Posted in TV

“Grey’s Anatomy”ing my way through quarantine

I decided that the quarantine was the optimal time to finally commit to watching Grey’s Anatomy, as it is a fifteen season ordeal and I wanted to find something to fill my time.

I have just gotten through season two, and it does not wait to get wild.

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Everyone Cheats

There is one married couple on the show who seems faithful. Dr. Bailey seems happy in her marriage, but no one else seems to know a damn thing about “till death do us part.” Dr. McDreamy, one of the main characters who we are supposed to like, cheats on his wife for the whole first season. Said wife, who we are also supposed to like also cheats. I am hard-pressed to think of a character who is honest with their partners.

Inappropriate Relationships  

Again, no one is having sex with people who they should be having sex with. Meredith and Cristina both sleep with their bosses. Everyone sleeps with their coworkers, bosses, and there are no consequences?

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Alex Sucks

I know we’re supposed to hate Alex and everything, and then sympathize with him, but he is just the worst. He is a flagrant misogynist, he sexually harasses his coworker, and he disrespects patients. One episode that made him particularly distasteful to me is when he shames a woman who wants to get her tubes tied and not tell her husband. Then, he tells the woman’s husband to sue the doctor who did it, because she pissed him off. He’s insubordinate, an asshole, and he just is terrible. Booo.

Dr. Bailey is my Queen

Bailey is the one character who I actually like and trust. She is severe, but a great boss and teacher, and I love her. I am probably not going to watch this show anymore, but I love Dr. Bailey and she is worth the time I have spent on it. 

greys anatomy GIF by ABC Network
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The Kids Are Not Alright: The Student-Teacher Relationship Trope Needs to Die

We’ve all seen some iteration of this plot: older person and younger person, doomed love, triumph over adversity, and acceptance. Sometimes, it ends badly, sometimes, it ends in a wedding. It is a problematic, destructive plot device that needs to stop being portrayed as sexy and cool. In some cases, it’s a crime, in others, merely immoral or unethical. However, the May-December romance between young adults and teens being portrayed as hot and dynamic only perpetrates relationship norms that hurt young people.

One of the best instances of this trope being played out is on Pretty Little Liars, with the main characters Aria and Ezra. Their relationship begins when Ezra supposedly does not know Aria is underage, though it is later revealed that he did know. He is also her teacher. While they acknowledge that their age difference is only six years, it is made clear that their relationship must remain a secret, or Ezra could go to jail. The thing is, the show wants you to root for their relationship. The fans loved it, and the creators built on that. Never mind that Ezra had other serious relationships before Aria, and she’s a sixteen year-old-girl. Never mind that he is a college graduate, and in a position of power over her. The show makes their love something you want to root for, and there’s the problem. Ezra could have easily been an excellent villain- their relationship isolates her from her friends and family, because she has to lie about it. Aria comes from an unstable family, with parents mostly tuned out of her life. A strong connection with someone older and stable would be very tempting to someone like that, even with strings attached. Young men and women from broken homes are also more likely to engage in risky sexual and romantic behavior. Aria was an at-risk youth, and she got taken advantage of. The fact that the show validates their relationship by literally having them get married at the end is horrifying. In the books, Ezra is rightfully run out of town in shame when their relationship is exposed.

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More recently, season one of Riverdale had its own student-teacher romance. Ms. Grundy, a young music teacher, had a summer fling with the main character, Archie Andrews. Again, Archie is a young person looking for his place in the world, and for validation. It is expressed that Archie “got hot” over the summer working for his dad’s construction crew, and Ms. Grundy is the first person to express interest in his new physique. She also fulfills his need for recognition when she nurtures his musical talent. The writers couldn’t seem to decide how we were supposed to feel about this relationship. Betty, Archie’s childhood friend, thought it was wrong, but when she tried to snoop, she was condemned by her friends. Obviously, breaking into someone’s car is bad, but the show tried to make us feel sympathy for Ms. Grundy by revealing that she had been a victim of domestic abuse. Their scenes together are lit rosily and underscored with romantic music. Here’s the problem: the whole subplot could have been easily made less problematic with some subtle changes. Ms. Grundy, having escaped an abusive situation, is looking for relationships where she can be in control, i.e. minors. Being the adult in the relationship gives her the power, and that could have been made more overt. Ms. Grundy is murdered, so it could be argued that the writers and the show were condemning her predatory behavior, but it was still a bad story-line, and this time, the fans did not approve.

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Another instance of this ick factor is in the relationship between Lex Luthor and Lana Lang in Smallville. Unlike the other story lines, I don’t think this one was in any way salvageable. The entirety of it made me want to throw up. There is a significant age difference, Lana is only fifteen when she meets Lex for the first time. He is also a business associate and friend of her aunt’s. At the time of their meeting, Lex was twenty-one. When they begin their relationship, Lana is about nineteen or twenty, as she would have been starting her sophomore year of college. Lana is the poster child for abandonment, and it shows. She seeks out stable, loving relationships with commitment. This wouldn’t be a bad thing, except that in season four she begins a relationship with Jason Teague, a sophomore in college, so between nineteen and twenty. With Lana still in high school, and Jason later getting an assistant coach position at said high school, their relationship was incredibly questionable. Jason picks up and moves to Smallville without consulting Lana, and this puts pressure on their relationship. He also lies to her, manipulates her, and isolates her from her friends. Sound familiar? Lana claims to be a mature adult, but her relationships are actually incredibly volatile, and Lex is no exception. There are multiple points in the season where Lana clearly doesn’t trust Lex, and it’s also clear that she clings to him because of the stability he represents. He has a home, a job, a life. Lex is an adult, and that’s what Lana likes about him. He also loves her, while she doesn’t love him, which gives her a kind of power in the relationship. Lex manipulates Lana, lies to her, and controls her life through a couple different ways. Once she moved into the mansion, it becomes worse. He monitors her comings and goings, puts a camera up in her room without informing her, and even fakes a pregnancy in order to trap Lana into being with him. Lex is in his mid twenties, he’s rich, he’s powerful, and he uses those assets to control his girlfriend. While Lex does not try to separate Lana from Chloe or Lois, his relationship with her is isolating. She can’t confide in her friends, because she knows Lex is manipulating her.

