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My Review Of The First Two Episodes Of “WandaVision”

Before I talk about “WandaVision” or anything related to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I need to disclose one thing.

I’ve been in major withdraw of MCU content after 2020.

I say that because it’s likely to color my perceptions and bias, so I won’t bother hiding it. I imagine others share it, too. That being the case, let’s just put it out there. A lot of things got derailed in 2020 because of the pandemic, including several movies that were supposed to kick-start the next phase of the MCU.

These delays were understandable, given the state of the world. That didn’t make them any less painful. It marked the first year in nearly a decade that we had to go an entire year without any MCU content. As a lifelong fan of comics and superhero movies, words cannot describe how agonizing that was.

Now, the wait is over. The MCU is back. While it’s not in the form of a billion-dollar blockbuster, Kevin Feige and our Disney Overlords are adapting this wondrous franchise for the world of streaming. The first step in that process finally arrived last week in the form of “WandaVision,” the first ever MCU content built exclusively for streaming.

It marks a bold new era for the MCU, as well as another incentive for people to invest in a Disney+ subscription. Like it or not, “The Mandalorian” cannot do it alone, but it still set a high bar. Does “WandaVision” match that bar in the first two episodes?

The short answer is yes, for the most part.

The long answer is yes, it’s on the right track, but only time will tell.

Two episodes is simply not enough to assess the full quality of any show, but it does help create a foundation. In that sense, “WandaVision” definitely starts strong. It takes the winning formula of the MCU and adapts it into a quirky sitcom full of humor, mystery, and a glut of Easter Eggs.

I’ll get to the Easter Eggs later, but I want to focus more on the unique format of the show. Make no mistake. It is unique, if not downright weird. Then again, both Wanda and Vision are weird characters with a strange, but endearing connection. That has always been the case with their relationship in the comics. This show does plenty to channel that weirdness and to that end, a sitcom format works beautifully.

There’s no build or setup for that format. When the first episode begins, it runs like an old episode of “I Love Lucy” or “Dick Van Dyke.” It’s black and white. The setting is an idyllic suburb. Wanda and Vision are newlyweds, but they’re still very aware of their powers, abilities, and status as a couple in which one of them is an android.

Naturally, the MCU brand of humor emerges naturally from that setup. There’s all sorts of comments and quips that poke fun at their status, which is milked for plenty of entertainment value. In addition to plenty of classic sitcom tropes from that era, it’s a potent formula. You don’t expect it to work as well as it does, but it still works.

The first episode involves Vision and Wanda trying to host a dinner for Vision’s boss. There’s plenty of misunderstandings and mishaps, but it ultimately pans out.

The second episode builds on that, having Wanda and Vision try to integrate with their suburban community and participate in a talent show. Things go horribly and hilariously wrong when Vision finds out he can’t handle chewing gum.

Within these quirky sitcom antics, there are ominous hints and teases as to what’s really going on. This is taking place in the MCU, following the events of “Avengers Endgame.” Something or someone has warped reality around Wanda, who was not in a good place after the death of Vision. That instability comes into play on multiple occasions throughout the first two episodes, but nothing major is revealed.

This is where “WandaVision” shines and stalls at the same time. The sitcom format works beautifully and provides plenty of entertainment value. However, when it comes to explaining how they got there and who’s involved, the hints are exceedingly vague.

I ended up having to watch both episodes multiple times to really understand those hints. If you’ve been following the movies and are familiar with the comics, you’ll definitely appreciate them. If not, you will likely be quite lost.

This is not the kind of show you can come in blind and appreciate fully. It’s still fun, but you can’t get the most out of it without having a moderate knowledge of Marvel Comics and the MCU.

That brings me to the Easter Eggs in both episodes. There are a lot of them, too many for me to mention. Other sites have already highlighted them, but the sheer volume Marvel Studios threw in is both impressive and revealing. Some offer hints of past events in the MCU. Others hint at things only comic fans will recognize.

These Easter Eggs definitely enhance the experience. Again, if you don’t have that working knowledge, they’re easy to miss and they do limit that experience. Even without that knowledge, though, some of those hints are quite overt. It’s very clear that something is very off in this world and others are trying to get into it.

It’s still not clear if Wanda is trapped or if this whole world is just her own doing. There are plenty of hints that someone with less-than-noble intentions is playing a part. There are also some familiar faces, namely Monica Rambeau, who make their presence felt. What role she and others will play is still unclear, but the stage is definitely set for something big, literally and figuratively.

In just two episodes, “WandaVision” effectively establishes its own unique style. It has that familiar MCU polish, but it’s also very different from the big budget blockbusters we’re used to. That’s not a bad thing. Like I said, this show marks Disney and Marvel Studios’ efforts to adapt to the world of streaming.

