GLOW Season 3: Identity As Kayfabe

What even is the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling anymore? This question hangs over the third season of GLOW, after the TV show within the TV show got canceled but the crew moved to Vegas to do their wrestling schtick live on stage. In wrestling there’s a term, “kayfabe,” which refers to the way scripted elements are presented as real, and the levels of identity and truth implicit in that hangs over the whole season.

Each of the characters struggles in some way with questions about who they are, what defines them and what it means for them to be true to themselves. As a result we end up with a dissatisfied, questing season that maybe lacks the punchy fun of the first two seasons but more than makes up for it with deep character explorations, honest confrontations of social issues and… still some punchy fun.

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The Danger Of Makeover TV, or, “These Pants Don’t Fit Anymore”

I watched an episode of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo last night and it was… fine. I like these kinds of shows, and I get emotionally entwined with the people who are having themselves/their homes made over. I wept through both seasons of the new Queer Eye (which, by the way, really impacted my understanding of post-Industrial Revolution broken masculinity, and is a subject I’ve been taking notes on for the past year). I like watching all home makeover shows. I like the little dramas, and I like feeling inspired to take action in my own life.

But watching this show I suddenly realized something I had missed before, and it was the subtle way that shows like this reinforce really bad messaging about change, and how it works. It’s the exact kind of messaging that leads to people getting discouraged and dropping their New Year’s Resolutions, by the way.

At the end of the episode, after a few days of decluttering and tidying, this gay couple in WeHo sat down to discuss how this experience changed them. They both said they were dramatically altered, that their approach to life and emotions had been forever rejiggered, and that they cherished their now-tidy home. And I was suddenly struck with the thought “This is bullshit.”

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BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH And The Illusion Of Free Will

This contains minor spoilers for Netflix’s Black Mirror: Bandersnatch.

I’m in the minority on Black Mirror’s Bandersnatch interactive episode – I find Charlie Brooker’s anti-humanism increasingly tiresome, and out of place in a world that desperately needs positivity*, and I also think that the meta-within-meta concept is student-level stuff and not half as clever as it thinks it is – but I was intrigued by the way the episode approaches the concept of free will. Free will is one of the underpinnings of our modern society – we all operate under the assumption that we have it, after all – but it’s less clear cut than that.

The usual free will debates are free will vs destiny, which fall into the theistic realm – destiny is a supernatural concept that requires some kind of a guiding force. But for the past few decades the real debate has shifted inward, to the self, rather than outward to God or the Fates or whatever. It’s possible that we don’t have free will because we are, essentially, robots whose programming allows us to justify the actions we are forced to take as choices we make.

You see this in Bandersnatch, as Stefan becomes slowly aware that he’s not the one making the choices in his life. In the context of the show this is a fourth wall break, but it read to me as being quite close to some of the stuff I’ve been learning about the human mind in the past couple of years, and that is quite close to research that has changed the way we look at the world and our place in it.

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DEAR WHITE PEOPLE VOL 2: The Best Since M*A*S*H

M*A*S*H has to be the greatest TV show based on a movie. I know there’s likely a big contingent who will go to bat for Buffy the Vampire Slayer – which I love love love – but the difference there is that Buffy the movie didn’t quite work, and Buffy the TV show got to improve on the original. But M*A*S*H? The movie is a classic, yet the show somehow manages to be better and more iconic than the movie (I fully expect some pushback on that from Altman diehards. Fair enough!).

Dear White People on Netflix is closer to M*A*S*H than Buffy; it’s based on a 2014 movie that’s quite great, but the TV version manages to take everything worked in the movie and make it even better. Season one was sort of the Evil Dead 2 of Dear White People – a retelling of the events of the movie with included aftermath – and it was a phenomenal achievement. Creator Justin Simien, who wrote and directed the movie, inherently understood the Netflix binge model, and the show’s format follows one character per episode, with all the stories colliding in the finale. He did this better than Arrested Development season 4’s much-heralded experiment, which I think fundamentally failed. Dear White People focuses on one character at a time, but it doesn’t eliminate the others; it’s sort of the Marvel Cinematic Universe model of TV storytelling, where characters can and will cross over in their individual stories but the focus is always on the episode’s lead.

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Is Netflix Releasing Too Many Movies?

Have you ever walked into a book store and thought, “Man, they’re printing too many books. How can all of these books compete for the attention of readers? Why, some publishers are putting out DOZENS UPON DOZENS of books a year!”

Of course you haven’t. And yet an article on The Ringer – “Netflix and Shill” – bemoans the fact that Netflix has already released 25 original movies this year, and that most of them sink without a trace. Deservedly, it seems. The argument is that Netflix, by inundating the market with these films on their service, is ruining movies and the moviegoing experience, etc etc. You should read the piece, it’s well written.

Now you’ll say, “Look, movies and books are different. You can’t compare the two.” And you’re right, more or less – they have different price points, different production methods, different economic models, different distribution methods, and they’re each consumed in different ways. (Maybe I should just end this essay right there) But it seems like the dismay about Netflix’s model is actually an echo of a continuing cycle of technophobia that goes all the way back to the transition from the oral tradition to the written word.

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JESSICA JONES S2: LADY BIRD, But With Punching

This review spoils the entirety of season two of Jessica Jones. It’s also almost exclusively about plot/theme, and largely ignores performance, cinematography, etc.

The first season of Jessica Jones is the best work that Marvel TV has done. That’s a low, low bar, but it’s actually an excellent season of television, one that works even without the tyranny of the low expectations of The Defenders. The season had all the elements needed to make magic: a great character who is deeply flawed, a terrific villain played by a perfectly cast actor, and a moral arc that spoke to both character and theme. A little long, as all Netflix shows are, JESSICA JONES nonetheless kicked a tremendous amount of ass.

Season two thus has a higher bar to clear. And it’s doing so without the cushion of a storyline and villain that’s already been hashed out in comic book form; season two’s Big Bad is an invention of the show, more or less. But Jessica Jones’ behind the camera team is up to the task, and once we take into account the Law of Netflix (“Henceforth let it be known that all series shall be, at minimum, two episodes too long and thus introduce a lethargic meandering at some point in the season”), we see that they made a new season that matches up to the first.

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