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 clich├ęd 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.

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