Lonely Boy: Things That Spark My Nerd Rage

I don’t get terribly nerd ragey. Life’s too short, and I’m too educated and sometimes when things change in nerd culture it’s for the better and we get Sansa Stark, Vengeance Lady Of Winterfell and Kamala Khan and Miles Morales, ya know?

But there are a few things that push my buttons and make me all ranty, and one of them got pushed real hard, several times, in the past few weeks.

Everyone’s watching that show You, and it features Penn Badgely as an obsessive stalker boyfriend. Having watched nearly a decade of that, I’m on board with said casting.

But I’ve seen several joking tweets about Badgely in particular, mostly pointing out that this role tracks, since he was Gossip Girl and everything.

There are few things in pop culture that have made me more angry than the complete and utter bullshit twist that Dan Humphrey was Gossip Girl all along.

I didn’t expect the reveal to make much (if any) sense. While my headcanon remains that Gossip Girl is in fact Veronica Mars, (that’s why she has her voice) there were several acceptable candidates, actually on the show. (Vanessa, Jack Bass, Georgina, Carter Baizen, any of Nate’s older lady conquests but especially the one played by Elizabeth Hurley who gave him a newspaper because he’s good at sex, Serena’s Grandmother Cece, and Dorota.)

But then it was revealed that Gossip Girl was the Humphrey’s and I never got over it. It made no sense whatsoever. It destroyed several character arcs. (Jenny’s especially.) It made Dan and Serena’s reconcilliation and eventual marriage COMPLETELY ridiculous.

I hate. I get so angry. It ruins the show for me. It ruins the show for me even more than Ed Westwick being a rapist. Which is totally irrational.

You know, like all good Nerd Rage!

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Nerd Homework: Birds Of Prey (2002)

Sometimes, I do the nerd homework because it’s something good or essential, sometimes I do it because it’s fun, and sometimes I do it to remind myself that, nope, you made the right call back when you were 14 and this show about Batgirl premiered on The WB and you thought it was dumb.

Birds Of Prey is a bizarre artifact from it’s time period, full of pleather and reheated guitar pop and bad acting and some really muddled DC-verse mythology. If you’re a DC fan, you know The Birds, the all female Gotham-based team, usually lead by Barbara Gordon (Either as Batgirl or Oracle) and Black Canary. They’re fun, sassy and kick copious ass.

The Huntress has been on and off the team in both her iterations, as the alt-verse daughter of Batman and Catwoman, Helena Wayne (my preferred version) or the mob princess turned crime fighter Helena Bertenilli (Also great!).

I don’t think I need to outline my love for Babs and Dinah Lance, because you know, I’ve done that a lot.

Birds Of Prey, the TV show, presents us with Barbara Gordon, as Oracle, seven years since she was paralyzed after being shot by The Joker and Batman disappeared from the city. She’s about the only thing that the show gets right. Intelligent, empathetic, brilliant and driven, this is the Barbara Gordon I know and love.

She’s mentoring Helena Kyle (she refuses to claim the Wayne name) and Dinah Lance, a runaway.

This is where things get infuriating to a DC fan/Confusing to a Filthy Casual.

Helena is the daughter of Batman and Catwoman. Good. OK. Batman’s disappeared from New Gotham (why New? This isn’t a far flung Batman Beyond style future, it hasn’t even been a decade! So weird…) Selina Kyle was killed by The Joker to get at Batman (I mean, fine?) And we’re going by the Batman Returns style Catwoman had cat like powers, which, Helena has inherited. (Ehhh, I like my Bat-characters without powers, for the most part, but again, at least consistent) Helena refers to herself as a Half-Meta. (THAT IS NOT HOW META HUMANS WORK IN ANY VERSION! YOU CAN’T BE HALF META) She also doesn’t wear a costume or mask of any kind. Which is just an exceptionally bad idea.

Then there’s Dinah.

Oh boy did I get screamy about this. Oh, but Dinah didn’t. Yes, rather than Dinah Lance’s actually fun power of emitting disabling sonic booms with her vocal cords, Birds Of Prey makes her a pre-cog.

THERE ARE PLENTY OF DC CHARACTERS WITH PSYCHIC ABILITIES, WHY WOULD YOU GRAFT THAT ON TO A BRAWLER LIKE CANARY?

Also, Alfred is around, because I guess with Bruce all disappeared he’s doesn’t have anything to do.

The big bad is Harley Quinn (An excellent call) except she’s still functioning as Dr. Harleen Quinzel, and she’s like a criminal mastermind, mob boss type? Which is not Harley’s MO at all, and if she’s still practicing, she wouldn’t be Harley at all, you know? It’s confusing.

