Tuesday, November 02, 2010

TV @ The Movies: "Glee" and "The Walking Dead"

What is the ideal format for talking about tv? I'm beginning to think it's Twitter since even in the days of next day recaps and the 'watch it on your own time' DVR reality, people often watch it in great masses, round about the same time -- only staggered with everyone in their own slightly skewed time zones. I'm on NESST (Nathaniel's Eastern Stop & Start Time). TV has never been the all immersive experience that the movies can be... so it makes sense that people are now tweeting as they're watching. TV is jerry-rigged to withstand distractions: housework, phone calls, commercials. Twitter and Facebook only amplify this and now everyone has become their own tv critic, ringleader, announcer, omniscient narrator, diarist. I always wish that the movies were this accessible to people to enjoy en masse but... sigh.

With deeper immersion comes less accessibility I suppose.

If she's growling and decomposing, shoot her! 
Anyway, Sunday night I opted not to tweet through AMC's much ballyhooed THE WALKING DEAD. I was curious before the series even began how they would work around television restrictions, only to realize that there are no restrictions. You can apparently show anything on non-premium cable during prime-time hours including little girls and grown men getting their brains blown out (in slo-mo!) and men getting their heads smashed to bits with baseball bats as long as nobody says the naughty "F" word or shows the naughty boobies, butts or dangly man-bits.

[Lots on GLEE & more WALKING DEAD after the jump]

Otherwise it's all good!

I had planned to tweet but I didn't get any further than this.

Now that it's had time to settle I don't even know how to review The Walking Dead. It felt like every zombie movie that has ever been made cuisinarted together. Once it had become a fine slush, it was poured into a new TV sized mold slowly, slowly now... you gotta string it out over several episodes. While pouring, Chef Frank Darabont (he's writer, director, producer), described his "new" old concoction with a southern twang.

True to AMC's form, The Walking Dead is a well made show. It was scary, well acted, and intense. I can easily give it that. The only missing AMC ingredient was a unique identity. It even starts its zombie apocalypse just about the same exact way (homage?) as the chief revivalist of today's current zombie craze. In this film / tv show our hero "Jim" (Cillian Murphy, 28 Days Later) "Rick" (Andrew Lincoln, The Walking Dead) wakes up in an abandoned hospital, disoriented, sick, thirsty and totally unaware that while he was "sleeping" (coma?), the world basically ended from a zombie plague. The only difference? Rick wakes up buck naked in a stripped hospital bed and Jim wakes up under sheets and under those he's wearing a hospital gown and under that he's got boxer shorts on.

Twang, not wang!

I don't mean to be flippant. I don't expect to see nudity on television. But I'm being absolutely 100% serious when I say that I do not understand why the MPAA ratings or television board (I forgot the name) exist. They've always been, well, dumb. But theoretically their 'goddamn raison d'etre' is easy to understand. But if you seek to destroy a whole entertainer's career over a wardrobe malfunction but you can show a zombie movie on TV with all of the R rated violence intact (they pulled approximately zero punches) what the hell are you on about?

Are body parts (non bloody rotting ones I mean) and excessive profanity the only remaining taboos?

I know there's a lot of violence on TV shows (especially procedurals which really seem to get off on it) but it's usually more "described" than shown. I mean, I watch Dexter. I can handle some violence. But that's a pay cable series. I'm not sure I am okay with the idea that any little kid who wants to can watch The Walking Dead and enjoy all the grisly slaughter. It reminded me of something I'd long since forgotten: on the weekend that Zach Snyder's Dawn of the Dead (2004) remake opened, two teenagers approached me at the movie theater and asked me to buy them tickets. Apparently the theater was policing that R rating. I declined. I wasn't trying to be a jerk but I'd seen way too many parents leading their little kids (not even teenagers) into slasher movies in that same exact theater and so I had become ultra sensitive and judgey about what people were letting the newest generations watch. Just think, all those teens had to do was wait 6 years and they could see the same thing on regular cable for free.

a tough cop and  a hungry mom.

