Saturday, November 7, 2015

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

(I posted this on tumblr and ended up moving it because it offended my roommate, who was my intended audience. It turns out Crustacean Station is not a place everyone likes to go.)

My roommate was very concerned that everyone in our house read Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. "It's like Harry Potter with gay people!" was her pitch.

Q: Then why not just read fanfiction?

A: Because it's actually like Harry Potter, it's not like a fanfiction (she replied).

I started reading the book with my judgmental glasses on and was trying to figure out how I would tell my roommate that it just seemed like a bunch of complaining instead of a book. In the early chapters, it mostly seemed concerned with critiquing how badly Dumbledore treats Harry in the books--making him live in an abusive household and ignoring him most of the time. By just foregrounding this in the text a little bit, by having Simon (the Harry character) point it out, and by explicitly showing the effects of his childhood a little more, Rowell made it impossible to ignore how weird this is.

At this point, I was still just thinking that the book seemed like a parody as Simon lackadaisically complained about how the "Humdrum" was always sending magical creatures to attack him, yet never seemed to actually kill him. But somewhere between the second and fifth description of how much Simon loves the food at his magical school and how he eats as much as possible at every opportunity, I crossed over from "Yeah! Harry would have a lot of issues," to, "Oh no, Simon has a lot of issues!" The feels were stacking, and the book had leveled up from being a response to Harry Potter to being an interesting book on its own merits.

Obviously, it begs comparison with the Magicians series by Lev Grossman, which very self-consciously references Harry Potter and Narnia (to the point of Grossman being the cover quote for Carry On). The Magicians is one of my favorite books, but it's definitely a book that makes a point about fantasy and fandom--it stands in relation to other things, not on its own. Carry On isn't like The Magicians. It's both meta, and a thing in itself.

The best section of the book is the middle, when Simon starts feeling real and his nemesis Baz comes back to school. Simon spends about 100 pages obsessing over Baz in a hilariously un-self-aware way--he follows Baz everywhere and wants to know what he's doing at all times, but claims this is because Baz is always trying to kill him (he's not). It's funny on multiple levels--because Simon's obliviousness is funny, because of its resemblance to Harry/Draco fanon, and because of the heterosexism in most fiction and life. In most books of this type, Simon could act like this without the author, or many readers, thinking there was anything gay about it.

All the buildup goes on a little too long but it sure is satisfying when Baz finally arrives, and he doesn't disappoint. When he becomes a main character and the book focuses on him, Simon, and Simon's friend Penelope, the story really takes off--both with their adventures together, and with Simon and Baz's slow burn "truce"/friendship/GAYNESS.

And my roommate was right that it doesn't feel like fanfiction even though it is gay. When it comes to most Harry Potter slash the focus is going to be heavily on romance, without the plot and worldbuilding that are a big part of the appeal of the books. There are some issues with how the plot is developed, I think, but it's a really clever one, and the worldbuilding was great. I especially love how the spells are song lyrics and idioms that become powerful because people say them a lot. It's cute and actually makes more sense, intuitively, than random Latin words having power.

Anyway, a really good book! But I have a lot of fine-toothed complaints, because that's how I roll.

A stylistic complaint: she switches haphazardly between all the characters' POVs--this seems lazy and fanfiction-esque in a bad way. I can't really explain why I have an official opinion on this, but I think that if you have multiple POVs, you should follow some rules and not just switch back and forth between random people whenever you want to give the reader a piece of information, i.e.:

Aw, man!  I dropped my Cheeto! Where did it go?

I am a random observer in the back of the room and I noticed that the Cheeto rolled behind the trash can.

Did you know that ever since the dawn of time, the space behind me has been cursed, so that anything that rolls behind me turns into an evil demon?

I'm going to kill everyone! Cheeto Smash!

I guess I'm not just suffering from a crabby conviction that writing should be STRESSFUL and CHALLENGING--I also feel that this really flattens things for the reader. Multiple POVs don't need to be like this. They can be quite engaging, like in A Song of Ice and Fire where you are biting your nails trying to figure out when Character A will find out what Character B has already realized, or if Characters C and D will meet each other.

But that's the difference between a consistent, organized use of multiple POVs, and just dipping into everyone's head for ease of writing. I think the book would have lost nothing and been much more solid if it was narrated by a limited number of characters--say, Simon, Lucy, Penelope, and Baz. Think about it!!

My MAIN complaint though is that the concept is too good to be treated as skeletally as it is--simultaneously rushed and over-signposted. No spoilers, but let me tell you, it's really smart. I was so excited when the penny dropped, but this was with more than 100 pages to go, and then more and more POVs began overexplaining the revelations at a glacial pace. Meanwhile, several really interesting ideas and characters weren't given any development--even though this is one thing the thousand and one POVs would have been good for.

The blurb basically advertises it as a romance/teen angst story with fantasy trappings, but that was so unnecessary because the fantasy trappings are so good! Just give them a little bit more attention and emotional weight!

My final complaint (is such a thing possible?) is about the WTF character Agatha, Simon's ex-girlfriend. The nicest thing that can be said about Agatha is that maybe she's supposed to be a deconstruction of flat love interests--but the other characters are good as characters, not just deconstructions. What happens is that we get a super girly, shallow, and dumb character who the author seems to be low-key making fun of in all her POV sections.

The weird implications of this are summed up when Agatha is making gingerbread women and puts pink icing on them. Unbelievably, two other female characters call her out for doing this, and Agatha responds, "I like pink and girls should feel like they're allowed to wear pink." This seems like a pretty reasonable statement, and since the whole exchange is so awkward, I assume Rowell is trying to make some kind of point. But what??

