Elyse’s Mini TV Roundup

Sorry about the hiatus, dear reader. Clara has been away and I promised her I wouldn’t talk about Avengers: Age of Ultron until she got back. Also I’ve been busy and haven’t seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet so obviously my hands have been tied!

Anyway, instead of writing one long post about a particular movie or show that’s out right now, I’m going to do a roundup of quick thoughts on some of the television I’ve been watching over the past month. Spoilers ahoy! Also, be warned for discussions of rape and drug use.

Game of Thrones

Bluh. [via USA Today]
Bluh. [via USA Today]
Let’s get the big one out of the way. Episode 6 of the current season of Game of Thrones has caused quite a stir among online feminist circles for yet another controversial depiction of rape. In a plotline that is a marked departure from the source material, Sansa Stark has been promised to Ramsey Bolton (formerly Snow) whose father Roose currently holds Sansa’s old home, Winterfell. In the final scene of the episode “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” Ramsey rapes Sansa on their wedding night and forces Theon to watch.

The multitude of reasons why this scene left many viewers feeling ill has been discussed at length, but perhaps my strongest objection to it is the way a woman’s sexual assault is framed as tragic and important because it hurts a man. Despite the fact that Sansa has been manipulated into a terrible situation, forced to marry the sadistic bastard son of the man responsible for murdering her mother and brother, the scene makes Theon’s pain the focus; the last image we see is his tearful, trembling face. Many fans of the A Song of Ice and Fire series have also accused the Game of Thrones showrunners of again including a rape scene that never occurred in the books, essentially using a very real, violent, and traumatic act for shock value and an easy way to give female characters edgy development. While I haven’t personally read the books and have only watched the show, I agree that rape is treated much too casually on Game of Thrones and am consistently uncomfortable with the way violence against women is often treated as sexualized and titillating. For many viewers, this scene was the last straw, and they are refusing to continue watching Game of Thrones. I’m not personally boycotting the show because honestly I am too curious about the story to let it go, but I am disappointed in showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ consistent shortcomings with regard to women’s issues, and will be especially wary of it in any of their future projects (if, in fact, I choose to see them at all).

Elementary

Holmes and Watson. [via TV.com]
Holmes and Watson. [via TV.com]
I recently got caught up with season 3 of Elementary, and saw the season finale where Sherlock, after being manipulated by an ex-dealer of his, relapses in his heroin addiction. The moment was rough, as Holmes’ sense of control over his addiction (not to mention his life in general) has seemed more stable than ever this season. But Elementary’s choice to depict this Holmes as a recovering addict has truly not been a casual one.

Rather than treating addiction as a one-note character flaw, Sherlock’s recovery is depicted as a never-ending process, one that he cannot tackle alone. Whether it’s Joan as his former sober companion, Alfredo as his sponsor, or the many support meetings he attends, it’s clear that Sherlock needs others to maintain perspective and sobriety, which is humanizing and grounding for a character that is too often depicted as hyperintelligent and in complete control of himself and his surroundings. When Sherlock, angry and alone, retreats to an abandoned tunnel and succumbs to a familiar enemy, we understand the weight that this moment has for him, and it hits like a punch to the gut. The combination of Sherlock’s relapse, the imminent return of his absent yet oft-maligned father and Joan’s recent introversion and struggle to reconcile her detective work and personal life, is setting up season 4 to be a painful rebirth for the entire cast. Nonetheless, I will watch it faithfully in my bed with the covers pulled up to my chin to catch my tears, because while the “mystery of the week” style cases Sherlock and Joan tackle in each episode are rather predictable (and as I have often described them, “CBS-y”) I am completely in love with these characters and cannot wait to see how they continue to grow and shape each other.

Jane the Virgin

Surprise! [via PopSugar]
Surprise! [via PopSugar]
I have a hard time not gushing about this show to anyone and everyone because it is truly everything I could have ever wanted out of a primetime drama and it consistently delights and surprises me. In case you don’t know, Jane the Virgin is based on the Venezuelan telenovela Juana la Virgen, and it takes plenty of cues from the telenovela format. The plot twists and turns, emotions run high, and important moments are punctuated with cheeky commentary from the narrator or on-screen stage directions (typed as though in a screenplay).