Back on topic. I might give The Walking Dead another episode or two -- again, it was well executed -- but I'm nervous.

I'm especially uncomfortable with what struck me as a pretty obvious (if unintentional?) misogyny: the first female we see is the little girl zombie. She's the first kill. We follow that with a jump backwards in time and we sit with two cops (Rick and his partner Shane, Jon Berthal, pictured above) and we discuss Rick's cruel nagging wife and how she wants him to share his feelings (god forbid!). We don't meet her then so she gets no voice of her own, just the one prescribed to her: cruel, nagging, relentless, one who causes emotional distress to her husband AND child. The next important female "character" we meet is another cruel mother; this one is a zombie who really wants to dine on her son. The boy's good heroic father is protecting him from her, though he still can't bring himself to kill his now-cruel wife. Later, we see a few living female characters (no names) and we discover that Rick's wife (the cruel nag) is alive and she's now sleeping with his former partner (pictured, left). In their defense they both think Rick is dead but basically what we have here is dead women, hungry dead women, and living unfaithful nags!

My rating has to be threefold thus far. Execution: B+ | Morality: | Originality: F. So, I guess I'll have to go with a C for now.

I'll give it one or two more episodes on account of its fine acting/execution and to see if I'm wrong about the morality and originality problems. Maybe I am. (And, yes, sexism is a moral failing. But I notice on AMC's site that there are a couple of female principals so maybe things will be different soon.)

Meanwhile over on network television...

GLEE was also shoving our hypocrisy in our faces with its strange decision to do a tribute to the very R rated Rocky Horror Picture Show. That one I did tweet through. Glee is generally as horny as your average (gay) teenager -- the show is constantly seeking opportunities to show us the bare abs and chests of the male characters -- but in the same episode, they shamed the teacher (Mr Shue, Matthew Morrison) for his willing exploitation of teen flesh. "Pot." "Kettle." The show just doesn't seem smart enough to be aware of or intentionally presenting its own ironies or hypocrisies. The writing is way too inconsistent to give it that benefit of the doubt. If they can't even remember basic personality traits and motivations from episode to episode, how they gonna build complex story-telling with meta commentary while belting their show stoppers?

My overriding question is this: Why did they choose to do Rocky Horror in the first place when they couldn't even bring themselves to sing the words "transsexual" or "heavy petting" let alone commit to drag or same sex hedonism (Mercedes plays Frankenfurther, negating all of this. Happy to see her get a plum role, but...this one?)?

But, most importantly, I 'm not sure I can live in a world where everyone starts misquoting Rocky Horror's hilarious lyrics because Glee did them wrong; show tunes are sacred!

But for all of my frustrations with Glee, I dig it on some deep level and want it to be a million times better than it is. It's sometimes so embarrassing but every once in a while it transcends. At the very least there's usually a good quotable or three buried somewhere in each messy episode. Becky's "give me some chocolate or I will cut you" has already become a favorite.  And there's a certain amount of joy in the mass-sharing of a public phenomenon. #glee always sparks fun tweet conversations.

WonderRobbie always delights me and Glee's weird double standards on sexuality have escaped virtually no one -- though I hadn't noted, like Joseph wisely did, that the GQ photoshoot that everyone got their panties in a twist about, made an interesting duet with all of the punches they were pulling when doing Rocky Horror.

In the end, I realize I had a similar reaction to The Rocky Horror Glee Show that I had to The Walking Dead. I thought I was enjoying it while it was going on only to realize afterwards that I was totally disappointed. The little missteps and underlying weak foundation just piled up. So I have to hand it to the often brilliant critic Matt Zoller Seitz. We got into it on Twitter -- here's a little of our public back-n-forth...

I share this because, after his brilliant full length write-up of the show, I'm totally coming 'round to his point of view. Except, that is, when it concerns that Britney Spears episode which he liked and which to me was such a creative nadir that I am stunned that the show ever crawled back up again, let alone started doing high kicks and pirouettes like it had never fallen in the first place.