Sometimes it seems like she's trying to show that it's okay to like the girly things Angela likes--but if that's her intent, she badly undercuts it by making Agatha be so dumb and frivolous that she puts the other characters in danger. If she's uncomplicatedly judging Agatha for caring about hair products and liking the color pink, I don't know what to do with that. It certainly wouldn't fit with the quality and thoughtfulness of other aspects of the book.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Four very popular songs I don't approve of

1. "Habits" by Tove Lo. I guess it would be more accurate to say I hate how overplayed this song is. I have some good things to say about the song and especially the video. Tove Lo is really cute!!!! and the video is kind of a close up of her face as she parties all night, hooks up with men and women, and occasionally cries. She is so cute!!! and I guess I like the fact that she isn't objectified and the video seems to be from her perspective. It's hard to explain what I mean but she just looks more normal than you would expect given what's going on. Kind of the same thing for the song I guess--she just describes doing drugs, drinking, and having sex in a very straight up and detached way. There's something a little different about the lyrics.

But I can't help it, it sounds like oatmeal. It's not THAT bad, but the fact that it's constructed fine just makes it even blander. I hear it constantly despite the fact that I can't imagine anyone shrieking, "Oh my gosh I love 'Habits!'" Why is it popular? I live on a highway and usually enjoy hearing little bits of whatever everyone is listening to while they're driving by my house. Mostly it's Lorde and "All About That Bass" and "Habits" right now. And I'm just like, those first two ones are songs I can imagine people loving, and people do love them, but who loves "Habits?"

2. "If I Die Young" by the Band Perry. I have been hating on this song for three years now but never sat down to write about it. On the one hand, I find it to be a very good song aurally. I would happily listen to it if it was about something else. On the other hand, it's a woman in her twenties fantasizing about how cool it would be to die at a young age and make everyone sad. You know, she's kind of putting on this brave, self-sacrificing face about how she doesn't want her mom to cry about her and she doesn't mind that she never got to have sex. But it's not brave or self-sacrificing because she isn't actually dying, she's just fantasizing about how she can be buried in satin, roses, and a river and how PEOPLE WILL FINALLY NOTICE HER! This is like a sheltered 12-year-old's view of death and as such is just dickish ("I've had just enough time"--pretty big talk for someone who isn't actually in this situation). What's mind-boggling is that ADULTS wrote this song and no one ever went, "What the fuck is this song about? This is fucking ridiculous."

3. "The Kill" by 30 Seconds to Mars. I can top #2, I've hated this song for more than seven years even as my high school self wanted to look just like Jared Leto does in the video. This song has no hook. It has no hook. It has no hook. It has no hook. I just don't understand. It's just a guy singing. Where is the hook? Do you know what I mean? It's just Jared Leto singing these kind of flat lines and the lyrics are just filler lyrics like, "Come break me down, bury me bury me." Those are the lyrics from the ostensible chorus, which tries to sound like a chorus by having the words be really spread out and sung dramatically. I'm not a music theorist okay, but I know what a song sounds like, and this doesn't.

4. "Roar" by Katy Perry. This is possibly the song I despise most in the world and not because I think it's more popular than it deserves or something but because all the lyrics are quotes from fucking other songs and bumper stickers. I wouldn't say it's a very original song musically either, but it's the lyrics that really get to me. It's like if you were writing a song and you decided to finish the lyrics later but you never finished them.

It goes without saying that all the lyrics are cliches with nothing said in an original way ("I used to bite my tongue and hold my breath/scared to rock the boat and make a mess.../I let you push me past the breaking point," etc.) but when you get to the point of saying "I stood for nothing so I fell for everything" THAT'S LITERALLY A BUMPER STICKER.

Then in a chorus with 4 lines she paraphrases three other songs--"Eye of the Tiger," "We Are the Champions," and "I Am Woman Hear Me Roar." I'd also like to point out that "I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter, dancing through the fire" does not even make sense as a line and is just a bunch of phrases that rhyme strung together. THE MOST LAZY SONG IN THE UNIVERSE!! Then in the second verse she says "I went from zero to my own hero" WHICH IS FROM HERCULES. Now that I'm writing this, I'm like, is "Hear Me Roar" actually full of cliches and quoting other songs on purpose? It's SO over the top about it. But I never hear other people mention this! I just don't fucking get it. This song was written by FIVE PEOPLE and they couldn't come up with one original thought in the whole song.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Short form TV diary.

I realized I haven't written in this blog for a whole year. A lot has happened. Well, not really. But I watched a lot of TV.

Lost Girl--a new season started. I was loving it so much I rewatched it from the beginning and luxuriated in what a great show it is and I was so happy. Towards the end of the season, they killed off a character in such a stupid way that it ruined the whole show for me, but I'll probably get over it.

I also found this amazing website, mehlsbells, that writes about the show. Melanie is a filmmaker so she doesn't just review the episodes and do meta, she also talks about the editing and camera angles and things like that, and she points out things the show does to save money. I'm making it sound boring but it is really interesting to learn about and see the show from that perspective.

Speaking of, and this is all out of order, but this summer I watched Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe. I love it so much that I already watched all the episodes two or three times. It is about 7 years old and British, and it always starts with the tagline, "I'm Charlie Brooker and you're watching Screenwipe, a program all about television."

Image description: a man fucking a TV. Image description: the way I feel 100% of the time.