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Unhealthy relationship dynamics in TV are interesting, but the mentor-mentee or student-teacher relationship becoming romantic is not. It’s gross, it’s immoral, and it’s creepy. Let’s hope creatives can find some new taboo to write about.

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6 of the Best “Brooklyn 99” Episodes for Your Rewatch

Brooklyn 99 is one of the best sit-coms on TV right now, but there isn’t a lot to watch right now as production slows to a stop due to the quarantine. If you’re in the market for a show to rewatch, this show is a great way to get by. Here are a few winners to keep you busy. They’re mostly from the last couple of seasons, so you probably haven’t watched them as often as some from the earlier seasons.

Season 4, Episode 19: Your Honor

We love a backstory episode, especially introducing a parent or sibling. We are blessed with Judge Laverne Holt, Captain Holt’s mother. She is very similar to her son, in an amusing way, and we get some nice emotional catharsis between mother and son about their emotional distance.

Season 5, Episode 12: Safe House

This is one of the best episodes of the show ever- I have a preference for Kevin, and we get to see two characters go a little nuts. It’s well-loved by fans, for good reason, because we get to see Holt and Kevin’s marriage tested, and the story beats and funny and interesting.

Season 5, Episode 14: The Box

Sterling K. Brown is always a delight, and having him as a guest star in this episode really made it. Without a really good actor for the dentist, this episode would just be Holt and Peralta tossing hot water at a wall. Because Brown brings so much to the interrogation room, it makes the whole episode better. Obviously, the episode is special for other reasons, the writing in particular is stellar, and we love to see Holt and Jake team up.

Season 6, Episode 6: The Crime Scene

Watching someone go slowly insane is pretty bleak usually, but in this case it’s just amusing. Plus, there’s the added gag of Rosa’s hairstyles changing with each time jump. Jake experiencing frustration is also refreshing, because that’s a normal part of police work.

Season 7, Episode 6: Trying

This episode manages to squish three excellent plots into one episode: Jake and Amy’s attempts to conceive, Holt’s frustration with his beat as a uniformed officer, and Boyle and Rosa’s guinea pig disaster. This episode is very strong, in that it allows time to pass in a way that seems natural. It’s silly, funny, and entertaining. It’s also a great Peraltiago episode.

Season 7, Episode 12: Ransom

Another excellent couple episode, except this one is a Holt-Kevin episode, featuring Cheddar. It’s mostly just a funny one, including a lot of Angry Holt, and Jake imitating Kevin. “Oh, look. A yellow-crested warbler.” It’s a great reminder of how whimsical the show can be when Holt fully gets unleashed.

As the seasons go, season three is probably the most solid in terms of quality overall. What Brooklyn 99 has been working on the last couple of seasons is understanding what it is- it’s not a season-long romp. The strongpoint of this show is the episodic plot, and the continuity of character development. There is a big bad every season, or some kind of resolution, but the big-picture stuff isn’t its strength. Brooklyn 99 shines when each episode can exist on its own, and as part of the whole.

 

 

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This Episode of “Black-ish” is Peak Cringe

We love Black-ish in our house. It is usually a delightful, unambiguously funny and joyful show. It addresses serious issues with humor and respect, and it has a stellar cast. Episodes rarely dip below a B+, and they have amazing guest stars, from Tyra Banks to Daveed Diggs. The show has also spawned two spin-offs, Grown-ish and Mixed-ish. The latter is currently in its first season, and while it has struggled to find its groove, the cast is amazing and the show is narrated by Tracee Ellis Ross, a fan favorite on Black-ish. I have yet to get into Grown-ish, which follows the eldest daughter Zoey into her first year of college, but we have just watched “Liberal Arts,” one of the last episodes of season 3 of Black-ish. It serves as a backdoor pilot for Grown-ish, which is currently airing its third season. Watching it, I can only assume that there’s going to be improvement, because this pilot is baaad. It might be the worst episode of Black-ish.

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Zoey takes over the narration of the episode from her father to take ownership of her own story, but actually does very little in the episode. She basically undos the mistakes of her father, who forgot to submit her housing forms. A lot of logical leaps have to be made in this episode, clearly showing that it was not written by a woman, let alone a young woman. Housing forms have been online for years, Dre, who has cameras in most of the rooms of their house, would not waste time and money on going to to post office when he could fill a form in from his couch.

Also, Zoey, who is usually pretty woke, is uncomfortable and bored in orientation when the orientation leader introduces themselves with their pronouns and sexuality. This orientation leader is written to be the worst possible version of a young person, annoying the viewer with their excessive political correctness and overfamiliarity. This is when I sat up and googled the writer of this episode. Lo and behold, it was a middle aged man, Larry Wilmore, of The Nightly Show fame. I love Larry, he’s super funny, but clearly, watching this episode, he’s out of touch. Also, somehow a dozen uses of the word “prostitute” got past editing, because apparently it’s 1992?

