Tuesday, November 2, 2010

TV @ The Movies: "Glee" and "The Walking Dead"

What is the ideal format for talking about tv? I'm beginning to think it's Twitter since even in the days of next day recaps and the 'watch it on your own time' DVR reality, people often watch it in great masses, round about the same time -- only staggered with everyone in their own slightly skewed time zones. I'm on NESST (Nathaniel's Eastern Stop & Start Time). TV has never been the all immersive experience that the movies can be... so it makes sense that people are now tweeting as they're watching. TV is jerry-rigged to withstand distractions: housework, phone calls, commercials. Twitter and Facebook only amplify this and now everyone has become their own tv critic, ringleader, announcer, omniscient narrator, diarist. I always wish that the movies were this accessible to people to enjoy en masse but... sigh.

With deeper immersion comes less accessibility I suppose.

If she's growling and decomposing, shoot her! 
Anyway, Sunday night I opted not to tweet through AMC's much ballyhooed THE WALKING DEAD. I was curious before the series even began how they would work around television restrictions, only to realize that there are no restrictions. You can apparently show anything on non-premium cable during prime-time hours including little girls and grown men getting their brains blown out (in slo-mo!) and men getting their heads smashed to bits with baseball bats as long as nobody says the naughty "F" word or shows the naughty boobies, butts or dangly man-bits.

[Lots on GLEE & more WALKING DEAD after the jump]

Otherwise it's all good!

I had planned to tweet but I didn't get any further than this.

Now that it's had time to settle I don't even know how to review The Walking Dead. It felt like every zombie movie that has ever been made cuisinarted together. Once it had become a fine slush, it was poured into a new TV sized mold slowly, slowly now... you gotta string it out over several episodes. While pouring, Chef Frank Darabont (he's writer, director, producer), described his "new" old concoction with a southern twang.

True to AMC's form, The Walking Dead is a well made show. It was scary, well acted, and intense. I can easily give it that. The only missing AMC ingredient was a unique identity. It even starts its zombie apocalypse just about the same exact way (homage?) as the chief revivalist of today's current zombie craze. In this film / tv show our hero "Jim" (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later) "Rick" (Andrew Lincoln, The Walking Dead) wakes up in an abandoned hospital, disoriented, sick, thirsty and totally unaware that while he was "sleeping" (coma?), the world basically ended from a zombie plague. The only difference? Rick wakes up buck naked in a stripped hospital bed and Jim wakes up under sheets and under those he's wearing a hospital gown and under that he's got boxer shorts on.

Twang, not wang!

I don't mean to be flippant. I don't expect to see nudity on television. But I'm being absolutely 100% serious when I say that I do not understand why the MPAA ratings or television board (I forgot the name) exist. They've always been, well, dumb. But theoretically their 'goddamn raison d'etre' is easy to understand. But if you seek to destroy a whole entertainer's career over a wardrobe malfunction but you can show a zombie movie on TV with all of the R rated violence intact (they pulled approximately zero punches) what the hell are you on about?

Are body parts (non bloody rotting ones I mean) and excessive profanity the only remaining taboos?

I know there's a lot of violence on TV shows (especially procedurals which really seem to get off on it) but it's usually more "described" than shown. I mean, I watch Dexter. I can handle some violence. But that's a pay cable series. I'm not sure I am okay with the idea that any little kid who wants to can watch The Walking Dead and enjoy all the grisly slaughter. It reminded me of something I'd long since forgotten: on the weekend that Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake opened, two teenagers approached me at the movie theater and asked me to buy them tickets. Apparently the theater was policing that R rating. I declined. I wasn't trying to be a jerk but I'd seen way too many parents leading their little kids (not even teenagers) into slasher movies in that same exact theater and so I had become ultra sensitive and judgey about what people were letting the newest generations watch. Just think, all those teens had to do was wait 6 years and they could see the same thing on regular cable for free.

a tough cop and  a hungry mom.

Back on topic. I might give The Walking Dead another episode or two -- again, it was well executed -- but I'm nervous.