It’s still too early to say for sure whether it’s a full-fledged success. After the first two episodes, I’d say it’s well on its way. I’m not going to give a score for “WandaVision” just yet. It’s too early to fully assess the show. I’ll just say that I’m so glad and so relieved to see the MCU back in action. I still miss going to the movies, but this show promises to tide me and my fellow Marvel fans over in the meantime.

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Filed under Marvel, Marvel Cinematic Universe, superhero comics, superhero movies, television

Jack’s World: Homelander: The Perfect Villain For A Cynical Era

The following is a video for my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s just a brief video essay on why Homelander from “The Boys” is the perfect villain for this particularly messed up era. Enjoy!

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WandaVision Trailer: My Reactions And (Renewed) Hopes

This year has been a lost year for many things. I don’t think I need to go into reasons why or to what extent. It’s awful. We don’t need to be reminded of that. This is especially true for fans of superhero movies. To some extent, this year almost feels like karma after movies like “Avengers Endgame” dominated the box office for so long.

As bad as things have been, we’re still trying our best to inject a little awesome into this increasingly dystopian landscape. Like it or not, superhero movies and media still have a place in the entertainment landscape. This past year might have been a huge loss for the box office, but there’s still reason to be excited about the future of the genre.

That includes the entertainment behemoth that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. When this year began, it promised to be a time of transition. With the rise of Disney Plus, Marvel Studios has a new medium to explore and evolve. Among those crop of shows is mini-series called “WandaVision.”

Given Vision’s fate in “Avengers: Infinity War,” the setup alone for this show is odd. Not being a fan of how their relationship was handled in the movies, I admit I wasn’t that excited about this show. However, I was curious.

Then, the trailer dropped and my curiosity has only grown. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend you check it out.

It looks weird. The setup is very strange. The visuals are all over the place. It’s hard to tell whether Vision is alive, dead, or part of some strange fever dream. There’s a lot of strange humor and odd mysteries. This show looks downright crazy.

That’s exactly why my hope and excitement for this show has been renewed.

To explain, it’s necessary to know a few things about Wanda Maximoff. Before she helped make Elizabeth Olson a star, she was a very controversial and very unstable character in the comics. She had a nasty history of warping reality in distressing ways, often at the cost of her sanity.

If this trailer is any indication, she has not been coping well with Vision’s death at the hands of Thanos. That reaction would be perfectly in line with what happened to her in the comics during the infamous House of M event. That event is still a bit of a touchy issue for many comic fans, but it’s a perfect foundation for this show.

It puts Wanda in a position to deal with her many issues. However, given her powers and her unstable nature, that process is bound to be messier than series of intense therapy. It wouldn’t even be the first show that explored reality-warping people dealing with mental health issues.

Legion,” a short lived, yet well-done show on FX did something similar. For Wanda, creating these pocket realities in which she’s still with Vision, living this ideal life with her lover, feels exactly like something she’d do. Giver her upcoming role in “Dr. Strange: In The Multiverse Of Madness,” it could act as a precursor for things to come.

I hope this sets the stage. I also hope this makes Elizabeth Olson’s take on the character more complex. To date, all she’s done is fail to protect her loved ones and lash out. I think she has room to do so much more. I hope she succeeds with this show.

I think Marvel and Disney need this show to succeed, too. With the world still such a mess, they can’t rely totally on the cuteness and merchandizing potential of Baby Yoda to see them through.

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My (Early) Thoughts On Pandemic-Era Live Sports

This past weekend felt like a turning point for the world of sports. For sports lovers like me, it was a weekend we thought might never come. This past year and the global pandemic that has consumed it has ruined so many things, canceling so much of what we love. It got to a point where some of us seriously wondered if sports would go the way of concerns, indoor restaurants, and strip clubs.

As a lifelong lover sports who builds spring and summer afternoons around watching baseball games, this was a terrifying thought. I was already bracing myself for the worst, thinking that 2020 might become a year without sports. For once, the worst didn’t entirely come to pass. Baseball, hockey, and basketball all made a comeback and sports fans everywhere could breathe a bittersweet sigh of relief.

Having spent the past few days watching a little of everything, from late night ball games to the new NBA playoffs, I certainly share that relief. I am very happy to see sports return. It feels like a real sign that we’re navigating this pandemic. We’re making a genuine effort to get our lives back. That said, the experience of watching sports is very different during a pandemic.

The most jarring thing, at least for me, was watching a Red Sox vs. Yankees game with no fans. Even though the broadcast tried to pump in crowd noise, it just felt so off. This is one of the most heated rivalry in the history of sports. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the playoffs or the regular season. When these two teams play, it has real dramatic stakes.

You can hear it in the crowd.

You can feel it with every home run, lead change, and scoring opportunity.

It’s part of the experience, even if you’re watching from home. Without real fans and real visceral crowd noise, it just felt incomplete.