All of this deviation could be excused if Birds Of  Prey were any good, (Smallville, at least at it’s best is an example of that. Also the whole Arrowverse.) but it isn’t. It feels a little bit like some Charmed and Angel spec scripts had DC grafted on to them and then also you lost the charismatic cast that made Charmed work at all, and Joss Whedon and Tim Minear’s story sense that made Angel one of the greats.

It all feels cheap and dated and my god is it dull. Which is a bummer, because it has solid bones. Doing The Birds Of Prey is an excellent choice for a “Batman without Batman” show, the dynamic of Barbara Gordon in her 30’s, Helena Wayne in her 20’s and a teenage Dinah creates an interesting relationship model. And they really do get Barbara right, so that’s worth something.

But it also screams the Smallville “no tights, no flights,” ethos taken at it’s stupidest. No costumes for Huntress and Harley, in a city that’s already had Batman and Batgirl and the various Robins is a baffling choice. When Helena is considering quitting, which she does three times an episode, at one point, Barbara points out that heroing is an important legacy, carried on by people with potential, people like her, and Dick Grayson! And Tim Drake! And Jason Todd! ALL THOSE PEOPLE! But where are they? Bruce disappeared and the boys are just gone? I can handwave Dick ( In Bludhaven, maybe going through one of his “I work alone” phases) and Jason (Still dead? When was Under The Hood?) but Tim? Tim Drake wouldn’t quit after Barbara became Oracle and Bruce disappeared! Tim Drake would organize and then get all huffy when no one wanted to organize with him. He should be popping out of shadows telling Helena that she’s sloppy and to put a mask on for God’s sake every five minutes. Oh, that might be why he’s not a character on this show. Because that would actually be fun and entertaining, and this show seems allergic to both of those things.

Anyway, it’s nice to know that even as a teenaged girl, I could recognize that this show was shitty nonsense and I remain eternally grateful to Batman The Animated Series and Batman Beyond for exposing me to proper adaptations of this material early on. Also, I’m proud of nerd kind for rejecting it outright, even back in the dark ages when we thought that Brian Singer’s X-Men was the closest we’d get to the source material. (Though I can’t help but wonder if it’s forgotten for being both terrible and lady centric.)

I have a lot of affection for The WB, the network of my teen years. Both sides, what I call the Buffy side (Buffy, Angel, Charmed, Smallville, Supernatural) and the Dawson’s side (Dawson’s Creek, Felicity, One Tree Hill, Gilmore Girls, also Smallville) (That Smallville straddles both is really the show’s greatest achievement.) but they, for the most part relied on a formula, and any half assing of a formula is going to be bleak.

Justin Hartley Green Arrow

Smallville’s SECOND greatest achievement. Making me give a shit about Green Arrow(‘s abs)

The Nerd Homework feature has been all about challenging my preconceptions of stuff in my wheelhouse, that I’ve previously put off or ruled out. That is the Raison d’etre for these projects. Star Trek, Battlestar, Anime, the work of Stephen King. Which is why Birds Of Prey being on DC Universe felt like a blessing. I’d outright rejected the show twice before after watching the pilot (when it first aired and then after Arrow premiered when CW Seen was pushing it.) but maybe now I’d enjoy it.

I did not. It’s terrible. It deserves it’s fate of obscurity and mocking.

Don’t Be Robin, Be Someone Else

I’m the first to admit that my hype for Titans went from, “THIS IS GOING TO BE GREAT,” to “Oh no,” to “people are saying it’s pretty good and I’m getting DC Universe for Young Justice: Outsiders anyway, so I’ll get around to it.”

Look, that “Fuck Batman,” trailer was rough, no way around it. And I’m still not sold on the designs for Starfire and Beast Boy. And that Donna Troy never suits up is kind of a bummer. (Spoilers, sorry…)

But, Internet Nerds, we have greatly misjudged this show. It’s pretty wonderful. As an adaptation of Teen Titans, it’s only OK, but as a genre show in it’s own right, a version and riff on the concept, it’s good. It’s full of game performances, excellent character work, and a steady build up of suspenseful writing leading to a hell of a cliff hanger.

I’m not going to say it’s the best first season of a live action superhero show. Daredevil season 1 exists after all, but it’s damn sure of it’s self and super entertaining all the way through, which is more than I can say for any other DC TV project from the past 10 years. (I loved the first seasons of The Flash and Supergirl but they still had their bumpy finding their feet moments.)