I'm especially uncomfortable with what struck me as a pretty obvious (if unintentional?) misogyny: the first female we see is the little girl zombie. She's the first kill. We follow that with a jump backwards in time and we sit with two cops (Rick and his partner Shane, Jon Berthal, pictured above) and we discuss Rick's cruel nagging wife and how she wants him to share his feelings (god forbid!). We don't meet her then so she gets no voice of her own, just the one prescribed to her: cruel, nagging, relentless, one who causes emotional distress to her husband AND child. The next important female "character" we meet is another cruel mother; this one is a zombie who really wants to dine on her son. The boy's good heroic father is protecting him from her, though he still can't bring himself to kill his now-cruel wife. Later, we see a few living female characters (no names) and we discover that Rick's wife (the cruel nag) is alive and she's now sleeping with his former partner (pictured, left). In their defense they both think Rick is dead but basically what we have here is dead women, hungry dead women, and living unfaithful nags!

My rating has to be threefold thus far. Execution: B+ | Morality: | Originality: F. So, I guess I'll have to go with a C for now.

I'll give it one or two more episodes on account of its fine acting/execution and to see if I'm wrong about the morality and originality problems. Maybe I am. (And, yes, sexism is a moral failing. But I notice on AMC's site that there are a couple of female principals so maybe things will be different soon.)

Meanwhile over on network television...

GLEE was also shoving our hypocrisy in our faces with its strange decision to do a tribute to the very R rated Rocky Horror Picture Show. That one I did tweet through. Glee is generally as horny as your average (gay) teenager -- the show is constantly seeking opportunities to show us the bare abs and chests of the male characters -- but in the same episode, they shamed the teacher (Mr Shue, Matthew Morrison) for his willing exploitation of teen flesh. "Pot." "Kettle." The show just doesn't seem smart enough to be aware of or intentionally presenting its own ironies or hypocrisies. The writing is way too inconsistent to give it that benefit of the doubt. If they can't even remember basic personality traits and motivations from episode to episode, how they gonna build complex story-telling with meta commentary while belting their show stoppers?

My overriding question is this: Why did they choose to do Rocky Horror in the first place when they couldn't even bring themselves to sing the words "transsexual" or "heavy petting" let alone commit to drag or same sex hedonism (Mercedes plays Frankenfurther, negating all of this. Happy to see her get a plum role, but...this one?)?

But, most importantly, I 'm not sure I can live in a world where everyone starts misquoting Rocky Horror's hilarious lyrics because Glee did them wrong; show tunes are sacred!

But for all of my frustrations with Glee, I dig it on some deep level and want it to be a million times better than it is. It's sometimes so embarrassing but every once in a while it transcends. At the very least there's usually a good quotable or three buried somewhere in each messy episode. Becky's "give me some chocolate or I will cut you" has already become a favorite.  And there's a certain amount of joy in the mass-sharing of a public phenomenon. #glee always sparks fun tweet conversations.

WonderRobbie always delights me and Glee's weird double standards on sexuality have escaped virtually no one -- though I hadn't noted, like Joseph wisely did, that the GQ photoshoot that everyone got their panties in a twist about, made an interesting duet with all of the punches they were pulling when doing Rocky Horror.

In the end, I realize I had a similar reaction to The Rocky Horror Glee Show that I had to The Walking Dead. I thought I was enjoying it while it was going on only to realize afterwards that I was totally disappointed. The little missteps and underlying weak foundation just piled up. So I have to hand it to the often brilliant critic Matt Zoller Seitz. We got into it on Twitter -- here's a little of our public back-n-forth...

I share this because, after his brilliant full length write-up of the show, I'm totally coming 'round to his point of view. Except, that is, when it concerns that Britney Spears episode which he liked and which to me was such a creative nadir that I am stunned that the show ever crawled back up again, let alone started doing high kicks and pirouettes like it had never fallen in the first place.

Sweet Transvestite
The Brilliant Tim Curry
I was never an obsessive fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). I brought toast and rice to throw and what not but I never dressed up in costume or made it a weekly midnight habit. But I did buy the soundtrack and went to 4 or 5 midnight shows over a 2 year period. And I got really fascinated by the overriding theme "Don't dream it. Be it." which scared the hell out of me at the time (late 80s in my case) as it would anyone who is repressed on any level.

So, I was happy to see it revived again in this major reaching-millions way. But since Glee doesn't really have the strength of its convictions, they should probably steer clear of randier material. Please, people, no more Sweet Transvestites from Transsexual, Transylvania. I mean, clutch your pearls, children could be watching! Why couldn't Glee just have gone with something wholesome like Sweeney Todd's throat slitting and cannibalism; you can't can do that on television!

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