I guess the show is known for Charlie's angry reviews and criticisms of famous people, but the best parts are the educational parts, like when he explains how much a TV show costs, who works on it, and why people who are making TV shows have to make a lot of compromises. It all has kind of a whiny tone, because that's the tone of the show, but it's not at all just a show about reviews or complaining. Also, there are a lot of guests on the show who talk about pretty much every subject, like why "science" on TV is not scientific, the best credit sequences of all time, kids' shows they ironically watch, and how TV reporters have changed.

Charlie's actual reviews are nothing to sneeze at, of course; they're some of the funniest reviews I've ever seen. He comes at the most inconsequentially bad shows with an attitude of frothing, inarticulate rage which is especially funny because it isn't very convincing. He usually starts smiling a little bit, and basically comes off as very nice when he isn't yelling.

I tried to watch some of his more recent shows, like Newswipe, and that particular brand of comedy just stopped. It was watchable, but I was really disappointed because I enjoyed the persona so much. I guess a lot of angry nerds are mad at him for not being angry anymore, but honestly he never seemed genuinely angry to me, just very committed and over the top in his humor? So I don't think it can really have to do with him mellowing out or becoming a less angry person. I don't know what happened, but at least I'll always have Screenwipe.

Anyway, back to the spring.

Dracula. I watched a tiny bit of this show. It was terrible, terrible, terrible. I also tried to watch Penny Dreadful, also at Clayton's suggestion. I liked when Frankenstein and the monster seemed like they were going to make out but I just couldn't stick around very long. I feel like Clayton has almost never recommended a good TV show to me. I think he's the person who originally got me to watch Grimm! And Clayton, if you are reading this, we were supposed to talk on the phone ONE WEEK AGO!

Dead Like Me. I marathoned this show while playing 2048. It's very good. I love all the characters, the style, acting, writing, blah blah. It's weird because it is older than Wonderfalls, I think, and you remember my complaints about Wonderfalls. Actually, I think Bryan Fuller had to leave this show in a really awful way only a few episodes in, so I should be mad and think that the rest of the show sucks and doesn't live up to the first few episodes, but I am just a philistine and I really like it. The movie is fucking horrible though. Don't do that to yourself, ever.

Sometimes I pretend that Mason and Daisy are Josh and me even though we aren't funny or attractive. ACCEPTABLE!

American Horror Story. I regret watching season three.

Adventure Time. I got really into this show! I love the art style, the music, the characters, and the humor. I love when the episodes end on a really strange beat--that might be my favorite thing about the show. I also got really sick and spent several days in a haze of Bubbline fanfiction on tumblr. I wrote meta, recorded a cover of "Oh Bubblegum" trying to sound like Olivia Olson, and then returned to my day to day life.

Aside from the Bubbline-related episodes, my favorite is "Dream of Love," where an elderly, tiny elephant and a pig fall in love with each other and everyone yells at them for holding hands and kissing in public--not because they are different species, but just because people think public displays of affection are gross. The couple start making out in different places like sandwiches, a baby carriage, and a projector. At the climax of the episode they are separated and start bellowing out a song that has lyrics like, "In my dreams, your love is just a dream to me, but in my heart it lives and breathes and grows!" while the pig is drinking at a bar and the elephant is baking a pie. Okay that summary pretty much contains why I love the show, although you might need to see the art and hear the performances to understand what's so awesome about it.

Sleepy Hollow. This show is wonderful. It sucks when I review something I watched such a long time ago, because it's not really fresh in my mind, and I wish I was able to write a lot about this show. It's about a cop named Abbie who lives in Sleepy Hollow and then Ichabod Crane comes to the present day and acts really angry about the fact that he has to pay $1.99 for donuts. He and Abbie are a delight. So is ORLANDO JONES, whose character name I forget, but he loves being on Sleepy Hollow so much that the background of his tumblr is a picture of him, Abbie, and Ichabod in front of an American flag.

The show is genuinely really scary sometimes and also funny, and has wonderful characters. When I complain about Nick being bland on Grimm and how he's not a real character...well, I am just thinking of characters like the ones in Sleepy Hollow. Abbie has been in way fewer episodes of TV than Nick Burkhardt, but I am so much more excited about her and could tell you so much more about her than I could about Nick. Same goes for every main character, except stupid Katrina--well, that's not true, she is dumb compared to the other characters, but she is still more interesting than Nick Burkhardt.

Also, Sleepy Hollow has a lot more female characters, and black and Asian characters, than most TV shows. That's another thing that makes it more interesting to watch and it is starting up again in ONLY TWO DAYS!!!

Teen Wolf. Never admirable, always watchable. Plus Shelley Hennig, who I used to have a crush on in The Secret Circle--the show I could never remember anything about except that it had hot girls in it?--has ambled over to here and is making out with Stiles and acting in a way that I can claim is crypto-disabled, which is good, because if she was canonically disabled, she'd be a villain.

Community. The REAL season four was great! Shame on you, other season four! (Just kidding, I barely even watched it, except like 3 episodes where the plot of EVERY episode was "Abed compares something to a TV show or movie! Look! This is exactly like Community actually is, except for being well written and doing a good job with the characters!")

Now, this is probably just about half the shows I watched, so I got to dig around in my brain a little.

Drunk History was as good as last year--maybe even more consistently good. It's a really fun show.

I watched Catherine, which isn't actually a real TV show--it's on YouTube--but I like it. Yet I am too lazy to even look up the link for you. You'll just have to do your own Googling. I am a monster.