And it has it’s problems. The costume designs really are awful. Minka Kelly’s wig as Dove is one for the DCTV bad wig hall of fame. Geoff Johns seems a little too happy to drop the F-bomb. It’s refreshing that the young heroes actually talk like young people, but it’s also, you know, kind of heavy handed at times. The FX are laughably bad at points. The violence is a lot, but not unexamined. I was mostly concerned about this from the perspective of Dick.

Kori and Rachel (Raven) being more violent is consistent. Starfire, being an alien and all, has different values about life than humans do. Raven’s powers are all about darkness and containing bursts of violence. Titans examines both of these perspectives, Rachel desperately trying to contain her power, and Kori accepting it as a part of herself.

Dick though, it’s handled masterfully. The show begins by showing it’s been a year since he walked away from being Batman’s partner, because he felt himself losing control. But he’s basically addicted to the violence, and he’s not happy about it. The entire season and his entire arc (and the show really does belong the Brenton Thwaites) is him grappling with this side of himself. He knows he can’t really be Robin anymore, but he doesn’t know how to deal with this any other way.

This all really hits home in two episodes, which are easily my favorites, episode 6, “Jason Todd,” and Episode 8, “Donna Troy.” Jason, a year into his tenure as Robin is eager and excited to spend time with his predecessor. Dick is mostly annoyed by Jason’s, well, Jason-ness (Seriously, he’s perfect.), Bruce’s seeming trust of his new partner, (“You’re allowed to drive the Batmobile?”) and most especially, the kid’s sanity and safety. I burst into tears when Dick warned Jason, “the cost is too great.” THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW  THE COST YET! Even in Dick’s “darkest timeline,” created in his mind by Trigon in the finale, Jason is paralyzed, not brutally murdered, then resurrected and insane. (This show is uniquely well set up to do Red Hood as a storyline though.)

“Donna Troy,” meanwhile, just made me gloriously happy as a Dick Grayson fan. Donna’s retired from being Wonder Girl, but she’s still doing her part, and working as a photographer. Dick goes to see her, they talk a lot, there’s a really good flashback to when they were kids where she gives him a pep talk and there’s also a scene where they go to a party and Dick babbles like an idiot to some unsuspecting friends of hers. He says things like, “my dad used to work with her mom sometimes.” (STAHP! MY FANGIRL INSIDES CANNOT HANDLE IT) She says things like, “Wonder Woman was created to protect the innocent, Batman to punish the guilty.” They giggle and do backflips, they track down some big game poachers. They drink beers and confide. This is a very good depiction of friendship between superheroes.

Also, Donna continues to be awesome throughout her run on the show.

So, to recap, things that Titans isn’t great on

  • Design – It’s an ugly show. That can be improved as we move forward though. I also did like Jason’s Robin suit.
  • Effects – They’re groan worthy in places, but again, now that it’s a hit (apparently? Streaming’s weird that way) maybe they’ll get a budget increase to help with that.
  • Tone – Scale back on the angst a bit, it worked but tipped too far a few times

Things that are good

  • Characters & Writing – Everything’s consistent and well thought out.
  • Violence – It’s a violent show, but it actually grapples with that violence. Which is a nice change of pace.
  • Dick Grayson – Seriously, this is a very good version of this character. Who I love. Kind of a lot. 

Nerd Homework: Cowboy Bebop

See You Around Space Cowboy…

In my everlasting quest to watch more anime, (which has always been more theoretical than actual, if we’re honest) Cowboy Bebop has come up a few times. I just haven’t felt like it. I knew the basics of the show, and was pretty sure I’d even seen a few episodes. “It’s basically anime Firefly right?” (Y’all know how I feel about Firefly and how vastly overrated it is right?)

But I decided to settle in this long weekend and watch the show, and you guys, I get it now. This is a really fun, very good show. Spike is a great protagonist. Jet, Faye and Ed are excellent supporting characters with flushed out inner lives of their own.  Firefly literally stole all of this. The music on this show, the things the show does with the concept of music and just, HOLY SHIT.

Lots of people have combined western and sci-fi tropes, but throwing noir in really makes the whole thing something special. I really, really like noir flavored stuff. So yeah, I really enjoyed the show and will likely watch it again. I often laughed, I cried a few times, and I’m starting to really get into the rhythms of the medium here. I doubt I’ll ever go full Otaku, but I’m never going to say, “anime isn’t really my thing,” anymore.

Which was always the point right? To demystify this particular branch of media so that I wouldn’t be so hesitant to jump in. I’m still determined to watch more anime, and I’m excited about it. (Frankly, I’d have dove right into something when I finished Bebop but I had my Aquaman tickets, so, I had to go.)