Don’t get me wrong. I still enjoyed watching the game. After several months with no sports outside of Korean Baseball, it was incredibly cathartic. You could just tell that this is an incomplete product, but for very good reasons. The subsequent outbreaks that followed opening day were proof of that. I have a feeling that won’t be the last outbreak before the season is done.

That season might even get cancelled. That’s a real possibility and one that doesn’t bode well for football season, which is just a month away.

It seems basketball and hockey are faring somewhat better. They still had the benefit of nearly being done with their season by the time the pandemic hit. I managed to watch a few basketball and hockey games. It wasn’t quite as jarring as baseball, but it still felt very incomplete.

If you’ve ever seen how the Las Vegas Golden Knights put together an opening show, you know why. It also changes the stakes, somewhat. When the both the NBA and NHL seasons were put on hold, teams were still fighting for playoff positions. Those positions matter because higher ranking means a chance at home field advantage.

Well, since both leagues are playing in a bubble in limited locations with no fans, there’s no such thing as home field advantage. There’s no crowd energy. There’s no real sense that any team has an advantage, besides the record they earned before all this happened. For some, that’s disappointing. At the same time, this might be the most level playing field these teams have ever had.

In those circumstances, how do we treat the team that ultimately wins it all? How can you judge any team that wins a championship when an entire season got disrupted by a global pandemic? Does that championship deserve an asterisk? Will people and players alike see it as legitimate? Will the fans even be able to celebrate it? It’s not like parades are conducive to social distancing.

These are sentiments I still find myself contemplating as I celebrate a return of sports. I’m sure those sentiments will change as the rest of the year unfolds. If baseball gets cancelled or football season gets delayed, that’ll be another sign of just how bad this pandemic is and how terrible we’ve been at dealing with it.

Again, I’m still bracing for the worst. For me, the worst-case scenario is the NFL season getting canceled or cut short, due to an outbreak. I suspect, with billions of dollars on the line, everyone involves will try to avoid that. However, if this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the unthinkable is more possible than we care to admit.

I don’t know how it’s going to play out. I’m just glad sports are back, in some capacity. I just worry about what the end results will be when all is said and done.

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Violence Vs. Nipples: A Rant On (Misguided) Censorship

First off, I need to apologize in advance because I’m about to go on a rant. I promise it’s related to current events, relatively speaking. I can’t promise it’s the most serious issue in the world, but I still think it’s worth saying.

Let’s face it. We’ve seen a lot of terrible things these past few months. That includes, but isn’t restricted to, images of mass graves, angry protests, and videos of people committing egregious atrocities. It’s all over the internet, broadcast daily on network TV, and streaming in on news feeds of all kinds. We’ve seen so much violence and injustice. We’re outraged by it, and rightly so. It’s horrible. Most everyone agrees with that.

With all that in mind, I have one simple question that I think needs answering at some point.

With all this horrific imagery, why is it still so obscene to depict a female nipple?

I’m serious. I’m not trying to be funny or cute. I’d like an explanation.

Why the hell are we still censoring female nipples? What good does it do? What purpose does it serve? Blurring genitals? Okay, I can accept that to some degree. At least it’s blurred for everyone, regardless of gender. But why blur female nipples at this point?

We know what they look like. They’re not some graven images that’ll make people burst into flames. Granted, female nipples look different than male nipples, but not so radically different that they’re fucking alien. So, why censor them?

On TV, they’re still blurred. On social media, they immediately get labeled as porn, as though female nipples, by default, make something porn. That makes no sense. We’re not talking hardcore sex acts here. We’re talking about the slightest glimpse of female nipples.

Why, in a world where extreme violence finds its way into cable news, are female nipples so egregiously obscene? This isn’t the 1950s. This isn’t Victorian England. Anyone with an internet connection can see an unlimited number of uncensored nipples. Are they really that shocking anymore?

To those who whine about the innocence of children, here’s a quick anatomy lesson. They know what nipples look like too. They have them. They’ve probably been breast fed at some point. You really think they can’t handle it?

To those who think it’s too sexy, I have to ask why do you think that is? Do you really think censoring a basic body part makes it less sexy? I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but it doesn’t. It just doesn’t.

At most, you’re just fetishizing it, treating it as this powerful trigger that will turn anyone into perverts. People don’t work like that. You’re not doing them any favors by treating them like they’re that sensitive.

Also, if you’re a woman who hates being objectified, I have to ask. How do you feel about this? How do you feel that a part of you is deemed too obscene for network TV, yet that same network has no problem depicting people getting choked to death? How is it fair that a man can walk around a park without a shirt, but if a woman does the same, she gets arrested? That’s not just objectification. It’s insane!

Seriously, after everything we’ve experienced in 2020, isn’t it time we get over our hang-ups about female nipples? I know it won’t solve much, but we cannot be strong as a people, yet still too weak to handle depictions of female nipples. We’re better than that. We need to be.

Thanks for bearing with me on this rant. Again, I apologize. I just wanted to get that out. If nothing else, I hope this gives everyone something less awful to think about.