Broad City. This is a comedy show with maybe 10 episodes about two friends, Abby and Ilana, who live in New York. Again, this is something I remember really liking but it's been such a long time that I don't remember that much about it. Fuck my life! Hannibal Buress is also in it, playing a dentist who is in love with Ilana. By the way, Ilana is one of the most attractive women I've ever seen. I think I might not have found it that funny in the first few episodes but it really picked up. Only quote I remember:

Hannibal Buress: I'm at the dog shelter.
Ilana: When are you going to get your own dog?
Hannibal Buress: I could never subject a dog to the crazy life of a dentist.

Now I am remembering a lot more great dentistry moments in the show. Cool! Maybe I should rewatch it.

Hannibal. I can't believe I was talking about Hannibal Buress but I forgot this show! Okay, I'm going to say the first season was AMAZING but then, like, something happened? Okay warning you should stop reading if you don't want me to post an awesome gory screencap from Hannibal.

First of all, what's kind of exciting about this show is that we have a mentally ill, crazy, crypto-Autistic main character who everyone sort of suspects is a serial killer, but he's not, he's actually super ethical--but all the doubts that other people have about him and all the doubts he has about himself contribute to him being the perfect patsy for an actual serial killer. I know I know, I'm about to say a Bryan Fuller show is realistic, but just shut up okay, I feel like it is a realistic portrayal of mental disability and violence, i.e. that mentally disabled people are seen as violent because of stereotypes, but meanwhile, we actually are disproportionately victims because we're more vulnerable and we're also taught to be more compliant and doubt ourselves and stuff. Good job Bryan Fuller!

I also like that he changed some of the male characters from the books to be female in the show so there would be more female characters.

And most of all (well, maybe not most of all) I love the gore and what Fuller calls "purpleness." We're supposed to believe that there are about one billion really artistic serial killers who do things like killing people and then taking their lungs out and putting their lungs on their back to look like wings:

Or killing people and then turning their bodies into a giant totem pole thing. Or taking diabetic people, putting them into comas, and planting them in a garden and growing plants in them. It is awesome. There was only one scene in the show that actually grossed me out, otherwise all the murders were so dreamlike and just super Bryan Fuller that they were nothing but cool.

The second season wasn't bad or anything but it just didn't appeal to me the same way. First of all, they had understandably moved on from the plot of the first season which, like I said, was very meaningful and exciting to me. So it got more boring. Also Caroline Dhavernas, who I've mentioned I love, was acting really DUMB in season two. No Caroline Dhavernas! Don't do it! Here's a screencap I took of her looking really wonderful though:

And she was walking some dogs too.

I liked it, but I DIDN'T like her being so stupid and also the show just got a lot less case of the week which made me sad because I really liked all the gory art murders so much! Oh well. It's not that I won't watch the show anymore or something but it was just crazy how fast it went from being something I absolutely ADORED and was obsessed with, to something that was just like "well it looks good, good actors, Bryan Fuller, okay."

Orange is the New Black. I'm not sure I reviewed this last year. I love it. It's a great show. I wish I had a husband so I could break up with him for Samira Wiley. But I'm getting tired of writing this post and how short form is it anyway?

Image description: the scrollbar. This post is really fucking long is what I'm trying to say.

Orphan Black. Holy shit am I forgetting a lot of shows! It just means I'm really lucky to have watched so many amazing things this year. Okay at this point I'm going to have to come back to some of these because I'm BURNED OUT.

The Michael J. Fox Show. YES did you know someone could have a disability and be on a TV show and make jokes about it?? YES!!!! But why didn't they do anything else in the show? Like there was literally an episode about how the mom and dad don't want their, like, 17-year-old daughter to take an art class where she draws pictures of nude men. Or maybe she was taking photos, I don't remember, but it just made it seem like the show was taking place in the 1920s and basically everything seems very unoriginal except for the concept. Even though I did really appreciate the concept.

Those are all the shows I can remember right now that I watched this year. I only watched like 18 of them, so I really need to step up my game. Gross.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Unthinkable Faces: Grimm as usual

I hate Grimm. The worst show in the world, yet I watch and watch it. It's certainly not addictive or "so bad it's good" or anything. It's just that hating Grimm has become such a consistent part of my identity. I found an old half-finished post about how terrible it is, and it is just as true in September as it was in April.

It's my fault for tagging my hate but oh my gosh, I just had another interaction on tumblr with someone who likes Grimm. I posted complaining about all the retcons, and they replied that these were not retcons but an example of how good the show is at character development.

I mean, okay, you can argue that some things are character development (even though I'd say they're probably not because they're so badly telegraphed, and it just comes off like the writers forgot what a character was supposed to be like).  But you sure can't construe it that way when two characters who were never dating talk about "getting back together."

And aside from character inconsistency, there is just so much sheer laziness and refusal to do worldbuilding of any kind.  Like, let's talk about the voge.  If you don't watch Grimm, why are you reading this post, but also, the voge is when Wesen (monster people) show their monster face, enabling Nick to realize what they are.

At first, the whole point of Nick's powers is that he can see the monster faces when Wesen are feeling emotional. Other Wesen can see it too.  That's the voge, and humans can't see it. Then it got inconvenient that humans can't see it, so they said there's a different kind of voge where the Wesen can intentionally show their faces to humans, but they're not supposed to because it will make people go insane. This gradually bled into Wesen voging for humans all the time and absolutely no humans ever going insane.

