When The 100, based on the book of the same name by Kass Morgan, premiered midseason in spring 2014 I—like many others—was on post-apocalyptic teen angst overload. Though a longtime supporter of The CW network and its mixed bag of shows, I had a full belly of Hunger Games-eque dystopian fiction and mediocre sci-fi television shows. No thanks, I thought. I’ll pass.
It’s amazing how, when you suddenly find yourself with a lot of time on your hands, you start to second-guess that kind of decision. Less than a year after shrugging off The 100, I found myself marathoning 24 episodes in two days. It took me four days total to catch up to the second season as it aired. “I’ll pass” became “I’ll pass out if I don’t find out what happens next.” Why? Continue reading
Writing a sexual assault into your canon? Take a look at this handy-dandy checklist first:
When is it Okay to Use Rape as a Plot Device?
And, yet, it persists. So many television shows, both daytime and primetime, revert to rape as a “deep” or “edgy” stunt to move a story forward, reveal a piece of characterization, etc. The latest being HBO’s Game of Thrones. Sonia Saraiya at the AV Club wrote a brilliant takedown of the show’s insistence on changing consensual sex scenes to rape scenes here and there’s not much I can add to that but my anger. And my exhaustion.
My defection to ABC Family began years ago, with Greek (2007), The Middleman (2008) and Make it or Break It (2009). Now, it’s the channel I turn to first for smart, fun, diverse youth-oriented programming.
If you still think ABC Family is the “Family Channel” of yore, rife with conservative, preachy, Seventh Heaven-esque shows run back-to-back with The 700 Club, you’re missing out on some great TV. The network’s tagline is “a new kind of family,” and it delivers on that promise: putting forth fresh projects and taking risks on stories that might not get traction anywhere else. For instance, weekly sitcom Melissa & Joey is refreshingly adult, Who’s the Boss for a new generation, with fast and flip sexual banter and teens who can more than hold their own. But it’s the dramatic field where ABCF really shines.
PLL’s Fields family
When I was growing up, Beverly Hills, Sunnydale, Capeside and Roswell were very white, heteronormative enclaves. It didn’t matter if their corresponding real-life geography boasted more diversity, the shows were pretty homogenous. If you weren’t fair-skinned and straight, you didn’t really see yourself on teen TV. By and large, if there were characters of color, they’d be wacky sidekicks, the first to die in a murder mystery or part of a brief Afterschool Special arc wherein somebody fell for a person from The Wrong Side of the Tracks. ABC Family changed that. Lincoln Heights, about a black family in LA, ran for four seasons. Greek had a college-age cast, with black characters Calvin and Ashleigh each getting their own love interests. Calvin, black and gay, actually had two — complete with onscreen smooches and implied sex. Got any pearls? Feel free to clutch ’em. The Middleman featured Natalie Morales as lead character Wendy Watson. The flighty bestie? A blonde. How many times does that happen? Then there’s Pretty Little Liars‘ lesbian teen Emily Fields (Shay Mitchell). Her parents are portrayed by Eric Steinberg and Nia Peeples, and you don’t sit around wondering, “What are the Fieldses?” because you already know: a family trying to support each other while crazy crap happens around them. And ABCF continues to…you know, I don’t want to say “push the envelope.” Because it’s not scandalous. They’re just putting a bigger, better envelope on the table! This summer’s Twisted and The Fosters are prime (pun fully intended!) examples.
As a long-time soap viewer, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to hear a character on General Hospital declare that, “Sonny is a good man.” They could record that line and just play it back as needed — and if I had a dollar for every utterance, I could retire in Fiji. But, while early retirement sounds nice, the problem is that Sonny Corinthos is not a good man. He’s a flawed man, a broken man, stubborn and selfish and violent. He’s abusive to women, a bully and an asshat. No amount of telling us “he’s a good man” changes what we’ve seen him do onscreen. You know what does? Other stuff he does onscreen, without fanfare or a Greek Chorus pointing out how awesome he is. Sitting by Stone’s bedside, helping Connie when Trey was dying, having sane conversations about his kids with his ex-wife — that’s what explains to the viewer that this guy is worth keeping around.
It’s the basic rule of writing: Show, don’t tell.
“You asked for a soul,” vampire Angel points out to his protégé, Spike in season five of his eponymous series. “I didn’t. It almost killed me. I spend a hundred years trying to come to terms with infinite remorse. You spent three weeks moaning in a basement, and then you were fine. What’s fair about that?” Not much, that’s for sure! Especially since Spike’s reappearance on Angel undercuts his genuine self-sacrifice in the series finale of Buffy the Vampire Slayer — the ending Spike earned, after nabbing his soul didn’t really work out.