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Filed under censorship, political correctness, politics, rants

New Video In Jack’s World: “F Is For Family: A Perfect Satire For The American Dream”

My new YouTube channel is small, but growing. Shortly after I posted my first video, I began work on my next one. This one is actually an expansion of a piece I wrote a while back on “F is for Family.” With a new season set to debut later this week, I thought the time was right to do a video on the show’s larger themes.

That means more discussion about why Frank Murphy is so angry with the world. It also means more insights into why he threatens to put people through a fucking wall. I hope it’s as awesome as it sounds. Enjoy!

Thanks for watching. Please like and subscribe to my new channel or Frank Murphy will put you through a fucking wall.

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How “13 Reasons Why” Handled Male Sexual Assault in The Least Sensitive Way

The following is an article submitted by my good friend, DC-MarvelGirl 1997. We’d both been working on pieces about “13 Reasons Why” and she was generous enough to submit this. She tackles an issue that I was very hesitant to write about and for that, I thank you. She does great work on her website, which I encourage everyone to visit.


We live in a world filled with double standards. It’s by far one of the biggest diseases we have in society. I’m not putting this to the same standards of COVID 19, which is by far the deadliest pandemic we’ve ever faced in worldwide. Double standards are a different kind of disease, meaning they breed this false sense of contentment. And no, I’m not just referring to the Theon Greyjoy memes, which are truly sad and pathetic. I’ll admit it. When I look up those memes, I at first chuckle. But then I remember why they were made, and it is to point out that Theon no longer has his penis. Suddenly, those memes are no longer funny.

Theon

As much as I wish this article is about those Theon Greyjoy memes, it’s not. That’s what’s painful for me. This article is about the frankly piss-poor representations of male sexual assault in entertainment. And no, I am not referring to Burt Reynolds’ “Deliverance,” which was one of the first movies to put rape of a man into a scene. At least with that movie, it was done well. Even made for TV films like “The Rape of Richard Beck” did it better, because with “The Rape of Richard Beck,” now known as “Deadly Justice,” they blacked it out before the rape happened.

What I’m referring to is the rape scene from the season 2 finale of “13 Reasons Why.” It was the scene that made many people throw up watching it. For those of you who watched it, you know what I am talking about.

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Now, I’ll admit it. I never watched “13 Reasons Why,” because it was banned from my household by my mother. And after hearing about how the show got progressively worse, I’m glad I didn’t watch any other episodes beyond the pilot. It’s a show that psychiatrists cautioned teenagers from watching, because it could be triggering to those thinking about suicide. Not only does it send the contrived message that you can use suicide to get revenge, but it handled male sexual assault in one of the worst ways possible. Because I’ve never watched the show for myself, I had to do a little bit of research on the “13 Reasons Why” wiki pages, and look up articles critiquing it. The male rape scene centers around the character of Tyler, who gets sodomized with a mop handle by a character named Montgomery. Not only was the scene unnecessarily graphic, triggering, and disturbing leaving many either crying, getting sick, or feeling disgusted, but the aftermath of it all is what I’m most critical of.

I understand that “13 Reasons Why” wanted to show that men can be raped as well. But their delivery was terrible. Like I said, the scene was downright disgusting and stomach-churning. But they didn’t bother showing Tyler doing something effective to get the bullying to stop. It doesn’t help that the teachers in the show are portrayed as incompetent of seeing what’s right in front of them, giving this sense that you cannot even trust your teachers to keep you safe. But the show didn’t bother giving us scenes of Tyler handling the aftermath with maturity. They just cut to him wanting to shoot up a school dance, mirroring the Columbine massacre which is one of the most devastating tragedies in US history.

Let’s just say, I would have handled this rape scene and aftereffects a lot differently.

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If I were to write out that rape scene between Tyler and Montgomery, I would have shown the graphic violence of Tyler being drowned in the toilet and having his head slammed against the mirror. Then, I would have an extreme close-up of Montgomery’s hand reaching for the mop handle as the camera shakily backs away to display him leaning over Tyler’s back. Then, the scene would fade to black, signifying what’s to come. After that, I would have it fade into Tyler sitting on the bathroom floor with his pants down. That to me is more than enough to let the viewer know what happened, without giving you every, horrible detail of what happens. Then, there would be other scenes I’d add in.

How about having Tyler go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor? All the signs could be there, showing he’d been raped, but the doctor neglects to acknowledge this and that’s one of the things that pushes him.

How about showing Tyler being interviewed by police, but an officer telling him he was asking for it? That would also give him a reason to want revenge.