Race

There is a point when Zoey is immediately shown into the university president’s office when she tries to figure out her housing, which is intended to create the misunderstanding about housing and black students. First of all, no one looking for housing help would end up at the president’s office, let alone at the same time a student group was supposed to be meeting with him about housing issues. They assume she’s from Hawkins because she’s black, do not listen to her, and then she is blamed for their wrong assumptions for the rest of the episode.

The “cute boy” in the episode, Aaron, practices racial gate-keeping when he calls Zoey “mixed” like it’s an insult, and says she’s ignorant. Obviously, being mixed does not make one less black, and this kind of behavior is super shitty from a relative stranger. Zoey grew up with parents who educated her on the importance of her heritage and was exposed to black greatness all of her life.

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There’s also a super fun new character, Miriam, who I, a Jewish cinephile, immediately clocked as a Jew. Great! Black-ish takes place in LA, a town lousy with Jews, and so far has had only one Jewish character, a coworker of Dre’s who has no personality. Unfortunately, it took about two minutes for Miriam to suck. When race becomes an issue talking to Aaron, Miriam loudly excuses herself saying that she is Jewish and has made out and done “top stuff” with black guys. Sigh. Great, she’s ignorant, privileged, and can’t identify some of the most important black luminaries of all time. We love immediate negative characterization of one of the two Jews on a TV show. It’s one thing that Charlie Telphy is insane- there are positive portrayals of black men on the show. But now we have two Jewish characters, neither of which is portrayed in a positive light. Awesome.

Overall, “Liberal Arts” is a C-, disappointing for a show that usually delivers an amazing half-hour of network television. Black-ish is truly an extraordinary show that delivers on its premise, but I’m not sold on Grown-ish if this is what we can expect from it. It just is incredible to me that they could not find a young woman of color to write this episode. Show creator Kenya Barris has a unique voice, but if this show is going to be about Zoey, it should sound like her, not a middle-aged man concerned about PC culture.

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Posted in TV

“Chilling Adventures of Sabrina” Only Gets Weirder . . .

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina are bizarre, and have been since the premier of the show. Here in the third season, things have gotten even more bananas, if possible.

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In the last episode of part 3, Sabrina disrupts the time loop she created to create two Sabrinas- one to live a life above, and one to rule hell. This does seem like it would wreak havoc on the natural order of things, considering Sabrina didn’t really think ahead and kind of just winged it? Sabrina does this all the time, making decisions without all the information, and this one seems like it might blow up in her face big time.

So she’s just Queen of Hell now?

Sabrina didn’t want anything to do with her father’s domain in part 2, but in part three she takes on the task of competing with Caliban, newly introduced prince of Hell, for the crown. Initially, it seems like she just wants to protect earth and humans, but then she seems to actually want it. At the end, Hell!Sabrina decides to remain in Hell to be crowned queen and rule alongside her father, while Sabrina returns to earth to live out her life as a teenager. Even if Hell!Sabrina wants to be queen, no version of Sabrina previously in the show has wanted to be separated from her family and loved ones. This seems like a manufactured ending to surprise viewers and set up an Evil!Sabrina plot line. It would be one thing if Lucifer wasn’t also ruling over Hell, but I can’t imagine Sabrina signing on for eternity with her father and Lilith. I think Sabrina could have easily coerced her father into swearing he wouldn’t harm earth in exchange for her abdication.

The End of the Church of Night

I really love what they have worked towards, separating entirely from the poisonous doctrine of the desecrated church and reforming to worship the goddess Hecate, in her three forms. It is poetic, and really quite beautiful, representing the strength of women in all walks of life. This is a great resolution to this plot line, one of the only elements of part three that I love without reservation.

Some Issues

  • This season is the end of the Weird Sisters, without doing them justice. Agatha is rendered insane, and Dorcas is murdered off-screen by her sister. This leaves Prudence all alone, and while the other Weird Sisters kinda suck, Prudence is truly one of the best characters, and seeing her suffer is awful.
  • Nick is terrible- this we know. He’s a bad boy, and that attracts Sabrina due to her dual nature. But he’s a bad boyfriend, and Prudence having to remind Sabrina to have enough self-respect to let him go is frankly ridiculous. Their romance lasting this long is unrealistic, but Nick is exhausting and could have remained in Hell as far as I care.
  • Caliban is criminally under-utilized. While everyone takes their time to slut-shame Sabrina (insert eye-roll here) Caliban basically has no personality and acts as the plot needs him to. When he needs to betray Sabrina, he does. When the plot requires him to help her, he does. It’s boring and disappointing. Also, just as a side note, he is so tan despite being from hell. He makes all the pale Greendale teens look positively sickly.
  • Ambrose had a great season, and frankly more of him is always good news. I still do want some explanation about his Spellman connection. He’s Sabrina’s cousin, but much older than her. We still don’t know much about how old the Spellman sisters are, but they have to be older than Ambrose. Who are were his parents? We know his father was killed by witch-hunters, but nothing of his mother.
  • No one protected the twins? They are weird, and certainly brainwashed, but they are innocents, and the fact that no one remembered them is ridiculous.
  • The coming and going of the witches powers is awfully convenient- and more than a little exhausting for viewers to keep track of. What makes them witches, outside of powers given by the Dark Lord? They are longer-lived than mortals, but the show has not explained what else makes them different.
  • What happened with Hilda’s spider eggs? We didn’t get a teaser about those at the end. Were they fertilized? Are we going to have to deal with a bunch of arachnids next season?
  • The cheerleading was cute, and I like it as a concept, but it didn’t get enough screen-time for me to actually be invested in it.
  • The singing. The singing! Why?