Now that I describe this, it sounds a little silly because if it happened on a good show, I wouldn't care.  Even if they completely retconned characters on a good show, I'd probably be the one on tumblr trying to explain why this was just really subtle and complex character development.  What's the difference?  Grimm not only is lazily written, everything about it is lazy to the point that I can't understand why anyone would like anything about it.


1. The nonexistent concept.  Grimm tried to start out with the idea that fairy tale monsters are based on real creatures, which is acceptable enough, but they immediately dropped the fairy tale angle and ended up with a confusing and boring as hell concept: some people aren't human, which in most cases literally just means that their face turns into a CGI wolf, witch, sheep, dragon, tapeworm, etc.  A few of them have superpowers, like the dragon people can breathe fire.  They're also supposed to have personality traits associated with the kind of monster they are, but a lot of them don't.  Also, there are "the Royals" who are a bunch of humans in France who are important for some reason, and there are also "the Resistance" who fight against the Royals.

There is nothing appealing about any of this.  The Wesen usually don't have interesting powers, and their monster faces look horrible; at times they're hilarious, at other times just sort of ugly and awkward looking.  One of the times I laughed the hardest was when Monroe and Rosalee (the only two semi-likable characters in the show) solemnly put on their wolf and fox faces at a Wesen funeral.  Now, Monroe sure doesn't look like a wolf, but that's not as funny as the fact that Rosalee looks like a stuffed animal, AND that this is supposed to be a serious and touching moment.

I read the AV Club recaps for Grimm and the commentariat always seem pretty clear on the fact that this show isn't great.  Where I differ from them is that they think it can be fixed.  They're always saying things like, "The concept is good, if they would just execute it better or do more worldbuilding or..." no.  Just no.  It's a show about people's faces turning into ugly CGI monsters.

While we're on the subject, I would like to compare Grimm to Lost Girl, which everyone who's anyone knows is one of my favorite shows.  Lost Girl is cheesy and like Grimm it has a lot of retcons, involving both characters and worldbuilding.  Both are supernatural detective shows that include basically any mythological creature they want to, and also make them up.  Somehow, this is a good quality on Lost Girl and a minus when it comes to Grimm.  Everything in Lost Girl is just so...lush, I guess is the word?  They have no money but every time the characters go into a new environment or a new kind of magical creature is introduced, it's colorful and surreal, sometimes haunting or funny or both.  In Grimm, every new character is just some dick whose face turns into an eagle.

It's hard to imagine what Grimm would be like if everything but the concept was good. I can't help but feel that no amount of consistency or creativity with the genre elements could ever do anything and Grimm's only hope of salvation is to focus on having good characters.  Which brings me to...

2. Nonexistent characters.  Let me tell you what I know about Nick Burkhardt, the main character on Grimm.  He is a police detective.  He is a Grimm.  He grew up thinking he was an orphan and being raised by his aunt.  He lives with his girlfriend Juliette, in a big house that somehow only has one bedroom.

Since Nick doesn't seem to have any strong interests or issues or personality traits, I guess I can characterize him as calm, well-adjusted, and dull, but I don't think the show was necessarily going for that, they just never gave him any personality traits.

Juliette and Hank have the dubious honor of being less boring than Nick, but still boring compared to any reasonable standard of what characters should be like.

Monroe is the breakout character because he's almost the only defined character on the show--he's a wolfman who used to eat animals (and maybe people, but that was retconned) but now devotes himself to fixing clocks and making elaborate Halloween decorations.  The implication is that Monroe's bloodthirsty urges get channeled into these geeky pursuits, which he throws himself into with a creepy, but cute, intensity.  It's all clever and original, and Silas Weir Mitchell is perfect as Monroe.  The fox apothecary Rosalee is better than Juliette, Hank, and Nick, but not as good as Monroe, although she has the potential to be if the show spent more time on her.  It feels like Monroe and Rosalee are from a different show, one where characters are actually developed and not just woodenly moving through one stupid plot after another.

The result of all this is that I only care what happens to Monroe and Rosalee; Nick, Hank, and Juliette could all get blown up by a bomb and my only reaction would be happiness that Monroe and Rosalee had become the main characters in the show.

3.  If blandness was an extreme sport...well, blandness is an extreme sport, because this show exists.  If there's even a brief possibility of a character or situation not being bland, they jump in there and beat it to death.

I remember a while ago there was a scene where Monroe is trying to ask Rosalee to move in with him, but instead of asking he just keeps awkwardly talking about how small her apartment is and how his house is much bigger and has a lot more room for her stuff.  Rosalee is pretending to have no idea what he's talking about--"So, you want me to keep my clothes at your house?" while Monroe gets more and more nervous.

Watching this scene, I was feeling as usual like Monroe and Rosalee come from another show.  It was like they even had different writers writing their dialogue instead of the boring, obvious dialogue that usually comes out of Grimm characters' mouths.  As if someone had heard my thoughts, the following exchange then happened:



(A random man approaches them in the restaurant.)

Man: Hey Monroe! You are just so amazing and wonderful.  Excuse me, Rosalee, I just want you to know how WONDERFUL Monroe is.  He fixed my antique watch!  Bye, Monroe. You're so great!

(The random man leaves to become the victim of the week.)

It was like the spirit of the show came down all, "What?  This scene doesn't suck enough!  Everything that didn't suck up until now has to be averted in the last minute of the scene."