Truly effective redemption arcs happen without incentive, without characters spelling it out for the reader or viewer and waiting for the redeemed at the finish line with a gold medal. They aren’t quick fixes.
[Spoilers for Game of Thrones and Once Upon a Time below the jump]
Love triangles are a cornerstone of relationship-themed serial drama. Long before anyone was declaring Team Edward or Team Jacob, both daytime and nighttime soaps were making bank on meaty, angsty, sexy wars of the heart.
But triangles are hard to write effectively, and the better ones showcase all the characters involved at their peak awesomeness. The best ones…? Well, those make it nearly impossible to pick a side at all!
In recent years, I’ve been a huge fan of how The CW’s The Vampire Diaries handled the trope…having brothers Stefan and Damon each acknowledge the other’s affection for Elena but not drawing battle lines over her — there have always been more important fights for this crazy cast of supernatural beauties. Unfortunately, the series dropped the ball in their latest season, finally giving Damon/Elena fans what they wanted, but at the cost of what made Elena rootable. The idea that vampire Elena is sire-bonded to Damon is an interesting one, but the execution is terrible.
Four years ago, The Good Wife‘s Kalinda Sharma was, undoubtedly, one of the most fascinating characters of the new fall TV slate. Mysterious, beautiful, badass, bisexual and of South Asian origin…what an explosive, and intriguing, combination. She made us teeter on the edge of our seats, breath bated as we tuned in to see what she’d do next. She was the unknown quantity on a tightly written legal drama, exquisitely played by Archie Panjabi and a wild card foil for Julianna Margulies’ more controlled Alicia Florrick. Viewers knew only that Kalinda was unscrupulous and had a checkered past, with the hints and details of that past dropping like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs over the course of seasons two and three. But now, as we delve into season four, it’s becoming clear that those crumbs were never actually a fully baked loaf. The writers took all of Kalinda’s badassery and potential and scattered it to the four winds before it had even really taken shape. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the casting of Kalinda’s husband, Nick.
Up until this point, Kalinda’s husband was the bogeyman, a shadow figure who led her to flee her old identity — not just running from him but also from who she used to be. On one level, bringing in someone, anyone, to embody that role is genius: Suddenly, Kalinda’s sick cat-and-mouse game with Blake makes sense; suddenly, her inability to process genuine affection makes sense. But in execution, Nick and this story arc are just as ill-conceived as the Blake arc was. Because The Good Wife, perhaps in an effort to capitalize on Fifty Shades of Grey, is trying to play Kalinda and Nick as both erotic and abusive. Kalinda’s fear of a husband that drove her to change her entire life has suddenly become mealy-mouthed muttering to Alicia that he’s not that dangerous. Why? Because she gets off on his treatment of her? Because she doesn’t want Alicia getting into her business? TGW, thus far, has chosen to hedge instead of saying outright. And that undercuts Kalinda as a character, weakens her and makes her really hard to watch.
Last fall, when I was still an intrepid entertainment journalist, I had the chance to chat with cast members of SyFy’s Haven at New York Comic Con about what season three holds for the titular Troubled Maine town and its denizens. Rather than let all those juicy details go to waste, here’s a taste of what Lucas Bryant (Nathan) and Eric Balfour (Duke) had to say about saving the world. Hint: All you need is love!
Season two ended with Nathan and Duke struggling over a gun and a gunshot ringing out. Who’s the last man standing? “Duke would definitely win, but only because Duke doesn’t play by the rules,” insisted Balfour. “And the beauty of Nathan Wuornos is he is an earnest hero. We are the opposing forces of good: Nathan is a earnest hero, Duke is the reluctant hero. He’s Luke Skywalker, I’m Han Solo.”
“That’s so Duke, to say that,” scoffed Bryant-as-Nathan in response. “I’ll tell you he’s wrong. ‘Who won?’ You know what, Duke, there are no winners. He’s just got it all wrong. The guy’s attitude is all messed up. If he really knew what was going on, he would know that when people fight, when there is war, when there is feuding, no one really wins. So, I stand on the moral high ground.”
One thing the guys stand together on is the fascinating relationship between their constantly dueling characters. “In all honesty, without sounding silly, I think that the love story of this show really is between Nathan and Duke,” mused Balfour. “[In] every show there’s an element of soap opera and melodrama, and I’m sure we’ll see Audrey date Nathan, or Audrey with Duke, or another person…you’ll have all of that, but I think the one relationship that will really continue to grow — and form the finale — will be the reconciliation of Duke and Nathan.”