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Predictions for Part 4

  • Mambo Marie is very interesting- is she mortal? She’s clearly interested in what is happening in Greendale. I theorize that she is actually Prudence’s mother. We have had no proof that Blackwood was telling the truth when he claimed that she killed herself when he wouldn’t marry her, and trusting him is inadvisable. I like her romance with Zelda- Zelda is close-minded, and only expands her worldview when someone she loves is in danger or needs her help. Maybe Mambo Marie can help her with that. Marie is also powerful and knowledgeable, which is always a plus. This show has had issues with black women before, so it’s nice to see a positive portrayal of a powerful, queer woman who is proudly black.
  • There will be some resolution to the whole Edward Spellman drama. While Edward has given Hilda and Zelda more information about the future, we still don’t understand why he would bargain with Lucifer for a child. Adoption exists, people! Apparently the Church of Night was lousy with orphans, take one of them home. There simply has to be more. Did Edward see the future, and understand that Sabrina must be born for some reason?
  • Eldritch terrors have been released by Faustus- something doubtless will come of that. Personally, I have little interest in him at this point. I just want to see Zelda and Prudence snap his neck.

Relationship Drama

  • Sabrina and Nick are over, and thank hell for that. I don’t think they’ll get back together.
  • Roz and Harvey seem like they might break up- Roz had a moment in this season when she says “She’s my best friend” in reference to Sabrina. I think this means that she realizes that her relationship with Harvey is less important than her friendship with Sabrina, which must come first. I think Roz will break up with Harvey, when she comes to the conclusion that he still loves Sabrina romantically.
  • Wedding bells for Dr. Cee and Hilda! As far as we know, Hilda has never been married, so this is exciting. She’s been asserting her independence, and this is a big step! I think she might move out, and I also believe there may be a baby in the offing. She’s middle-aged, but witches live a long time, and it would fulfill the promise of the three in one: Sabrina, the maiden; Hilda, the mother; Zelda, the crone. Zelda isn’t exactly crone-like, but she’s the oldest sister and the most senior witch. Of course, both Hilda and Zelda are Sabrina’s mothers, so that could also satisfy this. Also, while Zelda has never seemed to want the traditional family structure, I think it is something Hilda would like in her life. Zelda is way less insecure, and seems to actually accept that her family can love her and still have their own lives. OIP-1
  • Prudence and Ambrose might get back together- they are actually very good together, and I think balance each other very well. I think once Prudence gets past her anger, she’ll ask Ambrose to help her save her siblings and put things right. I would like Prudence to take center stage next season and just beat her father to a pulp, and Ambrose can just stand there being sarcastic and holding her extra sword.
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8 Buffy Episodes You Need to Re-Watch

There’s news that there’s going to be a Buffy reboot, and that’s gotten the fandom buzzing, but the original, while it is flawed, has a special place in the hearts of many. While everyone has probably watched “Hush,” “Once More, With Feeling” and “The Gift” a few times, here are a few Buffy episodes that are great, but often go unnoticed. Maybe circle back and watch them, if you’re having a craving for some old-school monster fighting. This is in order of airing, starting with season 1.

 1. “The Puppet Show” (Season 1, Episode 9)

Buffy does occasionally have some fun, and get ridiculous, and this episode is the epitome of that tendency. This, if you don’t remember, is the one about the talent show and the horny puppet. It does its usual thing of subverting expectations, and has a lot of great funny moments. Also, this is one of the first episodes that makes us really hate Principal Snyder, so points for that as well.

2. “School Hard” (Season 2, Episode 3)

This episode is special for many reasons- it’s the first appearance of both Spike and Drusilla, and it gives us a few more juicy details about Angel’s past. This is the one with back to school night, a classic among the high school Buffy years. It’s also a great showcase of Joyce Summers, who is not the perfect parent, but occasionally gets it right.

3.  “Lie to Me” (Season 2, Episode 7)

I love this episode, if only because it reminds fans that the real monsters don’t always have fangs or pincers. Real monsters can be likable and charming. We also see Buffy give up on somebody, which is hard for her, and that makes this episode pretty dark, but also true to the show.

4. “Band Candy: (Season 3, Episode 6)

This is another charming tour de force, featuring the both the delightful Armin Shimerman and Ethan Rayne. How can you resist! Plus, young Joyce and Giles getting it on on the hood of a police car is iconic. Buffy always does Halloween well, but this is objectively one of the best seasonal episodes.

5. “The Zeppo” (Season 3, Episode 13)

Fans deservedly give Xander crap, but in this episode, he gets a chance to shine. It’s one of the best episodes in terms of laughs and action- and not just explosions. Faith and Xander get it on, in a pretty toxic encounter, and Xander tries to once again find his niche and define his identity within the group. In his side adventure, Xander comes to realize that being the sidekick, not being the center of attention, is just fine with him.

6. “Superstar” (Season 4, Episode 17)

Jonathan is a fun time, and a little Jewish representation for those of us keeping score. “Superstar” is one of the weird episodes that departs from reality and takes the audience into a very strange place. It’s a great rewatch, and kind of exists outside of the regular season four plot, so you can give it a view whenever.