The show’s central drama is the pregnancy of the titular Jane, who is accidentally artificially inseminated and decides to keep the baby. Many, many things also happen throughout the course of the inaugural season, but since the show is new and half the fun is the wild ride the plot takes you on, I will leave any other spoilers out this time. The first season just wrapped up this month, and I’m already dying to know what happens next. Even though I’m keeping it zipped on the particulars of the show’s storyline, the most important things to remember are that the cast is fantastic (Gina Rodriguez in particular is incredible in her first starring role) the story is equal parts funny, touching, and honest, and the second season premieres in October. Set your DVR already!

Finally, I’m really looking forward to Seinfeld coming to Hulu on June 24. It’s about time for a rewatch of my favorite 90s sitcom about misanthropic white people in NYC! Sorry, Friends.

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Elyse’s Mini TV Roundup

The New Media Frontier: Community S6

A Yahoo! Original [via IGN
A Yahoo! Original [via IGN]
The journey of Dan Harmon’s quirky, nerdy sitcom Community has been a long and tumultuous one. After five bumpy seasons on NBC, the show was cancelled and fan dreams of #SixSeasonsandaMovie appeared dashed. But not long after, the property was picked up by Yahoo!, and a sixth, online-exclusive 13-episode season was announced. The sixth season is currently in progress, airing a new episode every Tuesday, and so far the show has been entertaining and refreshingly self-aware about its difference from the original NBC run.

Though several members of the original cast are no longer with Greendale, we’ve been gifted two new regulars, Elroy Patashnik (Keith David) and Francesca “Frankie” Dart (Paget Brewster). In the season’s first episode, “Ladders” (written by creator Dan Harmon and Chris McKenna) Frankie is hired as a consultant to improve Greendale, and her perspective on the ridiculous antics that take place at the school serve as the perfect grounding point for the “new” Community. The unifying goal for the group is no longer taking classes, or maintaining their unique group dynamic, because both of these goals have been prematurely negated; Troy and Shirley have left the school for other pursuits, Pierce has died, and the cast is no longer a “study group” but a kind of student-faculty council for the school’s affairs and public image.

The show’s trademark humor is still very much at play, as are the often absurd scenarios the main characters find themselves in. In the second episode, Chang gets bit by a cat after insisting that he has a way with them and wanders around in an infected stupor telling everyone about the bite and showing them his hand, which swells in size every time we see it. In the same episode, Dean Pelton becomes obsessed with an incredibly low-tech virtual reality machine and imagines himself a digital god.

"Jesus wept!" [via IGN]
“Jesus wept!” [via IGN]
But what is perhaps most interesting about the sixth season of Community has nothing to do with the actual content of the show, and everything to do with the way it has made its way to our screens. Last year, when Community was finally cancelled by NBC, I wrote a research paper about the show’s cult status and what was thought at the time to be its final chapter*. At the time, Community had been through several threats of cancellation, saved by social media campaigns and a highly motivated fanbase. The cancellation by NBC after season five appeared to be the last nail in the coffin after two seasons of death throes. But now, Community has turned some of my previous conclusions on their heads and proven it’s not down for the count just yet. The show has followed in the footsteps of shows like Arrested Development, which had a fourth season aired exclusively on Netflix years after it was cancelled, and Twin Peaks, which is set to return as a limited series on Showtime in 2016. With Yahoo! at the helm, is it possible that Community will actually fulfill its unofficial slogan of “Six Seasons and a Movie”? What does this trend of cancelled television shows finding new life on the internet mean for the future of network television, web content, and authorship?

A consistent sense of authorship certainly seems to be an essential element of making the successful transition from television to internet. Part of what makes Community’s sixth season feel natural and authentic is the presence of the show’s creator Dan Harmon as executive producer. Even with all its production hiccups  and the major changes to the cast, season six still basically feels like the Community its fans fell in love with, the one inspired by Harmon’s real life experience making unlikely friends while in a study group at Glendale Community College. The showrunner’s notable absence in season four is one of the show’s established low points, and the success of season six will likely depend on whether or not the show can avoid the mistakes of season four and retain the je ne sais quoi Harmon brings to the table.

Whatever happens, it will be interesting to observe how well Community fares as “A Yahoo! Original,” if the show is in fact developed into a movie in the future, and what its success or failure means for other beloved cancelled shows (like, dare I say, Firefly?) and growing online media companies like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, and now, Yahoo! Screen.

*You can read this paper here, using the password sixseasonsandamovie.

The New Media Frontier: Community S6