Sweet Transvestite
The Brilliant Tim Curry
I was never an obsessive fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975). I brought toast and rice to throw and what not but I never dressed up in costume or made it a weekly midnight habit. But I did buy the soundtrack and went to 4 or 5 midnight shows over a 2 year period. And I got really fascinated by the overriding theme "Don't dream it. Be it." which scared the hell out of me at the time (late 80s in my case) as it would anyone who is repressed on any level.

So, I was happy to see it revived again in this major reaching-millions way. But since Glee doesn't really have the strength of its convictions, they should probably steer clear of randier material. Please, people, no more Sweet Transvestites from Transsexual, Transylvania. I mean, clutch your pearls, children could be watching! Why couldn't Glee just have gone with something wholesome like Sweeney Todd's throat slitting and cannibalism; you can't can do that on television!


Jesse M said...

I liked Walking Dead a lot, mostly because it was directed with a gentle hand in terms of atmosphere and male emotional dynamics. Also because I'm a big fan of the graphic novel, and it was a unique experience seeing it play out on-screen... it's a rare feeling to have such a sense of recognition, as if you're actually re-experiencing what you've read, in video form.

I do suggest you give it a couple more episodes, for a few reasons.

First, the female principals should develop very distinct and interesting (non-sexualized, non-patronized) personalities, if the show works anything like the comic. They are not just hysterical arm-candy.

Second, yes, the show draws on a LOT of zombie tropes. This is kind of a requirement for access into the genre, which is supported by a sort of cult-film corps of adherents. However, it should get more interesting, simply in the way the characters develop over time... something you never get to see in zombie movies. It's a strength that's unique to graphic novels and serial television, and the real "uniqueness" of the series is that it's an extended take on the zombie scenario, rather than an isolated anecdotal one.

Volvagia said...

I thought: OKAY. But is it going to hit the high of a Dawn of the Dead (78)? Answer: Not right away. Most shows need time. Take, as a cursory example, Seinfeld: Not consistently, week after week, great until season 3. If pressed I could identify three shows that were consistently amazing out of the gate: 1. The Wire. 2. Invader Zim. 3. Arrested Development. Mostly though: First and second seasons are DECENT and if you're intrigued enough by them you'll keep going to see what a show can REALLY do.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Just to clarify, the FCC regulates network TV, not cable - the "wardrobe malfunction" was on CBS. That doesn't mean they and the MPAA aren't hypocrites anyway.


jesse m -- we'll see. though i absolutely agree that tv's main quality is it's ability to tell long stories, I question whether or not the zombie genre is right for that. Isn't one of the joys (if you can all it that) of the genre, it's monotonous terror. i.e. that slow shuffling hungry death? I just don't see how you can sustain that without getting super boring. It's great in short form (i.e. movies. but for hours and hours and hours?

glad to hear that about the women in the comic, but i'm curious if anyone else felt that they were very negatively portrayed in the first episode.

volvagia -- i get what you're saying but i guess that makes me question everyone's devotion to tv. a movie only asks you to care for 90 minutes to 3 hours and most people get pissed if the movie doesn't grab them in the first reel.

TV is asking you to care for 12-24 hours or storytelling before they find their footing? and people regularly let it get away with that? errr... doesn't seem like a good ROI to me.

anon -- i figured someone would know. thanks.

Erich Kuersten said...

Nathaniel, you're tweet-crazy, and so sensitive! AMC is hugely misogynist, haven't you ever seen Mad Men? But like Frank Miller and that dead Swede who writes about Girls who Play with Fire, it hates its own misogyny.

The R-Rated thing is hilariously hypocritical I agree. I remember being 16 and needing mom to buy my friend and I tickets to see The Road Warrior. Seeing the Dawn of Dead remake at Union Square was awesome as some idiot mom dragged her 27 screaming kids in there, and then, finally, when the zombie baby came out and started ripping things up, she got up and they all left (they were dead center and wouldn't shut up the entire time) and the audience cheered!! It was awesome, here we were relishing the horror because it finally proved too much for this thick-headed troglydite of a mom. Now everytime I see that zombie baby (and I watch that film a lot) I always feel warm and contented in that scene.