7. “Family” (Season 5, Episode 6)

This show revolves around family, both blood relatives and close friends, and never is that more clear than in this episode. Tara’s family (including pre-fame Amy Adams) come to visit Tara for her birthday, and bring dire tidings. While Tara is usually a timid character, we see her desperate to stand up for herself, and then we see her surrogate family step up to protect her. It is a powerful episode about chosen family and love, and a must for Tara fans.

8. “Fool For Love” (Season 5, Episode 7)

Spike episodes are always some of the best- the writers really know his voice, and his darkness and stark contrast with our heroes makes him really compelling. You can’t take your eyes off the screen when Spike is on, love him or hate him. Also, the historical bits are always great to watch, and you can have a little Angel, as a treat.

 

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“Tiger King” Joe Exotic is not an icon- he’s a dangerous narcissist

Everyone who has Netflix (and some people who don’t) has been using the recent global pandemic to watch Tiger King, subtitled “Murder, Mayhem, and Madness.” It is a seven part limited series that chronicles the seedy world of exotic animal zoos throughout the United States, a world that is both horrifying and fascinating in equal measure. Squeamish watchers beware, there is blood, animal decapitation, and raw meat on screen. This documentary has all of the true crime hotspots- rich people, poor people, rappers, possible murder, hitmen, politics, embezzlement, YouTube, and exotic animals. It’s no wonder that it has become an overnight success, currently number one in the US. However, many viewers seem to believe disturbing and, frankly, insane allegations made by the eponymous “Tiger King,” even making the “freeJoeExotic” hashtag viral on twitter globally. Here’s a rundown of why Tiger King has been sensationalized, turning Joe Exotic from the dreadful man he truly is, into a cultural phenom.

Abusive Relationships

It isn’t a stretch to say that Joe and his contemporary Doc Antle both had their own sort of cults. Joe’s workers were fiercely loyal, while Doc Antle’s were forbidden from having any sort of life outside of his zoo. In one particularly horrifying and vulnerable interview, a former acolyte of Antle’s says that she was coerced into receiving breast augmentation surgery, and agreed because she knew she would get a few days of rest afterwards for recovery. Employees of both men received around a hundred dollars a week, working seven days a week, up to fourteen hours a day. One of Joe’s employees is wounded, to the point of hospitalization, and some of Joe’s first words are “This is going to ruin me financially.” Meanwhile, when the employee is given the choice between a longer recovery saving her hand, and an amputation, she choses amputation, saying that if she has to stop work, it’s more ammunition for the animal rights people. She is back at the zoo in a little over a week. Joe offers his employees amenities, including first pick from the “meat truck” a Walmart truck full of expired meat that is then fed to the animals.

And then, there’s their personal lives. Joe has three husbands at different times, and is polyamorous. Antle also has multiple relationships, all with women. Both men conduct these relationships with younger people who work for them. At one point, Antle points out one of his girlfriends, and says she started working for him when she was seventeen. Joe’s husbands John and Travis were both nineteen when he met them, and at one point, both addicted to Meth, which Joe provided for them. Neither apparently self-identified as gay, and Travis apparently claimed to not be allowed to leave the zoo, or get a job outside of it. John left Joe for a woman, and Travis killed himself in 2017. Joe remarried, two months later. There is nothing inherently wrong with polyamory, when it is practiced with love, respect, and communication. Unfortunately, Tiger King only shows instances of intimate-partner abuse, which is a sad fact of many relationships, gay, straight, polyamorous or monogamous.

Animal Instinct

Joe Exotic claims to love his tigers and the other animals that populate his zoo, but he abuses them, much like his employees. He feeds them poor quality food, keeps them in large groups in small enclosures, and separates cubs from their mothers at birth. These cubs are kept in baby playpens. Employees used a rod to drag a newborn tiger cub for twenty feet, out of the enclosure where its mother was in labor. The cubs are taken around the country on a bus, to different malls, where they are farmed out for petting and photos. I don’t know why this is unclear to people, but this isn’t right. Big cats aren’t domestic cats- they don’t like to be held, they will attack humans, and it can be fatal. (The first two can also be true of house cats, but the point stands.) These are wild animals, and exploiting them for photos is wrong.

Not only did Joe exploit his animals, he also shot them. The remains of some tigers were discovered on zoo property, and Joe freely admitted to “euthanizing” them. Shooting an animal is not the humane way to kill it, if it was that sick, and Joe’s employees say that shoddy veterinary care was par for the course at his zoo.

The Joe Show

Joe Exotic is a very confident man. One might say that he is overly so- he at one point says, “They don’t come to see the tigers, they come to see me.” Joe loves attention, he loves the spotlight. The souvenir shop at the zoo is full of his memorabilia, he’s obsessed with getting famous. At the funeral of his husband Travis, he speaks inappropriately, and then sings some of his self-produced music. Joe is the textbook narcissist, as is Doc Antle. They both want to be the center of attention, the star of the show, and they want it badly enough to cause a lot of harm.While Joe is in prison, Antle is still riding through his park on his elephant.

Embezzling & Attempted Murder

Joe Exotic ran for president in 2016, and then for governor of Oklahoma in 2017. He was unsuccessful in both attempts, but did manage to garner some support in his gubernatorial race. Joe funded both of these campaigns by stealing money from the zoo, then under the name of Jeff Lowe, an investor. This is glossed over by a lot of fans, who don’t seem to care that Joe was stealing, because Jeff Lowe is a highly unpleasant person, to put it lightly.