In no particular order I will list some of the bland events that have happened in this fucking show:

I. The endless parade of male-on-female violence.  I'm not saying it shouldn't be portrayed but it's done in such a stock way, as if "a man beats his wife" is the only development the characters need.  On top of that, they will have the man be a wolf or lion while the woman is a mouse, sheep, rabbit, etc.

The problem is, Wesen aren't very open to interspecies relationships, and prey tend to avoid predators.  So the existence of so many lion/mouse, wolf/sheep couples doesn't really fit with the way they portray Wesen, because those relationships would be discouraged.

Now, I think you could create a story of an abusive Wesen who intentionally chooses a partner of a different species, in the hopes of isolating her from her family and community. Or a mouse who marries a lion over her family's objections, and then he becomes abusive and it's really hard because she has no social support. But I don't think Grimm is going for this--they genuinely don't think any farther than, "A man is abusing a woman.  He's a scary dragon and she's a pigeon.  Great work you guys we can all go home."

II. When Nick and Juliette can't sleep in the same bed because she has amnesia, he sleeps on the couch.  Even though they own an entire house together, apparently there is only one bedroom, and also they don't even have any sheets or blankets that they can put on the couch.  This may seem like a nitpicky thing to complain about, but to my mind it shows just how lazy the writers are. They had to make Nick sleep on the couch because that is the most clichéd possible way to show that a couple are having problems.

III. Juliette wearing so much makeup in bed.

IV. Juliette getting so dressed up for work when she is a veterinarian.

V. There was this episode where a bunch of Wesen beat someone up outside a diner and the only person who witnesses it is a black teenage boy. He tells his white girlfriend that he wants to go to the police, and she replies, "No, the police won't be on your side...not in this neighborhood." Is it me or does this seem like the show is trying to avoid being "political" by implying that police don't discriminate against black people, but only against "people who live in bad neighborhoods?" That white people and black people who "live in bad neighborhoods" are equally affected, as shown by the white girl actually being less trusting of the police than the black guy, and having to tell him to be cautious of the police?

Of course, she was wrong since this is a fantasy show and the police are perfectly nice, but then why even bring up the subject in the first place? I guess this is the standard in mainstream TV where you have to avoid 90% of real life issues even though it makes everything confusing and boring--but like, why did they even start to mention it but then cloak it in such a weird way? Bland Attack.

VI. Blah blah I'm bored of writing about this.

I will just discuss Monroe's profession, although I may have posted about it before. Monroe is introduced as a wolfman who--surprise!--fixes clocks for a living and is an adorable nerd. It's so complicated and cute how he has to manage his desire to be a good, adorably, nerdy person with the evil wolfpeople he comes from, whose lifestyle he has abandoned.

But then we find out Monroe's dad also fixes clocks and I think he's from a long line of wolfmen who did the same job.

Um, okay?

But also Monroe's parents are supposed to be old school because they freaked out about him dating a fox person.

WHO CARES. Anyway, Grimm is just terrible and it makes me so disappointed to think of all the great shows that are being canceled when this PAP is on television every week, just making a mockery of everything.

Anita Blake Vampire Hunter: The Harlequin by Laurell K. Hamilton

I've never read any books in this series (I found this one by the side of the road) and I was expecting it to be a trashy fantasy/horror book or a trashy romance book or both.  What I wasn't expecting was that it would be the weirdest book I've ever read.

I have to say that I'm not including unpublished books written by teenagers.  If another kid handed me their book on the bus on a field trip in 9th grade, this would be EXACTLY what I was expecting.  It just makes no fucking sense as an actual published book written by an adult, and that has nothing to do with being cheesy or trashy--it's like when you're doing NaNoWriMo and you just write as much as possible about any random subject you can think of, just to take up space.

Most egregiously, The Harlequin is supposed to be about the Harlequin, which are some super scary secret vampires who have decided they want to hurt Anita Blake and all of her boyfriends, but for the first half of the book, LKH can barely bring herself to write a few sentences about the Harlequin even though Anita and her boyfriends are supposedly in great danger.

Anita Blake is this Mary Sue lady who is a human but not, also sort of a werewolf/werehyena/werelion/wereleopard but she never actually transforms because her body hasn't decided what kind of animal it's going to turn into.  She has a psychic link with a lot of her boyfriends, including Jean-Claude the vampire, Richard the werewolf, and Micah the wereleopard.  She also needs to have sex with several people a day or she will die and so will 2 of her boyfriends (Nathaniel the wereleopard and Damian the vampire).  There's also a part about how she has to eat food or she'll die but someone will have to inform Laurell K. Hamilton that this isn't a power.

Oops, I just found this half-finished review six months later, so I will have to try to remember what the book was about. I think Anita might have a house and a job, but in this book she was staying at Jean-Claude's giant mansion, which I think might be under his nightclub, but I can't remember. The plot of the first half of the book is something like this:

1)Anita finds out that the Harlequin are after her?? Whatever.

2)Anita goes to the movies with Nathaniel. They run into some people who saw them performing at a sex club. Anita has a really long conversation with Nathaniel about the fake name he gave those people. Then, Anita finds a mask in the bathroom which is a message from the Harlequin that they are spying on her, but that they won't use any magic on her.

3)Then, for about a billion chapters, Nathaniel, who is a masochist, wants Anita to top him and she doesn't want to. Nathaniel acts like he is going to break up with her if she doesn't do what he wants. He seems like a real asshole but the book doesn't even acknowledge what an asshole he is and just says he is an adorable woobie. Also, practically everyone keeps asking them about it so Nathaniel and Anita have to describe in painstaking detail about how Anita isn't being GGG.

