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I don’t have too much to say about this episode of Awake, particularly because I managed to see it live, and haven’t had the time to write about it since. In this episode, a new case opens and we get tension between his newly promoted partner in one universe, and more focus on his son in the other. I feel like the structure they’re beginning to get is that mix of episodic and series arc — the stand alone complex, as the Ghost in the Shell series had dubbed it, where ‘stand alone’ episodes are these cases, and the ‘complex’ episodes are the narrative reason we come back every week. In Awake, they’re both in the same episode, so we get Britten investigating between two worlds, dealing with skepticism at every turn, and learning how to cope with his family, an ongoing process.

The latter area is also an exploration of the world, which got a little bigger with the introduction of the chief character, who knows about Britten’s issue, and whose existence implies a greater mystery. Awake is the kind of show that may disappoint with its reveal, much like Lost, but I’m hoping that unlike that show, the guys behind Awake know how the series ends. In fact, I don’t know how one could start airing a show without having mapped out the story beforehand, but that’s the medium. There’s a business end of television that stands in the way a lot of the time.

I didn’t get a good read on this episode. I enjoyed it, but it felt like a continuation of the pilot in less than a good way. The jumpy style remains, which makes it feel hip, but I wonder how this show would’ve held up were I to watch it as I do all other shows, three at a time and on DVD. Luckily now I won’t have to wait long for the next episode, and hopefully I’ll have this review up sooner.

I also wanted to talk about the NBC show I sat through right before this, called Up All Night, which when paired with a show called Awake, makes me think that they’re sending me a subliminal message to stay up for the NBC late night news. So Up All Night, with Christina Applegate and Will Arnett, is a sitcom without a laugh track, so that’s one point in its favor. I don’t know what the deal is with these new shows like The Big Bang Theory and Whitney that have laugh tracks, but whatever. Aside from Will Arnett and the occasional appearance by Jason Lee, of Kevin Smith and My Name is Earl fame, that’s the only point in its favor.

This episode in particular was dreadful, talking about both feminism in the work place, and homosexuality. While the feminism part was embarassing, it’s the homosexuality part that really didn’t jibe with me. To their credit, they didn’t telegraph that they wanted to make a social statement, unlike other shows like The Simpsons, which in its 2007ish era seemed to rip topics from the local paper and say, “This week we’re gonna talk about evolution vs. creationism in schools… Go…” However, it isn’t any less flawed.

Their conceit is simple: gay people are hip. We know this, they’re so trendy because that’s just how gay people are. Setting aside that that’s in itself a dangerous stereotype (because all stereotypes by nature are dangerous), the biggest crime they perpetrate here is skipping point B in an A to C road to ‘how America sees gay people.’ Right now, we don’t see them very well. Especially in lesser TV shows, gay people have been depicted as either flamboyant and sassy males, or butchy or supermodel fantasy females. In this show, they aren’t being depicted at all, due to writing in a constrained, 22-minute format, but we’re being literall told that they’re cool.

You can’t tell us that these gay people are cool, and that gay people are now cool. That’s not gonna work on anyone. Good intentions, but you’re doing it wrong. It’s very nearly condescending, in fact — thinking that by saying “Man those gay people are cool,” I’m gonna start thinking it without thinking about anything, or letting my own personal feelings influence me. This is especially egregious for me after having started The Wire, a nearly decade old TV show whose character Omar, played by Michael Kenneth Williams, was one of its claim to fames.

Omar is a ‘stick-up boy,’ so he goes around robbing drugdealers, and he gets wrapped up in The Wire’s story by hitting the stash of the show’s main criminal group, the Barksdale organization. He carries around a shotgun and has a big old scar running down his face (Williams’s scar, in actuality), and is pretty much the most badass character on the show. Barack Obama even said so. As we discover midway in season one, Omar is gay. There you have it. McNulty didn’t say, “Man, Omar is such a badass. He makes me really think about gay people, how they aren’t just flamboyant and sassy.” He shows, doesn’t tell. His sexuality isn’t even a huge element of the show. He gets called a faggot or made fun of every now and then, but note that it’s always in a courtroom or when he’s not around.

When he is around, people start running and shouting “Omar’s coming, yo!” I’m not saying that Will Arnett needs to carry around a shotgun for Up All Night to be a smarter show, but it needs to go in one direction or the other: commit to saying something real and do it right, or do nothing and focus on the comedy you’re attempting. I don’t 100% hate you, as you don’t have a laugh track telling me when to laugh, but I do 98% hate you, as you do this poorly conceived grab at a social statement that tells me what to think. I might agree with you (not that all gay people are hip, but that they aren’t all America-hating weasels), but a lot of people don’t, and you might be doing damage.

The next episode of Awake airs at 10:00 PM Eastern, March 15…
Up All Night right before then

Return to the Awake Episode Guide

Why I saw this movie is a long, almost embarassing story that I won’t suffer you to read here. While I suffered in watching it, I felt compelled to report back here on this blog, because I actually had something to say. Something negative.