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Fans also seem to think that Lowe and an accomplice framed Joe for contracting a hitman to kill his longtime rival, Carole Baskin. This theory makes a little sense, if you buy into the logic that Joe is too stupid to do such a thing. Joe publicly threatened Carole and mocked her for years, and seems to be pretty unhinged, so is it a stretch that he would hire someone to kill an enemy? Fans believe Lowe framed Joe so he could steal Joe’s zoo, but the zoo was already in Lowe’s name. If the zoo was already his, what does Jeff Lowe have to gain by framing Joe? Granted, Lowe is a slimy character, but it seems like a lot of trouble to go to frame someone for contract killing when you could just bring up charges of embezzlement. #freeJoeExotic and #TeamJoe show many viewers who believe Joe to be innocent, or simply want him released. Some fans are even calling on Kim Kardashian to take up Joe’s case. Cardi B is one of the biggest celebrities to throw her weight behind the disgraced former zookeeper.

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tigers

Zoo Vs. Sanctuary

A good bit of the documentary covers the work of Carole Baskin, and her husband Howard. They are a nice, slightly insane couple who operate Big Cat Rescue. Carole is cast by Joe as a villain, someone who wants to corner the big cat market by having zoos around the country shut down. Carole herself is an animal rights activist, and, as far as is shown in the documentary, seems to treat her animals well. Cats have large enclosures, not small cages, and are not touched except for veterinary care. They live their whole lives in safety, and the relative freedom afforded by the space. Big Cat Rescue does not release cats back into the wild, as animals born and bred in captivity do not easily adapt to life in the wild, and frequently cannot survive on their own. They do not buy cats, sell them, or breed them, which is a huge distinction from the zoos- a lot of the profit made by these zoos is by showing the cats, but selling big cats can net thousands of dollars per animal. The documentary made little effort to contrast the approach of the nonprofit rescue with the commercial zoos, the latter of which are inhumane and inhuman. Again, Big Cat Rescue is a nonprofit, meaning that it does not make money. They may pay salaries to some staff, but Carole makes it clear that most of their staff are volunteers, and she does not take part in the exploitative, profitable petting and breeding.

Don Lewis

Instead of covering the difference between the establishments, the documentary spent one whole episode covering Carole Baskin’s “Big secret.” Here are the facts: Don Lewis, Carole Baskin’s husband at the time, disappeared in 1997. There was no evidence, and almost no clues. Lewis has not been found, and he was declared legally dead in 2002.

Now, the conjecture. In cases like these, the spouse is the first suspect. Carole was unhappy in her marriage, which throws further suspicion on her. Lewis’ first wife and his daughters hated Carole and claim that she cut them out of his estate. (This statement is clearly belied by their opulent surroundings and nice jewelry.) Others also suspected Carole- Don’s lawyer, and his executive assistant. However, these people all have something to gain by Carole being removed as the main beneficiary to the estate. No other evidence supporting Carole murdering her husband exists. The popular rumor is that Carole fed her husband to the tigers, which is a baseless accusation. However, many fans of the documentary have latched on to the idea.

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By all accounts, Don Lewis was not a nice person. He married his first wife when she was fourteen and he seventeen, which is just scary young. He was a self-made millionaire, and serial philanderer. His first wife appears in the documentary to blame Carole for the dissolution of their marriage, despite the fact that she also says that he had been cheating on her for years. It is also revealed that Lewis had a girlfriend in Costa Rica at the time of his disappearance. It is unlikely that the truth will be found so many years, though the police have not closed the case.

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Joe and others who dislike Carole make further unsubstantiated claims against her throughout the documentary, and the camera usually cuts to Carole debunking the rumors or just looking a little put out. The conspiracy theories are numerous, and it’s surprising that they get so much air time given how little evidence there is of any of these claims.

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Carole

#TeamTigers

While viewers of the documentary seem to divide themselves into teams, favoring either Joe Exotic or Carole Baskin, the ones who deserve our support are the tigers. Despite the end of the documentary enumerating how few tigers there are in the wild, and how many are suffering in captivity a lot of people seem to be missing the point.

missing the pointThe tigers, and the people exploited, are the real victims here. Sadly, it seems like in all of the controversy, the ones still losing are the cats.

Posted in TV

“Parks and Recreation” is almost the perfect show

Parks and Rec was, and is, a popular television show. It’s objectively good, and a clever, funny show that was groundbreaking. The main character is a woman who is not a size zero, who is unapologetically ambitious, unironically enthusiastic, and unflinchingly kind. While flawed, Leslie Knope is a big deal, and for her alone Parks and Rec would be special. There are a number of other reasons that this Mike Schur project was so well received- the great writing, the hilarious cast of characters, and the emotional punches. It is a good show. So, when I first watched it with my partner, I got an uncomfortable itch when a certain character came on screen.

“Is this anti-Semitic?” I asked, a little aghast. The implication being, tell me I’m being too sensitive. Am I crazy?

There was a pause. “Is it?” Profound discomfort permeated the room.

“It’s probably nothing.” I said.

“Is it?”

We continued watching. We love this show. Most fans do agree that season one is pretty lousy, but we love the show in its constituent parts. But the more we watched, the more individual characters started rubbing us the wrong way. There has been some dialogue about the Sapersteins, the three we see on screen being Dr., Mona-Lisa and Jean-Ralphio. Other characters of possible Jewish heritage include Jeremy Jamm, rival councilman and orthodontist. While the Sapersteins are more Jewish-sounding, Jamm fulfills a lot of Jewish stereotypes that make me pretty squirmy.