2018 Favorites: An Unexpected List

Hey everyone! Happy (almost!) New Year! So, as promised here’s my list of favorite things from the past year. We’ll get going quickly, I have a few categories, I think it’ll go well.

Favorite Movie (Not Movie Season): Black Panther

I’ll get into movie season movies in a few days. (I have my tickets for the final three.) But in the rest of the year, I don’t think I loved anything the way I loved Black Panther. I saw it in theaters 3 times, a thing I don’t do often anymore, and bought it on Amazon Prime immediately (Another thing I don’t do much anymore.)

Favorite Old Show I Finally Got Around To Watching: Battlestar Galactica

I fill in a bunch of gaps this year, and while this was a toss up, between Battlestar and Deadwood, ultimately I had to go with the Space Opera, and for one reason alone. As much as I enjoyed Deadwood, I didn’t connect to any of those characters the way I did to Kara Thrace. You can check out my Facebook for my thoughts on Starbuck, I love her, I find  her hugely inspirational and wonderful.

Favorite Book I Read: The Witching Hour by Anne Rice

My God, I loved this book. I can’t stop thinking about this book. How sexy it is, how beautifully constructed, how twisted and dark and wonderful. Even it’s really really disappointing sequels (I’m into Taltos now, and it’s fine…) can’t tarnish the shine of how much I loved this book.

Favorite Current TV Show: The Good Place

Holy Mother Forking Shirtballs, you guys!

Friday night, Jess and I sighed about the show, and about how it just made us happy. The Good Place is funny, intelligent and kind, and with the way the world has felt like it was on fire all year, it was a beacon of light every Thursday night, and then Friday morning, when the conversations inevitably began. Plus The Good Place Podcast which gives a wonderful behind the scenes look at each episode. Seriously, The Good Place, y’all.

Favorite Thing I Rewatched And Fell Back In Love With: Peter Jackson’s The Lord Of The Rings extended editions

One weekend this summer, when I wasn’t feeling terribly well, I decided to watch The Lord Of The Rings, for some reason they weren’t streaming on any of my services so I was going to have to purchase them off Amazon. It was only a few extra dollars each to get the extended editions, and I think I’ve now watched them like five or six times. They’re nice to have on in the background, I usually watch them in chunks of an hour or two, making it more like binging a series than watching three epicily long movies and that’s a really fun way to revisit this series.

Favorite Broadway Show: Springsteen On Broadway

I saw a lot of theater this year, and I’m very grateful for that, but as I hinted  at earlier this week, nothing quite moved me the way that Springsteen On Broadway did. It’s something so special that discussing it feels moot. It’s just so good, I haven’t rewatched it on Netflix yet, although I’m sure that I will eventually, because revisiting this joyful piece of art will lift me up. A  love letter to his fans and to America, the carefully crafted one man show is The Boss at his broodiest and also possibly his best.

Unfinished Bussiness Being Pushed to 2019

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Nerd Homework: Watch More Anime

Finish Reading Dune series 

Catch Up On The Flash

The Glory Of The Unfulfilled Promise: Deadwood and YOU WERE ALL RIGHT

Merry Christmas, Cocksuckers!

As I finished up TV: The Book, last week, I realized that I’ve not watched many of the “great shows” that premiered when I was a bit too young to watch them. (I watched plenty of things that I was actually too young to watch then, but they were mostly on Network.) and begrudgingly decided that I’d give one of the big early HBO greats it’s shot. My mom has been working her way through The Sopranos, and so while that seemed the logical choice, it’s also so big, and part of me is still really stubborn and doesn’t want to give the men in my family the satisfaction of finally watching it.

So I chose Deadwood instead, kind of at random. Later, as I read articles and analysis I saw people saying, “if you don’t know by the end of the pilot that you love it, it’s not for you.” I could not believe how wrong headed that was. The pilot features a rote round of frontier justice (Bullock preventing a lynching by hanging the prisoner himself), Al beating the shit out of Trixie after a john has already beaten her, Alma prostrate in her room and dosing herself with opium,and so many other things that didn’t feel special or interesting at all if you’re me.

But the language. Oh, the language hooked me. Lilting sentences and long speeches drenched in creative profanity and frank imagery and Ian McShane delivering one of the coolest, cruelest villain performances I’d ever seen, and Timothy Olyphant as a the sexy stoic hero I didn’t need but kind of wanted in my current landscape. So I kept on, and all of a sudden it was several hours later and I’d finished season one and I was madly wildly in love with this show.