Andrew R. said...

I really need to watch more TV. I wanted to see Walking Dead, because I read a few pages of the first book at a friend's house and thought, "I better buy this." And then I heard about the TV series.

Sadly, I still haven't bought it.

And I can't stand Glee.

Walter L. Hollmann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Walter L. Hollmann said...

In Glee's defense, the lyric changes were within the context of the story: They knew they were doing a randy, shocking show for the wrong reasons (hm...), Will said they would change some lyrics, Sue did rewrites, etc. Truth, though: I do love how un-self-aware Glee can be, though. Shock for shock's sake is bad; now, anyone have another Asian or cripple joke? Oh, and don't over-sexualize teens, but it's completely suitable to sexualize actors *playing* teens.

But hey, we got to explore male body issues, which I'm sure will become a problem for New Kid somewhere down the road. Though I don't know why the students were traumatized by Finn walking around in his underwear. He's in great shape. He's cute. What's the problem? How long *has* it been since anyone involved with this show has been in high school?

One last thing: Emma Pillsbury singing Touch-a Touch-a Touch-a Touch Me is love.

Simon said...

This episode is exactly why I don't like Glee. It's soulless kareoke at its worst, entertaining, maybe emotional, fluff at its best.

I didn't pick up on the sexism in The Walking Dead, but I was half asleep when I watched it.

OtherRobert said...

The short answer is Fox rewrote the script for the Rocky Horror Glee Show until Ryan Murphy cried.


Erich -- funny but Mad Men isn't misogynistic, it's just about misogyny.

p.s. love the Dawn of Dead story. I realized my dawn of dead stoyr was confusing though. I wasn't there to see that movie. I saw it way later since I didn't think it was for me... but it was playing, silently, on the tv of a party i was attending much later, and i was scared to death just watching it with peripheral vision. so had to rent it.

Walter -- see i don't really believe Glee explored male body issues so much as just had characters talking about their bodies. it's too dumb to have really explored. especially since the character who were so shy about displaying their bodies had never before exhibited anything like shyness about showing off their gym-toned physiques. I jsut feel like you can't talk about these issues unless you commit to them.

having a character with the most perfectly sculpted body worry about being fat is dumb if you ask me, even if it is maybe slightly truthful in the fact that even beautiful people have self doubts.

btu still. i think it's insulting to the 99.9999 percent of the population to stare at a body that they already view as perfect and be told it's not good enough.

what then should they make of their own lumpy body?

Michael said...

In English, I just wrote persuasive essay about how incredibly ignorant the MPAA is (sex! ahhh! violence? oh, ok!). I too was totally shocked at the amount of violence on The Walking Dead, which, I agree, isn't as amazing as all of its praise suggests.

Onto Glee: I don't think the Britney/Brittany episode was as bad as some of the regular episodes (I'm looking at you, Theatricality, Funk, and Acafellas). But tributes aren't good ideas. I mean, it was fun to see Britney and maybe one of the covers was okay, but a whole show based around her songs was a weird idea. I also didn't like The Power of Madonna or The Rocky Horror Glee Show. These episodes in general feel like stand-alone episodes that don't make as much sense in context of the season. The Rocky Horror tribute was probably the creative nadir for me. (It did make me realize how much better the show would be if Matthew Morrison just disappeared, though.) But the plot was terrible. At least the Brittany/Britney episode had some sort of relevance (Artie wants to be strong, Rachel and Finn's relationship isn't all it's cracked up to be, Brittany gets to break out of the "dumb blond" mold in order to become "dumb, assertive blond"). The Rocky Horror episode had......Finn feels chubby? Sam has really amazing abs?

Either way, it's not that Glee is inconsistent. It's that Glee doesn't know what it's trying to be so it's actually impossible for it be consistent. What would "consistent" even mean at this point?

Volvagia said...