4)Then for a long time the book is about Richard, the werewolf. He hates being a werewolf and he hates that Anita has other boyfriends! What in the world? How could you date someone who has 5+ boyfriends and do nothing but complain about how you want her to have only one boyfriend? Especially if she needs to have sex multiple times a day or she'll die. At this point if you care about being monogamous you need to date someone else.

5)Occasionally, the characters get unusually emotional. Like, Anita gets really attracted to her own boyfriend. Or Richard gets really mad. Then everyone is like, "IT'S THE HARLEQUIN! They said they wouldn't do anything to us but they are controlling our emotions!" But you guys, you are acting normal. Richard is always mad and Anita is always attracted to her boyfriends because there needs to be a lot of sex in the book because of the type of book it is.

6)Jean-Claude has a million bodyguards at his house and one of them was saying Anita was hot and she was mad about it--this whole thing took a fair amount of time--and then maybe he turned evil. Anita mentioned how this girl had kind of a grumpy expression, and later that girl randomly turned evil. I don't remember. Apparently this book is infamous because Anita has a guy killed for refusing to have sex with her, and I do remember that part, but like, it honestly wasn't that notable compared to the rest of the book.

7)When Anita was complaining about the bodyguard, she really wanted us to know that he was Asian. She said something like, "His mom was Chinese and his dad was Japanese. I wondered how they felt about his rude behavior."

8)There was a sex scene with the following line: "He smelled smoky, not like cigarettes, but wood smoke, and salt, like some food that had been smoked and salted, until the meat was flavored and tender and so ready to eat." Yes, he was sexy because he smelled like cooked meat. That is my jam as well.

9)Eventually they had a showdown with the Harlequin but who cares. The book was 30% Nathaniel wanted Anita to top him, 30% Richard was jealous, 30% a lot of dramatic stuff happened at a hospital and everyone almost died, and in the final 10% of the book the Harlequin stuff happened.

10)Also, there is this sexy werelion who Anita is drawn to even though he's evil. He is really into Cookie Monster so he dyes his hair the same color as Cookie Monster and he has a tattoo of him. I know this sounds like a manic pixie dream lion but I promise, it was supposed to be edgy and evil that this all powerful beast is sitting around watching Sesame Street.

And that's what you missed in The Harlequin.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I don’t know why every review I do starts with me bragging about how cheap something was but I got the first two discs of this show for less than two dollars!  I wanted to watch it because I vaguely remembered it was associated with Pushing Daisies.  It turns out that both shows were created by Bryan Fuller (Wonderfalls aired in 2004, Pushing Daisies from 2007 to 2009).  I was also excited to find out that Lee Pace, the star of Pushing Daisies, is a supporting actor in Wonderfalls.

If you’re not familiar with Pushing Daisies, it’s only one of my favorite shows ever.  Ned can bring dead people back to life, so he gets roped into solving murder mysteries.  Ned can only bring people back to life for a minute so he and his friends never get enough information from the murder victim and have to travel through various hyper-quirky settings and meet people with stylized names.  Meanwhile, Ned is very messed up emotionally because of his powers and frustrates everyone who tries to get close to him.

Unlike Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls takes place in a more or less realistic world.  The main character, Jaye, lives in a trailer park and works in a Niagara Falls gift shop even though she is college educated and comes from a wealthy family.  Jaye doesn’t really want to put effort into anything, but toys at the gift shop start talking to her and forcing her to obey their orders, and when she obeys them, her actions help people.  The toys that talk to Jaye give her very vague, confusing instructions so she doesn’t understand what she is supposed to do until the end of the episode.  It feels like a mystery show even though it isn’t one, and the case of the week format ends up resembling that of Pushing Daisies.

I was disappointed by Wonderfalls.  The first episode made me so happy and the next few episodes were about what I was expecting, but there were some pretty dumb ones and it almost never got as good as the first episode.  I think what I liked so much at the beginning of the show was that even though the concept was quirky, the main characters were cynical and negative.  There’s a similar conflict in Jaye’s appearance and mannerisms; she’s played by Caroline Dhavernas, who slightly resembles Zooey Deschanel and plays Jaye very energetically and with lots of crazy facial expressions.  I guess the term Manic Pixie Dream Girl wasn’t around in 2004 but you know what I’m getting at; you would usually expect this character to be happy, impulsive, and full of wonder.  Jaye adamantly isn’t.  A grouchy/slacker female character is already unusual, but making that character so girlish and energetic even while she’s acting negative was just really cool.  When writers and casting directors stick to tropes you don’t get characters that are as interesting as real people are.

Caroline Dhavernas is wonderful, by the way, and the show was worth watching just for her.  All the other actors were almost as good.

Anyway, on to what I didn’t like.  I think the show just didn’t live up to the promise of being quirky but not in a clichéd way; it ended up being clichéd more often than not.  I really got tired of it during an episode where Jaye is being forced to help endangered birds mate and the birds were being used as a metaphor for, like, six human couples in the show.  There were multiple scenes in the episode where a character was talking about the birds and suddenly came to a realization about their own relationship and then ran off to talk to their partner.  Give me a break.

I also just got annoyed in general by the obsession with romantic pairings and I think the more the show focused on romance the more boring and formulaic it got.  I’m not someone who doesn’t like romance or shipping, but the show kept making every pair of unattached characters fall in love with each other and a lot of the time the good deed Jaye accomplished was just getting a pair of random characters to start dating.  There are other good things that can happen to people besides starting a relationship, and there are other ways for supporting characters to relate to each other.