I was in love with it’s use of solioquy, with it’s incredible ensemble, and with it’s women. With Alma, and Trixie, and Joanie and Calamity Jane. All nuanced, difficult and fully formed. I was on board with Sherrif Seth Bullock and Pimp with a heart of gold Al Swearengen, and the evil, weasel Cy Tolliver.

I knew where this was all ending though, it was ending in a build up to a climax that would never come, and I was ready for it. But as those final few moments geared up, as the folk of Deadwood prepared themselves to make their stand against George Hearst’s goons, I swallowed, realizing the mix of beauty and frustration in that expectation. No we’d never see that fight.

There’s something magical in that. In the spell cast by this show, which adheres to Aristotelian Dramtatics far more than it does to it’s Western genre and modern television genres. Unity of time, place and action are observed, only a handful of settings are used, each episode covers a day, and one revelation or action (usually from the episode preceding) drives the plot.

But there’s also Shakespeare here. Al rants to a box containing the skull of a murdered Indian chief. Trixie and Sol continually push one another to the brink with sharp tongues, Seth and Alma sigh longingly over the love that can never be.

To quote another TV giant I took in this year, “All this happened before, and it will all happen again.” And my lit geek brain, happily rekindled in this year of pushing myself to read harder than I have since graduation was thrilled by the stimulation.

Anyway, there’s a movie coming in the spring, so yay!

Also, all you Cocksuckers were right, and I’m sorry and I’ll probably watch The Wire now, OK?

 

45 Books In 2018 #45: TV: The Book By Alan Seppinwall and Matt Zoller Seitz

Guys! I did it! (And that’s not include shit I reread, so really, I did it a while ago.) And there’s still two weeks left, one of which has a long weekend, which means, I’ll probably clock at least three more books.

But it seemed somehow fitting to top off this year with TV: The Book, since my deep love of television is what kept me from reading seriously for a while. But I’ve long believed that TV has been the media some of the best literature this century (and indeed the one that preceded it.) so I was psyched to read some intense critical discussion of the medium. (I’ve got a few other cultural studies books lined up now too, because critical analysis is the main thing I miss about being in school.) (Also the flexible schedule)

I’d read Seppinwall and Zoller-Seitz many times before (Sepinwall’s Mad Men coverage was legendary and Zoller-Seitz was one of the cohosts of the dearly departed Vulture TV Podcast.)  The idea for the book sprang into being when both were working for The Star Ledger (which is apparently the paper that Tony Soprano reads, which kind of annoys me, since The Ledger is more of a Shore paper, and The Sopranos are from where I grew up, Bergen County. Tony should be reading The Record, but I digress…) Their attempt to create a canon of American TV shows is entertaining, thoughtful and steeped clearly in their love for television and each other.

The book reminded me why I loved quite a few shows with it’s observations. (30 Rock’s live action cartoon aspects only really work because Jack’s mentorship of Liz is a grounded reality. Mad Men is actually a story about a daughter realizing who her parents really are.) Made me shake my head in annoyance a few times, (Mad Men’s refusal to marginalize it’s female characters makes it a richer and less warmed over story than Breaking Bad. I know The Wire is awesome but my college roommate’s annoying boyfriend wouldn’t shut up about it, when we just wanted to watch Star Trek so I never fully engaged with it, and stop making me feel bad for not watching it damnit!)

I’ve even decided to start filling in the blanks on the all time greats I haven’t watched. That means I’ve started Deadwood (and it’s wonderful.) And I’ll get around to The Sopranos and The Wire too, I guess. I’ve already watched most of the top comedy (Save The Simpsons, which is just too big for me start on now.) due to my parents being massive comedy fans.

Anyway, I liked reading the book. I’m watching Deadwood now, and I’m sure I’ll write about it. I’m proud of myself for meeting my reading goal for the year, even if my project sort of fell by the wayside. I’m going to keep blogging about what I’m reading. My goal for 2019 is 60 books, 52 of those 60 cannot be written by straight white men. (I’m giving myself the 8 book leeway because I’m a coward…also, I want to finish Dune someday)

I think I’ll be able to pull it off. Hell, even if I just read Anne Rice, I’d be like halfway there. (I will not just be reading Anne Rice…probably…)

Sometime in the next few weeks I’m going to break down my reading list a little bit and talk about what I loved (Crazy Rich Asians, The Witching Hour, Dune) what I didn’t but am glad I read, (David Copperfield, Don Quixote) and what I hated, (Ready Player One, Lasher, Infinite Jest, which I hated so much I didn’t even finish it, something I never ever do) 

Anyway, in the immediate aftermath, I’ll be reading Red Rising by Pierce Brown, Joe and Mary are in love with this book, so I’m gonna give it a shot.