Of course it isn't good. I haven't seen a lot of the British stuff. But those are also 1. Extremely contained (A season is two to eight episodes long) and 2. Short (The longest season count on an acclaimed show (a cop show) is 15, with the next closest comeptitor (also a sitcom) lasting 7. Only one major show exceeded fifty episodes. 50 episodes is less than 3 seasons in America.)

SusanP said...

I actually think the shorter British formula works really well with shows I've seen, such as "Life on Mars" - they are long enough that there is more character development than your typical film, but self-contained enough that they don't drag on endlessly or spin their wheels while waiting to establish an end date.

Re: Walking Dead, I'm intrigued, but the gore factor may keep me away.

IslandLiberal said...

Re: Frank N. Furter, the producers were originally going to have John Stamos in that role, but the network vetoed it. But they still wanted to do a Rocky Horror Show tribute, so they altered their plans.

Re: the lyrics, the music on the show is censored differently from the dialogue because it's also sold separately. So you can say "bitch", but not sing it. Dumb, but them's the breaks.

On "Glee" overall, I think the second season has been pretty good so far. The show has flaws, really noticeable flaws, but I love it all the same.


susan p -- i agree. that's why it's smart that more american companies are starting to take this approach (somewhat) given that a lot of series are now doing the 12-13 episode thing.

Volvagia said...

Frank Miller? Hate his own misogyny? Erich Kuerstein, have you seen the photos of The Spirit? Delusional, yes. Misogynist, yes. Hating that aspect of his thoughts and work? At this point, probably not. I can't comment on Larsson, having not read the work. Mad Men: Are you delusional? It's a document. That entails a certain degree of objectivity and balance. Thus they can't condemn the misogyny, but neither can they outright praise it. Offerring no clear comment is sometimes seen as the same as praise (See also: Reaction to Angel of Death by Slayer.)

Liz said...

I also hated the scene between Rick and Shane, and what I really don't understand is this: why would you START the show with that scene?

I know that there are ugly people in this world, and there would be probably more ugly people in a situation like this, but almost the first scene of a brand new series features a totally hateful rant like that?

If something like that had appeared in the second or third episode, I probably wouldn't have been so perturbed (especially since we would have gotten to know the characters by then). But it took some major effort to soldier on past that scene. Talk about a turn-off right off the bat.


Liz -- okay. good so i'm not crazy. i was like WHAT. THE. HELL? you want me to root for these guys?

/3rtfu11 said...

Tim Curry is scary. From the horrifying clown in “It”, the horned monster in “Legend”, and finally the scary personality he was in “Rocky Horror”. Especially Rocky Horror which at its Fox network premiere in 1990 (with a thousand) Parental Discretion Advised disclaimers: I’m in shock that I can watch the film without staying in discomfort but the music is brilliant and early Sarandon. I love her. Damn it Janet.

Jason Adams said...

Well I think the scene between Shane and Rick at the opening was a pretty clear way to show them as flawed men that we're going to watch change due to the extreme circumstances they're about to be thrust into. One will turn into a hero, the other notsomuch.

And I'm about halfway thru the comics and believe me Nat, at least in that form Robert Kirkman found a billion ways to make a zombie apocalypse continually fascinating. There are a million stories to tell, a million characters to meet, and a million interlocking relationships to come. I think this is a richer landscape for long-term storytelling than we've seen put on TV in a long time. It's not about the monsters, it's about what they do to the human mind and to society itself, and the comics at least know that and so far I think the show did a great job setting it up.


JA -- well, you are a discerning fellow so i'll give it a couple more gos ;)

as for zombies... i do believe that they're the richest movie monster, metaphorically speaking. I'd say vampires but they're so played out these days and the things that they're able to comment on (particularly sexuality), filmmakers don't necessarily want to approach with 10 foot poles. zombies on the other hand, lot's of analytical power about things that filmmakers feel comfortable discussing (politics, apathy, education, herd mentalities, addiction, emotional numbness, etcetera...)

rashid1891 said...

I also hated the scene between Rick and Shane, and what I really don't understand is this: why would you START the show with that scene?