The Jewish American Princess

Mona-Lisa Saperstein is pretty much a straight-up copy/paste of this harmful stereotype. She’s materialistic, selfish, and interested in controlling weak-willed men. Most JAPs in media feel sexist, but Jean-Ralphio is at least as dumb as his sister, and maybe even more of a JAP than she is. He is indulged, stupid, and bad with money. He is annoying, presumptuous, slutty, and otherwise fulfills the stereotype’s parameters. At one point the two siblings do literally say “Money please?” to their dad, and are given cash. That was pretty on the nose, maximum levels of cringe.

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The Jewish Lawyer (or Doctors)

Another stereotype that follows Jews is the idea of the Jewish lawyer. This is a flexible archetype, but the idea is that Jews are overly litigious, untrustworthy and nefarious. This can be seen in two notable instances in Parks and Rec, firstly with Dr. Lu Saperstein. Saperstein is a business man, while he is an obstetrician, he also invests in businesses around Pawnee, and uses underhanded techniques to try to undermine Tom’s entrepreneurship. He’s a threatening figure who uses his wealth to hurt others. While he does appear to be a good doctor (he delivered a couple of the main characters’ babies) Dr. Saperstein is a puppet master stereotype.

This is where we bring in Jeremy Jamm. While Jamm isn’t explicitly stated to be Jewish, he fits the bill. He’s a shortish, shlubby guy with dark hair and eyes. He’s also an orthodontist. Jamm is characterized as being effeminate, greedy, and corrupt. He tries to sell a lot to a fast food company to make some money off of the deal, and he legally blocks Leslie’s well-intentioned legislation several times during her tenure on the city council. He certainly fits the bill of the litigious Jew, out for themselves, greedy and corrupt. Another anti-Semitic stereotype is that of the disgusting, undesirable Jew, he or she who no one could possibly find attractive. Jamm is only ever seen as a romantic figure when he is being manipulated by one of Ron’s ex-wives. He also is revealed to have IBS- which would just be a footnote if digestive problems weren’t another common Jewish trait.See the source image

While it would be understandable to have few Jews in a small, midwestern town like Pawnee, no Jewish representation is better than the bad kind. While I love Parks and Rec, it’s disappointing to see what is either a blind eye turned to harmful stereotypes, or outright ignorance of anti-Semitic tropes. What’s truly disappointing about this is that the show is so good- it’s heartwarming, sweet, and comforting. It’s about romance, and friendship, and a good working relationship with a strange, yet lovable grizzly bear. It’s upsetting to have to recognize that something you love is so poorly representative of a demographic you belong to. Fortunately, Mike Schur’s Brooklyn 99 has a mostly positive characterization of a Jewish character, portrayed by Andy Samberg. Personally, I’m inclined to believe that the writers were simply ignorant of the message they were sending. That lets me continue to love the show, even though it’s a little tarnished for me.

Posted in Books, TV

“Shrill” by Lindy West

I recently picked up Shrill after finishing the Hulu show of the same name in a weekend. Having watched Aidy Bryant portray a version of writer Lindy West, I thought I should give her book a read. I love Bryant’s work on SNL, which is great not just because she is funny and talented, but because she is a fat woman on television. She’s also very attractive, but I digress. The book mostly tackles the intersection of difficult identities: woman, fat, loud.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, is not written as a narrative, but as a series of essays. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Samantha Irby’s work. Fittingly, Irby has written some episodes of Shrill. Parts of the show are nestled in West’s memoir- Annie’s obnoxious boss is based on West’s former editor Dan Savage, of advice fame. West writes about her abortion experience, and writing an essay about her fatness. West articulates the feelings that every woman at a comedy club has felt when she hears a joke that makes her feel unsafe. When she writes about no one wanting her, feeling undesirable, unlovable, I can relate to that. Despite always being average-sized, or at times too small, I can relate to a lot of the pain West lays bare.

Shrill is an important reminder that we need to internalize: fat people are an unprotected class, a class that experiences discrimination much like minorities and women. There are a lot of ways that it is harder to be a fat person, and as a society we have made it possible to actively dehumanize them, and make it even worse.

What was truly enjoyable about the book was West’s candid honesty, her realness and her self-acceptance. Lindy West is what is really special about Shrill– so it’s a good thing she writes for the show. One thing that really got me was when she writes about representation, how seeing fat bodies makes fat bodies normal, and how important that is. West is doing some of that work, by leading a public life, and being unapologetic, and the television show does another part of that work, by casting fat actresses to play fat women. West writes attempting to evoke the empathy of people who actively hate her- and I know she hates being called “brave,” so I’ll just say, she seems pretty cool.

Posted in TV

9 Things That Made No Sense About “Smallville”

clark kent superman GIF by HULU

I love Smallville- I love the adorable and sincere Tom Welling, I love the sweet parental relationships, I love a good pastoral drama. However, like many contemporary shows geared at teens, Smallville is flawed, and occasionally, nonsensical. While there are many things to love about this early two-thousands drama, there are a lot of aspects of the show that just don’t hold up.

1. The Distance Between Smallville and Metropolis

During the show’s long run, there were discrepancies about how far apart these two settings were. Lana at one point states that they are four hours apart, but later Chloe claims they’re two hours apart. Either way, it makes no sense for Chloe, Clark, and Lois to commute to Metropolis and remain residents of Smallville. While the show wanted to remain rooted in Smallville, a two hour commute each way seems a bit untenable, unless, like Clark, you can run the distance. It does make sense for a show that wants to keep one foot in Smallville, when Clark hasn’t fully moved on to his new life in Metropolis, but it certainly seems logistically fraught for people without super-speed.