After seeing just this one entry in the lengthy franchise, in addition to twenty-minutes of Final Destination 2, I can’t fathom why anybody would ever return for 4 and 5, or even 2 and 3. These movies are formula, and their movie-as-formula isn’t exactly the problem, it’s the formula itself. The template these are all based on – vision, no one believes him/her, it happens, more deaths, more people don’t believe him/her – is built on frustration. The hero/heroine’s (let’s just go with heroine in reference to Wendy from 3) efforts to save people are frustrated, she is frustrated by the other characters’ aggresive ignorance, and the characters are goddamn frustrating to the audience because they’re drawn to fill out one role.

The frustration stops when a clamp comes down on somebody’s head or a truck tears the back of their skull of. These gruesome death scenes are the only moments when the story moves forward, so it’s nearly cathartic in its alleviation of the frustration, but in a really bad way. In addition, Final Destination the series trades on its death sequences. But the problem with a medium like this – movies – is that the death sequences are tethered to and held back by the plot, which is crucial to the formula. As a result, there are only five or six death scenes in the movie, and the only one longer than a split second is far from entertaining – tanning booth death.

The premise to the series is actually pretty good; it feels like an episode of The X-Files. I bring that show up specifically because the writers and directors and producers of several entries in this series were James Wong and Glen Morgan, huge contributors to the long-running television show. The difference between the show and the movie series is something that could have made this series legitimately good, and not almost-half-average: adults.

If the series had adults instead of teenagers, maybe there could have been a sense of engagement in any facet of the movies rather than none. Why does there exist the requisite that all modern horror movies must have screamy teenagers? Because they’re cheap? Because of Halloween? Some of the most famous horror movies of all time have adults – Alien and The Exorcist spring to mind. Teenagers can never be well-rounded characters in this context of light horror because adults have difficulty writing them both in general and for a teenage audience. They assume that we’re expecting a certain thing, and what we get is boo-yah douchebags and womanizers and OMG orange tan chicks, where characters are defined by their stereotype.

The problem here is that the key demographic – teenagers and younger – are notorious for being dumb. That must be how they’re seen by the writers, because these characters don’t have complex characterization or subtle nuances; the audience understands them because they tap into various, specific parts of the cultural lexicon.

I think that the series could benefit if not only we had adults dealing with this problem, but if it was a detective story. The detective must solve these crazy accidents before he goes too, though nobody believes him and he must endure being witness to bizarre fatalities. It could be a gritty, dark story that would work once, but it would work well. Final Destination 3 has a scene where characters – the fringe weirdos – are talking about how death is inevitable, and it made me think that if we were dealing with characters who weren’t just going for the laughs we could actually tackle interesting themes about life and death.

But the series has never been about themes. In fact, one of the themes in Final Destination 3 is control, where Wendy is a control freak. How do I know that? Because whenever anybody, even Wendy, is describing her, they say she’s a control freak. I swear ‘control freak’ is the most frequently used term in the entire movie. She likes to control things, and this conflicts with death, who also likes to control things. Okay, that’s fine, but what does it mean on a higher level? Nothing, it’s just superfluous motivation for our character Wendy to have conflict with death, as if dying wasn’t enough.

Final Destination 3D takes a more hackneyed detective approach, which isn’t nearly as good an idea to keep the premise fresh as seen in Final Destination 2, where a bunch of people were gathered into a room and tried to stay alive. That could have been cool, but I never saw the rest of the damn thing. In Final Destination 3, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character Wendy took a bunch of photos and notes how they correlate to the deaths. Shoddy theory, but that’s why she pulls a photo of the World Trade Center and notes how a shadow of the plane on the building anticipates that a plane was going to fly into it. What the fuck?

So she goes out with her friend, Kevin, and they try to save these morons before they’re killed. None of them want to stay alive. They’re all antagonistic, and I guess the effect here is that we’re supposed to be rooting for death to kill them. Either I’m just not cynical enough to ever think that these people deserve what comes to them, or I just can’t distance myself from these characters to appreciate them as characters who actually, really, want to die.

Another problem is that the only interesting thing about the movie is the relationship between Wendy and Kevin. I was surprised but I actually liked their budding friendship, but of course – it didn’t add up to anything. The ending is ambiguous, so maybe they all died. I’d have to watch The Final Destination to find out if they did, or if they’re still cool.

God, the acting is so damn bad in this movie, and I don’t want to do what I used to do when I wrote my little movie reviews for the school newspaper (go down the list, you know, the directing sucks, the acting sucks, the script sucks, the editing sucks) but I need to make an exception here. If they didn’t have Mary Elizabeth Winstead, maybe I wouldn’t notice, but a lot of these characters are poorly portrayed, if only as a result of the weak writing. It’s not atrocious writing, it just feels synthetic and a product of little effort. Even Winstead can’t salvage it because Wendy, like I said, is a control freak. That is her character. She is not a character. Control freak is not character.

As a last note, this series has the worst string of titles ever, more stupid than First Blood, which goes
First Blood
Rambo: First Blood Part II
Rambo III
Rambo
Just take a look:
Final Destination
Final Destination 2
Final Destination 3
The Final Destination
Final Destination 5
It’s comical because there is exactly one that stands out. I’ve never seen a horror franchise that actually goes back to the numbering after they’ve dropped it, which is the trend nowadays, not to have numbers. I guess I give them credit for 5, but hell – I’ll never see it.

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