The reason why I put those two suggestions above, is because male rape isn’t given the same consideration as female rape. When a female is raped, it becomes a world-wide news story. When a man is raped, it’s not treated the same way. I tried to research cases of male rape in the recent years, and you wouldn’t know if there was, because the news doesn’t talk about it. Look at cases such as Corey Feldman and Brent Jeffs. Brent Jeffs I’m just mentioning, because his story is downright heartbreaking. He was raped by his own uncle, Warren Jeffs, the head of the FLDS. Jeffs’ story is one that many do not consider at all. Of course, people have the knowledge that Warren Jeffs raped and molested boys and girls alike, but they often forget to acknowledge that boys in that “church” were raped. They’re blinded by how horrifically the women and girls in that “church” are treated, that they forget about the boys. That to me is the saddest thing.

scene3

If “13 Reasons Why” bothered displaying how the criminal justice system fails to acknowledge male rape victims, then that would have been a much more powerful impact than Tyler trying to shoot up a school.

Overall, “13 Reasons Why” failed in a major way to display consequences of male sexual assault. They neglected important details with the character of Tyler, and didn’t even bother showing Tyler going to the authorities until season 3. And the fact that Montgomery was just arrested on the spot for raping Tyler, when there’s no rape kit having been done? I don’t buy that for one second.

However, keep in mind, they did the same thing with Hannah Baker in season 1. She didn’t go to the police reporting teachers’ negligence. She didn’t go to a hospital to be examined by a doctor. She just blamed everyone for her suicide with tape recordings, claiming it to be all their fault when she didn’t bother going to higher authority for help. And the fact that they display her mother blaming everyone as well? To me, that’s even more pathetic. I understand that you are hurting because your daughter took her own life and that she was raped. But she also failed to get help beyond going to a guidance counselor, who clearly wasn’t doing his job.

Therefore, do yourself a huge favor, and do not watch “13 Reasons Why.”

DC-MarvelGirl 1997

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The (Many) Reasons Why “13 Reasons Why” Fails At Confronting Serious Issues

There’s a place for mindless, shallow, escapist entertainment in this world. I would argue that place is even greater now as we cope with a global pandemic. Sometimes, you just want to turn your brain off, watch your favorite superhero movie or Michael Bay explosion-fest, and enjoy yourself. There’s nothing wrong with that.

There’s also a place for entertainment that attempts to have a meaningful, serious conversation about a real-world issue. I’d also argue that kind of entertainment is more important now than it was last year. I know this kind of entertainment is risky, especially when it tackles taboo subject or social politics. Sometimes, that effort evokes distress, disgust, or outright hate. It’s still worth doing.

However, that kind of media can be counterproductive when it gets an issue wrong, flawed, or ass-backwards. When the conversation it attempts to have is misguided or contrived, then its effects can be outright damaging.

This is how I feel about “13 Reasons Why.” It’s one of Netflix’s most serious shows in that it attempts to confront serious, painful issues. From teen suicide to bullying to sexual assault to mental illness, this show attempts to portray these issues in a way that helps us talk about them. I respect that goal. I think the show’s creators, actors, and producers had good intentions.

I also think they failed in too many critical ways.

I don’t just say that as someone taking the time to critically analyze a show. As someone who was a miserable teenager, I really wanted this show to start this conversation. I wanted it to send a good, meaningful message through its morbid themes. After the first season, I was very disappointed and a little depressed.

The premise of the show has the right ingredients. It revolves around the suicide of Hannah Baker, a teenage girl who took her own life and left pre-recorded tapes behind for her fellow students, namely Clay Jensen, to follow. The story attempts to explore what led Hannah to this grim decision that left her family, friends, and community devastated. Unfortunately, in doing so, it starts the wrong conversation.

That’s not just my opinion. Organizations like the National Association of School Psychologists and the United States Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology have criticized the show for how it depicts suicide. It has also been linked to an uptick in suicides and suicidal ideation among teenagers. Now, that might just be an unlinked correlation, but it’s still a distressing sign.

Then, there’s the plot of the show itself. This is where I felt the show really lost sight of its mission because, as a show, there’s a need for drama. Unfortunately, incorporating that drama undermines the conversation and, in some cases, turns it against itself.

Beyond the graphic depictions of Hannah’s suicide, which was received so negatively that was subsequently cut out, the whole show is built around a world of teenage caricatures that don’t exist in the real world. It portrays a world that relies heavily on stereotypes, gives little depth to characters no named Hannah or Clay, and makes every issue seem overly simplistic.

That’s good for dramatic moments and concise plots, but not for having real conversations about complicated issues. The people in Hannah’s life, from her parents to her friends, barely function as background characters. The authority figures, namely those in the school or in the police, are even worse. They’re essentially portrayed as never caring in the slightest, only seeing teenagers like Hannah as a nuisance.

For a show that wants to have a real conversation about teen issues, this is a terrible message. Teenagers already have an incomplete view of the world. Many of them already think nobody cares about them. The sequence of events in “13 Reasons Why” only confirms that. How is that supposed to help any teenager who might be contemplating suicide?