But yeah maybe the show would have gotten better with time.  They only had 13 episodes.  It’s something to watch if only to see how great Caroline Dhavernas is and to enjoy the four or five episodes that are really good.

Side review: I usually read a lot of episode reviews while watching a TV show.  Mostly it’s for emotional regulation and stuff (I read Wikipedia articles on shows I’m watching too) but it’s really nice when the episode reviews are actually good to read!  I usually just do the AV Club but they never notice when things are racist, ableist, etc. so that’s a little annoying.  A lot of the shows I watch are reviewed on a website that will remain nameless which tries to do social-justice-focused reviews of genre shows, but the writers try to be offended by everything and end up being offensive themselves.  (I have too many examples to list, but they do things like saying a show is sexist because it has female characters who are internally affected by sexism.)

Anyway, while watching Wonderfalls I came across Mark Watches.  I was so happy because when I watched a Wonderfalls episode where a fat guy is treated like a freak and a trans woman is mentioned just to be insulted, Mark and his commentariat all had a problem with that!  Towards the end of the season there was another messed up episode and Mark Watches acknowledged that too.  It was so nice to read reviews that I could relate to.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Buddha Boy--Kathe Koja

I bought this because when I was in middle school, I loved a story by Kathe Koja called "Becoming Charise."  It was in an anthology of fairy tale retellings even though it had only the most tenuous connection to a fairy tale, but I liked it because it was about a girl who was super sad and different.  Basically what happened was that the girl really liked science, was bullied, and briefly hoped that she would get to go to a school for gifted kids but, in a scene where orange juice was described as fluorescent, her aunt refused to let her go for no reason except apparently to make her more sad.

I liked the fluorescent orange juice but maybe another thing I liked was that Charise's life didn't get any better during the story.  It was clearly going to be bad for a while, and she was going to have to deal with it.  I don't know what I would think of "Becoming Charise" if I read it now, but I always remembered Kathe Koja and wanted to read her books.  Buddha Boy immediately looked unpromising, but it cost $1 and I figured I could give it to my Buddhist friend as a joke.

The reason Buddha Boy looked so unpromising is that it clearly belongs to the insipid genre "visibly different kid teaches normal/nervous kid about life."*  I say normal/nervous because the protagonist of these books doesn't actually have to be bland; they can be invisibly different but trying really hard to fit in and seem normal.  Then here comes a kid who is so different that everyone is staring at them constantly and they probably get bullied, but they're totally cool about it and always saying wise things.

(Can I just say that this bothers me as someone who was severely bullied?  I wasn't smiling and producing sound bytes during the period I was getting bullied because I was a total wreck.  I got bullied for very intrinsic things like my name and the way I move and talk, so I couldn't move, talk, or hear my name without thinking about getting bullied.  It wasn't until 7 years later that my name started feeling good to me again.  Meanwhile, there were all these books about blissed-out bullied people, with no apparent understanding that even if you start out calm and centered, if you're constantly trapped with people who treat you like garbage then you're not going to be calm and centered after a while.)

My main problem with this type of book is that the required character archetypes are nothing like real people.  Like, let me tell you about this one scene halfway through.  The main boy, Justin, is hanging out with Jinsen, the titular Buddha boy, who shaves his head and goes around begging for change in the cafeteria.

Jinsen announces at all religions are fundamentally the same, and even though this is a fairly common platitude, Justin's mind is blown.  He thinks and thinks about how could this possibly be true and how it's so SHOCKING that Jinsen thinks that--even though Justin doesn't even have any experience with religion himself.  A little bit later, Jinsen blows Justin's mind even more by telling him that "we're all gods inside," including the guy who bullies Jinsen.  (Why did she give the characters such similar names?)  This time, Justin gets angry because he's offended by the idea that bad people could be gods.  He starts yelling at Jinsen for not being angry about being bullied, while Jinsen just sits there beatifically smiling at him.  Justin runs out of Jinsen's house and runs home, slipping and falling down on the way because of how upset he is.

Now, I can think of possible reasons that a person would get angry about Jinsen's belief set.  Justin doesn't have any of those reasons.  He's just enraged by Jinsen's amazingly mind-bendingly peaceful value set because it's so different.  Justin's example of a bad person isn't even Hitler or something; it's the kid who's bullying Jinsen.  If Justin's idea of the depths of human evil is a kid throwing another kid's notebook into a puddle, then I don't buy Justin being so upset by this conversation that he yells, runs out of the house, and falls down.  (This actually isn't the only scene where Justin is overcome by emotion and runs around and falls down.  Do average kids do this?)

Even more silly than Justin's anger is Jinsen's reaction.  Can you imagine saying something that confuses and upsets your friend, and proceeding to just sit there smiling at them when they're clearly upset, and not making a move to stop them when they run out the door in distress?  Jinsen's response make him seem like an emotional abuser, not the saint we're supposed to think he is.

But this scene makes complete sense for this kind of book, because this kind of book makes no sense.  It's supposed to teach kids and make them think, but how can you get educated from a book where the characters don't act like people?

*(PS: I would like to mention a book that could be mistaken for this, but isn't: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson.  I mean it's "a classic," we all know about it.  Something I remember about this book is that yes, Leslie is different, she introduces Jesse to ideas and activities he never thought of before.  But also, Leslie has a mean streak and makes fun of people.  She is reckless.  She is an actual kid, not a smug role model.)