2. Martha’s Disappearing Act

Having Ma Kent leave the show when Clark becomes more independent makes good sense, but not having her pop in at crucial junctures is a little out of character. The only times Martha is mentioned is in an off-hand phone call with Clark. She does not return for the funeral of her close friend, Lionel Luther, or for Chloe’s ill-fated wedding. As a mother very engaged in her son’s life, there’s a difference between giving Clark space and completely vanishing. I love Annette O’Toole and what she brings to the show, and even having her mentioned makes more sense than her complete absence. Later, this is excused by Martha being traumatized and needing space from her late husband’s memory, but it still doesn’t sit well with me.

3. College Drop-Outs

After Dark Thursday, Met U is conveniently closed so that the college storylines can wrap up and we can focus on bigger things, like Lex and Lana. Clark also drops out of college, to little fanfare. It makes sense to focus on their other plots, as some of the show’s worst episodes were college-focused, but even in the early two thousands, getting a job in journalism without a college degree wasn’t likely. Even grunts at a newspaper would need a journalism degree, so Chloe, Lois, and later Clark getting hired at the Planet without one is unlikely. Lois is also booted from college at one point, spends a weird couple of weeks at Smallville High, and then becomes a full-time reporter after a brief stint as a campaign manager for Jonathan Kent. Lois’ record is certainly a little weird, and her career trajectory from there is certainly unrealistic. She’s very bright, but it’s difficult to imagine brains and moxie completely covering for a poor record.

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4. Living Arrangements

Aside from the impossible commute to Metropolis, there’s one other thing that makes little sense about the characters’ housing: the Talon’s size. The apartment above the Talon is home to Lana, Chloe, Lois, and Jimmy over the years, but gauging its size is difficult as a viewer. When Lana lives there, it seems to be a studio, but at one point, Lois, Chloe and Jimmy are all living there together. Is there a second bedroom, or is Lois just bedding down on the couch? Who even owns the Talon after Lex dies? Are they paying Tess rent? It makes no sense to stay in this apartment.

5. Chloe & Oliver & Lois & Clark & Arthur

While it is pretty true to the comics, it’s a little weird to have Lois involved with three of the members of the Justice League before she and Clark settle down. What’s definitely weirder is Chloe then ending up married to Oliver, meaning that not only has Lois had relationships with two of Clark’s close friends, she’s also slept with her cousin’s husband. It deviates from Oliver’s comic counterpart, who is usually involved with Black Canary, Dinah Laurel Lance. A happy ending for Chloe, who deserved a lot better than the show gave her a lot of the time, was well overdue, so I’m inclined to let this go. It is great that Lois is never shamed for her numerous relationships, which is something that a lot of shows didn’t do as well in the early two thousands.

6. Pretty much everything about Lana’s life

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Lana has a pretty hard go of it, and after a certain point, you have to suspend disbelief about the things that she does, and the stuff that happens to her. Staying in Smallville makes some sense- every teen show has that one friend who moves into the basement. Lana then leaves Smallville for school in France, which makes no sense. How is she paying for this? Does she have an inheritance from her dead parents? She then leaves to return to Smallville after becoming possessed by one of her ancestors (yeah, that was a weird season.) Did she get school credit? How was she just living as a minor in a foreign country? When Lana returns to Smallville, she rents out the apartment above the Talon, which we have already covered a little. How is she paying for this apartment? Lana makes a lot of weird choices, but the logistics alone make the head spin.

7. Telling Lois

Clark doesn’t confide in Lois about his origins and powers until the final season. At that point, they have known each other for years, and are in love with each other. While they have had a slow development into close friends, and then partners, at work and in life, Clark waits a really long time to tell Lois his secret. By that time, she already knows, and has decided to wait until he is ready to tell her. Clark trusts Lois, and he should have told her sooner. She’s more in danger not knowing than knowing, and she deserves to know. Damn Clark and his trust issues.

8. Lex and Clark’s Friendship

It is incomprehensible that any normal guy in his early twenties would want to hang out with a fifteen year-old farm boy. While Clark is extraordinary, a rich, self-centered guy like Lex would never want to hang out with a teen who can’t even ask out the girl he likes. Watching it now, it makes total sense why Martha and Jonathan don’t think their son should pal around with Lex Luther- he’s a rich playboy in his early twenties and they’re raising a well-mannered, handsome alien. The last thing you need entering into that kind of parenting is a wildcard like Lex. Even if someone saves your life, it makes no sense for Lex to want to hang around Clark.

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9. The Finale

Most fans can agree that Smallville went on for way too long, leaving Clark in a state of arrested development, with one foot in Smallville and one in Metropolis. The show continuing for so long meant that some episodes were bloated, and others too thin. New characters were integrated reasonably well, but the show’s longevity decreased its overall quality. The season finale included the resurrection of Lex Luthor, death of Tess Mercer, and Clark and Lois’ wedding. The final episodes were too rushed, and a disservice to fans who love the show and its mythology. In particular, a character like Tess, who goes through so much in the show, dying without any of the other characters addressing it shows that time was managed poorly. The scene with Tess and Lex was pitch-perfect, exactly what it needed to be, but Tess deserved to be memorialized even a little. A lot of threads get dropped in the last season, like Conner Kent, and it shows. The show also wastes time in the final episodes with Lois trying to break up with Clark for stupid reasons, which was in-character, but not necessary.

While the show has its ups and downs, Smallville was great, and had such an impact that it provided a blueprint for the super hero shows on TV today. While it has its plot holes, we can’t help but love it. It’s just super.

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