That’s still not the worst part, in my opinion. If “13 Reasons Why” has one glaring flaw, it’s how Hannah’s suicide essentially affirmed her motivations. To some extent, Hannah got exactly what she wanted when she killed herself and made those tapes. She punished the people she held responsible. Her story became the story that everyone talked about.

This isn’t just a terrible message with a depressing premise. It effectively misses the entire goddamn point in the conversation about suicide and teenage issues. In effect, Hannah doesn’t commit suicide because she’s clinically depressed or mentally ill. She does it as a very graphic “Fuck you!” to a world that didn’t listen to her.

It doesn’t just hurt her family. It doesn’t just cause more pain to her friends, some of which genuinely tried to help her. It gives the impression that suicide will make someone relevant. It’ll make everyone who didn’t care suddenly care. It ignores the pain caused by someone’s suicide and focuses on how it punishes those who wronged her.

Hannah was wronged. There’s no doubt about that. She was outright raped. She was a legitimate victim. If the show had decided to focus only on sexual assault and avoid suicide altogether, it might have sparked a more meaningful conversation.

However, the show grossly simplifies her issues, as though one egregious act is all it takes to send her overboard. People, even teenagers, tend to be more complex than that. On top of that, Hannah is shown to make bad choices and take little responsibility for her actions. We, the audience, are supposed to sympathize with her, but she makes that more difficult than it should be.

I wanted to like “13 Reasons Why.” I really did. I wanted it to further an issue that I think should be addressed. I was genuinely disappointed with how it panned out. The fact the show got multiple seasons only made it worse, rendering every serious issue as little more than a catalyst for drama. I don’t recommend this show to anyone if they want to confront issues like suicide and depression.

Ironically, if not tragically, Netflix already has a show that addresses these issues in a much more meaningful way. It even manages to do this with cartoon characters that depict humanoid horses. Yes, I’m referring to “Bojack Horseman.”

I understand it’s a cartoon. I also understand it’s a comedy that’s meant to make you laugh at times. However, the fact it still manages to depict the real struggles of depression and mental illness in a relevant only makes “13 Reasons Why” more tragic in the grand scheme of things.

These are serious issues that deserve serious conversations. If you can’t start that conversation better than a cartoon horse man, then you’re doing something very wrong.

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Bojack Horseman: A Real (And Honest) Face Of Depression

Whenever a TV show, movie, or other piece of media tries to do a realistic take on a serious issue, I tend to roll my eyes and brace myself. That’s because nine times out of ten, the writers and producers of these rarely sincere efforts get things half-assed or ass backwards. Sometimes, they’re not just wrong in their portrayal of an issue. It’s downright destructive. See the first season of “13 Reasons Why” for disturbing proof.

That makes any show that succeeds in portraying a serious issue all the more powerful. By that standard, “Bojack Horseman” is a diamond within a golden crown atop a pile of steaming cow shit. I apologize for the visual, but I feel like that’s the best way to get my point across.

I’ve found plenty of reasons to praise this show since it ended, but being stuck at home for weeks on end has given me more time to appreciate the many amazing things this show achieved. It’s hard enough to get emotionally worked up over a show about real people. To get worked up about a show of cartoon human/animal hybrids counts as a special achievement.

It’s not secret that Bojack Horseman tackles a lot of sensitive issues with varying degrees of sincerity, humor, and tact. The show always tries to entertain, but it also makes a concerted effort to approach these issues in a way that doesn’t feel shallow or half-hearted. Again, see 13 Reasons Why” for an example of how poorly this can go.

I’ve already highlighted how this show gives a well-developed take on the nature of addiction, an issue that is rarely more than plot catalyst for zany antics in most shows. There’s another issue that “Bojack Horseman” handles with just as much skill and it’s one that shows almost always get wrong when they try to tackle it. That issue is depression.

I’m not talking about the kind of depression we feel when a loved one dies, a spouse divorces us, or the show that made us a famous actor in the 1990s gets cancelled. I’m referring to real clinical depression, which is a real medical issue that plagues a lot of people in the real world, including people I know personally.

Now, I understand why depression is so difficult to confront in a half-hour/hour-long TV show. It’s not like the flu or some visible wound that you can treat directly and watch heal. Depression, at its core, is a one-two punch of chemical and mental that complement one another perfectly to make someone miserable to a crippling degree.

It’s chemical in that there are parts of the brain that just aren’t operating properly. The systems that usually make someone happy and content just aren’t working right. They often require medication or extensive cognitive therapy to get that system going again.

The mental part plays off those deficiencies in that they foster this mindset that keeps people in a constant state of doom, gloom, and misery. That mindset often acts as a catalyst for various destructive behaviors, from substance abuse to violent outbursts to self-harm. The effects vary wildly from person to person, but the mentality remains the same.

