already got the big “oh no he’s turned from good to bad” in the first season, so where does Simpson’s story go? Don’t get me wrong, I love Simpson. He’s incredible in both It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and in House of Cards. Go watch those scenes he’s in. It’s well worth it.
Unfortunately, I find the Japanese storyline rather cookie-cutter japanese storytelling, and perhaps a bit racist. Now, I am not a great judge to say whether or not it’s racist, but let me explain. The Japan World is obviously set up to be a theme park, and is written by writers that, as we’ve seen, are white. So the world isn’t meant to be an authentic experience, rather an experience created for people to visit. This makes sense. For so long Hollywood, the book industry, etc. gets Japanese stories wrong. We’re fascinated by them, but ultimately the “honor code” the samurai stories, the writing of Japanese suicides are done poorly by Americans.
There is a tangible difference between the tales by Haruki Murakami or Yoshihiro Togashi and American made Japanese stories. So while Japan World in WestWorld is supposed to reflect the poor designs of American writers, it unintentionally backs up stereotypes of Japanese people, Japan, and Japanese history. At least it does from my point of view. I’d love to hear the opinion of someone from Japan or with Japanese heritage.
Rick and Morty
I’m going to cheat a bit here. I got into Rick and Morty during the fall, and after struggling through the first five or six episodes, I’m fairly convinced this is the best cartoon made for adults out there.
Levi, I can’t even begin to express how smart the show is. It handles continuitiy issues in the best way possible, paying close attention to the laws of physics and the rules of time and infinite universes. It takes a while for the show to settle, but once the first Evil Morty episode hits, the series is suddenly different, and good, and maybe even powerful.
It’s strange to write that. The show peddles out the normal farts and burps we get in The Simpsons, Family Guy, South Park (and thankfully mostly avoid in Archer). There is constant spittle, sex innudenoes, and the usual pandering to teenagers and college students that inflates merchandise sales. Yet, the show is powerful and--I’ll use a word here I despise--deep.
Take the wildly popular episode Pickle Rick. The episode circles around the event that Rick turns himself into a pickle in order to avoid family counseling. Morty’s parent have recently divorced, and his mother, Beth, wants the family to attend counseling. Noticing a syringe filled with serum evidently set up to turn Rick back into a human, Beth takes it as punishment for Rick skipping out on the family venture. While Beth, Morty, and Morty’s sister Summer are monlogued at by the counselor, Rick kills rodents and rats, building himself working limbs in order to save his own life.
Most of the screen time of this episode is spent on watching Rick, in a gruesome and terrifying manner, build his rat/insect body, escape the sewers, kill everyone involved in some secret crime escapade and make it for the final minute of counseling, the episode somehow manages to be entirely about family issues, and makes intelligent commentary on children and parents dealing with divorce in a non-dramatic, non-didactic way.
It’s a great show. If we did our best TV shows of all time all over again. It’d battle with Parks & Rec, Sherlock, and Archer for top spot.
But let’s be honest Levi, the best summer TV show (and by this I mean shows actually released during summer) is...
So You Think You Can Dance
I am, of course, incredibly super biased. For those Game of Narrative fans who don’t know, I am a breakdancer (funk-style, not B-Boy), and a breakdancing instructor. However, this show still merits a vote for best of summer, and best of all competition shows.
In actuality, I hate--no loathe rather--competition shows, with two exceptions, the Merry Berry version of the Great British Bake Off (not it’s current iteration) and SYTYCD.
SYTYCD doesn’t sell itself on negativity or elimination. It sells itself off the artistic promotion of a social form of interaction that has fallen away from western culture: dance. SYTYCD employs some of the best choreographers in the world. Mandy Moore, the choreographer often seen on SYTYCD, choreographed all of La La Land. Travis Wall has one of the best contemporary companies in the states. Twitch has become an icon. And many Step Up dancers were hip hopers on SYTYCD.
While the Academy and constant switches in format from the show irk me, nothing beats the live show, with group numbers, solos, and duet performances which continue to shock me. Last seasons winner, Lex, is the most impressive dancer I’ve ever seen. It pumps my blood. It makes me want to dance more. It inspires my own creativity.
The show is gold.
I must admit, I know I should want to watch Ricky and Morty but I’m put off by the fans and everyone talking about how great it is. I’ve watched a few episodes and they didn’t stick, but I want to give it a shot so I promise I will Sam.
A few other shows I’ve been watching that are about halfway through the summer season are Master Chef, Yellowstone, and the new Stephen King homage Castle Rock.
The new serial drama from Taylor Sheridan, i.e., Sicario screenwriter and the writer/director behind Wind River, Yellowstone is a show that takes place in Montana and deals with issues of water and land rights, urban development, and the conflict between Western ranchers and indigenous peoples. Kevin Costner is in the lead role, and for once, he’s not boring. Partly because he’s playing an abusive father/asshole. I like the show because I like modern, urban, Westerns and also because Yellowstone National Park is my favorite National Park (though this has nothing to do with the show). It’s only seven episodes in and so far it’s a bit slow with random bursts of violence and thoughtful reflections on race, wealth, class, family, and nature and I mostly like it. We’ll see where it ends up. It’s pain to watch because it’s on a new network (Paramount) but I like Sheridan’s work enough that I bought the season for $15.
This new Hulu show is a homage to Stephen King and combines many famous elements of his works to create something new. It’s mostly about a very dark, haunted, and twisted town/prison that makes people go insane. It’s pretty good.
You know, it’s a cooking show with Gordon Ramsay getting all worked up and Joe Bastianich doing dramatic pauses of who won or didn’t win each category before going to commercial break.