Where TV shows and movies often fail with depression is two-fold. First, it fails to depict the extent of someone’s depression. Second, it fails to show how it’s properly treated. Just showing someone in a saddened state isn’t the same as showing someone who’s clinically depressed. It only gets worse when that same show or movie tries to treat it as though it has a singular cause.

Sometimes, it’s because a character was abused.

Sometimes, it’s because a character lost a loved one.

Sometimes, it’s because a character didn’t make one single choice that haunts them.

Those are all decent catalysts for character development, but that’s not how depression works. It doesn’t just come from one action or inaction, nor can it be treated by confronting it. You can’t just go on a quest, save the day, and suddenly be a glowing ball of happiness. Depression is more complex than that.

That’s why it was so refreshing to “Bojack Horseman” take a very different approach. Throughout the show, Bojack is shown to have many issues. Depression is just one of them. He’s a substance abuser, a narcissist, and insanely self-destructive. If he went to a therapist, they’d need overtime to treat all his issues.

However, most therapists would agree that Bojack meets the criteria for clinical depression. He’s in a constant state of misery throughout the show and goes to great lengths to alleviate that misery, but often ends up making himself more miserable due to bad behavior and terrible judgement. In essence, his other personal issues often compound his depression.

Unlike other shows, though, the source of his depression is never framed as one particular thing. While he is shown to have abusive parents, substance abuse problems, and crippling guilt from his many bad decisions, there’s never a point where one issue becomes the source.

That, in and of itself, is an important distinction in portraying depression in a realistic way. However, of all the moments that highlight the extent of Bojack’s depression, one episode stands out over all the others. That episode is aptly called Stupid Piece of Sh*t.”

In this episode, Bojack is trying to deal with his previously estranged daughter (who turns out to be his half-sister) and his abusive mother, who is declining mentally in her old age. Like the many other challenges he faces throughout the show, his depression makes this difficult. What makes this episode stand out, though, is how it’s rendered through Bojack’s thoughts.

Through the colorful animation and the haunting voice talent of Will Arnett, these internal monologues give a voice to a depressed mentality the likes of which few shows have captured. It still utilizes a semi-humorous tone, but never stops being real or serious. It’s a powerful insight into what Bojack goes through every day. It doesn’t excuse his awful behavior, but it does provide an important context.

What makes this portrayal all the more powerful is when Hollyhock, his half-sister, asks him about it later in the episode. Like Bojack, she appears to be struggling with that same inner monologue and it’s not a pleasant feeling. She’s young hasn’t lived long enough to make Bojack’s mistakes, which makes her question at the end downright heartbreaking.

That voice in the back of my head that tells me I’m dumb and stupid that’s just stupid, it goes away it’s just a teenage girl thing right. Those voices… they go away, right?

That question, and the way Bojack answers it, cements this episode and this show as one of the best portrayals of real depression in any medium. At a time when we’re all isolated, I think it’s important to understand what real depression looks like. Even if it comes from a show about talking horsemen who sound like Will Arnett, it’s an important perspective that we can all appreciate.

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Filed under Bojack Horseman, psychology, television

How “Megamind” Subverts Expectations The Right Way (And Why Recent Attempts Keep Failing)

Every now and then, a narrative trend comes along that I neither care for nor understand. I get why many trends catch on. I’ve even been caught up in a few. I remember when stories about asteroid impacts became popular, as well as romance stories that relied on best friends falling in love. Some lasted longer than others. Some burn out. I think “Friends” alone killed the whole friends-falling-in-love-gimmick.

However, certain trends seem to catch on for all the wrong reasons. I’m not just referring to the gimmicky tropes of every sitcom attempting to rip off “Seinfeld,” either. These are narratives that attempt to troll the audience in hopes of a bigger reaction, as though that can somehow take the place of a compelling story.

Lately, the trend that I’ve found particularly frustrating is the idea of subverting expectations. It’s become a major buzzword in recent years, but not for good reasons. It became a big deal after the fan reaction to “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and only intensified with the final season of “Game of Thrones.”

Now, I don’t want to get into extensive discussions about those emotionally charged subjects. I’ll let the fan bases continue to debate that in whatever way they see fit. Instead, I want to take a moment to look at this trend, note how it can be done well, and highlight why recent attempts are misguided and counterproductive.

While subverting expectations sounds cunning on paper, it’s one of those concepts that’s difficult to make work. The concept is simple. You take an audience’s expectations about a story, build up some narrative tension, and then go in an unexpected direction that changes and enhances the impact of that story.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. When it works, it’s amazing. When it fails, it’s downright toxic to itself. I would argue that neither Star Wars: The Last Jedi nor the final season of Game of Thrones” succeeded in that effort. However, one movie did succeed in this effort and it did so back in 2010, long before this trend even began.

That movie is “Megamind,” a film I’ve praised before for how it parodies the superhero genre. There’s a lot more I can say about this underrated gem, but this is one element that I feel is more relevant now than it was when the movie first came out. To date, I’ve yet to see a movie subvert expectations as well as this one.

The way Megamind” goes about this is not at all subtle, but it’s still powerful. It’s in the premise of the movie. It asks what happens when the evil genius supervillain actually defeats the handsome, square-jawed superhero? What do they do afterwards? Why did they pursue this goal in the first place?

The first 15 minutes of the movie do an excellent job of setting up the basic, generic premise of every superhero narrative since Superman. Metro Man is the hero. That’s how he carries himself. That’s how others see him. That’s how he’s perceived. Conversely, Megamind is the villain. That’s how everyone sees him. The prison warden himself says it before the opening title screen. He’ll always be a villain.

Everything is in place for a traditional hero-versus-villain struggle. Old concepts like justice, hero worship, and public perception come into play. Then, in the first real battle we see between Megamind and Metro Man, the unthinkable happens. Megamind, despite his grandiose boasting and casual bumbling, defeats Metro Man.

It’s not framed as some M. Knight Shamalyan twist. It’s not an attempt to shock the audience. It’s not some minor plot point, either. In fact, the rest of the movie is built around this sudden subversion of standard superhero stories. Every event, choice, and character moment stems directly from this subversion. It’s not just a minor element of the plot. It is the plot.

What makes it work is how this subversion helps tell a very different kind of superhero story. It’s not just about flipping the script for the sake of novelty. It makes a case that superhero narratives are capable of doing much more than simply having the hero save the day from the villain.

Throughout the movie, Megamind finds himself playing a part in every tried and true trope we’ve come to expect in a superhero movie. He starts off being a villain because that’s what he assumes he’s meant to be. He starts questioning that assumption because by defeating Metro Man, he finds himself without a greater purpose. In pursuing that purpose, he find out that those assumptions had serious flaws.

Such assumptions weren’t inherently right or wrong. It was a matter of digging a little deeper into the concept of heroes and villains, finding out along the way that the role he thought was right for him wasn’t the one he ultimately wanted. By the end, he still dresses like a villain. He’s still not nearly as handsome or powerful as Metro Man. However, he still chooses to become Metro City’s greatest hero.

This subversion of expectation works because it’s used to build a story rather than just tweak a few details. Moments like the revelation about Rey’s parents being nobodies or Arya Stark killing the Night King had only minor shock value, but they didn’t really factor into the larger plot.

If someone other than Arya had killed the Night King, then it wouldn’t have changed much in terms of how the last few episodes of “Game of Thrones” panned out.

If Rey’s parents turned out to be someone important in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” it wouldn’t have substantially altered how the events that followed played out. Rey still wouldn’t have joined Kylo.

Ultimately, those subversions just felt like trolling. These details that people thought were important just turned out to be tricks or ploys meant to get a reaction. It comes off as both dishonest and insincere. They might not have been intended as such, but given the fan reactions, I can understand that sentiment to some extent.

You thought all those prophecies about Jon Snow and the Night King meant something? Well, that turned out to be a big waste of time.

You thought Rey’s parents would impact the course of the movie? Well, that was just a complete waste of time, at least until “Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker” changed that.

At times, it felt like the story was tempting people to get engaged and then slapped them in the face the second the plot went in a different direction. As a result, it didn’t feel at all surprising or engaging. It just felt insulting.

Contrast that with “Megamind.” At no point does the plot attempt to demean the audience or anyone who enjoys the traditional superhero narrative. The subversion is in the synopsis. That same subversion is used to build a larger story that fleshes out characters who started out in generic roles, but ultimately embraced a different role.

This shift never feels forced or contrived. It’s not done just to get a cheap thrill or to stand out. At its core, Megamind” uses the concept of subverting expectations to tell a better story than it could’ve told if it stuck to the traditional superhero narrative. That’s why it works.

Unfortunately, that’s also why other recent attempts keep failing. Whether it’s a movie, a TV show, a comic book, or a video game, the concept has been used in a misguided effort to do something different. Subverting expectations has become synonymous, to some extent, with doing something new and bold. The importance of telling a compelling, coherent story is never more than secondary.

I get the importance of trying new things, especially when that genre has been played out in so many forms. However, doing so does not mean taking audience expectations and defying them in a way that feels blatant. At best, it just makes the story confusing. It’s just different for the sake of being different. At worst, it insults the audience and makes them feel denigrated for enjoying that narrative in the first place.

It can be done and done well. “Megamind” is proof of that. It doesn’t just subvert expectations for the superhero genre. It dares to build a story around it and even have a little fun with it along the way. It doesn’t at all take away from the genre it parodies. It just uses it as a foundation to tell a unique story.

No matter how many expectations you subvert, there’s no substitute for a quality story. Megamind” gives us that and the undeniable charm of Will Ferrell. That’s what makes it so enjoyable.

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Filed under Game of Thrones, movies, outrage culture, rants, Star Wars, television