Monday, April 02, 2018

TV: Reality and fakery

ROSEANNE was a ratings success last week -- a huge audience turned out to watch a family torn by politics because, as usual, Roseanne Barr was interested in reflecting what goes on in real life.

It was a very rare honest moment for TV -- a medium that doesn't normally traffic in honesty.

a new illst

Take NBC which decided to air RISE for some reason.

Why decide to option Michael Sokolove's DRAMA HIGH -- a true life story -- only to turn the Lou Volpe character -- a real person, by the way -- into a straight man?  And if you were trying to convince America the character was straight, why cast Josh Radnor?  Radnor last turned up on TV as the when-will-I-get-married character on HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER -- not since Sally Rogers lamented in Rob and Laura's living room has a character been so obsessed with getting married.

The real question RISE begs is are we in the 21st century or back in the 20th?

It was in the 20th, for examples, that films so frequently felt they had to disappear gay storylines (while still using stereotypes to ridicule the disappeared).  1947's film noir classic, CROSSFIRE, took a book about the killing of a gay man and created a movie about a the killing of a Jewish man.  1956's TEA AND SYMPATHY was based on the Broadway success of 1953 -- only the movie erased gay right out of the storyline.  Now, in the 21st century, we get RISE.

In a long rambling statement back in January, Jason Katims (executive producer) attempted to address the straight washing of Lou, insisting, "But in terms of the adaptation itself and why we made that decision, it’s like as you said, it’s very much we took that as an inspiration, and then I really felt like I needed to make it, you know, kind of my own story. And I definitely didn’t want to shy away from issues of sexuality and gender, but was inspired to tell the story of Michael, this transgender character, and Simon, who’s dealing with his emerging sexuality and growing up in a very sort of conservative religious family. And those stories felt like they were sort of resonant with resonated with me kind of as a storyteller, and I wanted to kind of lean into that."  Unlike the conservative HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, not everyone was impressed with the statement.  Lucien WD (MEDIUM) offered:

When I first read Katims’s quote today, I began to recall whether there has been good LGBT representation in his previous work, and the answer is quite a surprising “No”. For a storyteller who revels in the nuances of modern American society, there is a strange lack of gay people in his projects. Parenthood waited until its final few episodes for Haddie (Sarah Ramos) — previously seen in countless straight relationships — come home from college with a girl; yet the nature of their relationship was only (quite strongly) hinted at, and a more naive (ie. child) viewer could have exited Parenthoodwithout any sense that any character had ever been gay, in 6 long seasons. I haven’t seen all of Friday Night Lights, but a friend assures me it’s also a little light on diverse sexuality.

It's straight-washing and it's something else: the margins.

Katims is not willing to have a lead character be gay.  To be gay and fine with being gay.  He'll go with supporting characters who are grappling but the notion that an adult could be gay and not in the midst of a drama about who he is?  That was too much for Katims to deal with.  Teresa Jusino (THE MARY SUE) got that point:

So…he can “lean into” and identify enough with being LGBTQIA to create secondary characters who identify as such. Just not when it comes to his protagonist. Got it.
I could talk about how incredibly homophobic and unfair attitudes like this are—and they are. I could talk about the importance not only for quality but for central character LGBTQIA representation on television. Gay men have been sidekicks or secondary/recurring characters for a while now. We need LGBTQIA heroes on television. Villains, too. But major protagonists and antagonists, not just fodder for B and C storylines. I could say something like, This is why it’s important for more LGBTQIA creators to be sought to tell their community’s stories on television.
I could talk about all that, but I won’t. (Well, I kinda did) Instead, I want to talk about this decision from a writing perspective. Katims is saying that he strayed from his real-life inspiration by making the character straight so he could make the story “his own.” So that he could relate to it better.

She's so right.  But the problem goes beyond Jason Katims.

Josh Radnor -- a so-so actor -- is coming off a successful CBS sitcom and does have pull.  Why didn't he want the character to be gay?  He's so very good at virtue signaling.  But while receiving praise for his so-called 'social justice' efforts, he's apparently not willing to play a gay character.  Which brings up other issues: Those two bad films he wrote, directed and starred in.  Are we the only ones who noticed there were no significant characters who weren't straight and White?  One was set in a college, the other in NYC.  How do you avoid people of color in NYC?  Certainly, Josh, not by accident.

Josh is a dull actor and has always been one.  Maybe his homophobia is a good thing for gays -- they wouldn't want to come off like prigs, now would they?

Katims most recent problem hasn't been an all White cast.  No, on CBS' PURE GENIUS, the show he created right before RISE, the problem was that his multi-racial cast was handed offensive stereotypical roles.

This go round, he's cast the Rosie Perez stereotype with . . . Rosie Perez.  26 years after UNTAMED HEART and she's never varied her hair style or her acting one bit.

The storylines are trite and predictable.  You'll need to floss and rinse after each watching.

Staying on the topic of straight washing, we're confused about Jennifer Garner and Jesse Tyler Ferguson sponsoring showings of LOVE, SIMON.  This tactic worked to make BLACK PANTHER a hit but BLACK PANTHER had Black performers playing Black characters.  What does LOVE, SIMON have?

As Marcia has pointed out, there's something deeply troubling in 2018 that a film wants it's message to be that it's okay to be gay . . . as long as you're played by a straight actor.  We're bothered by how the gay NBC exec is trotted out to defend the straight washing of RISE and we're bothered that criticism of the film LOVE, SIMON is met with 'director Greg Berlanti is gay.'  So what?  It doesn't change the fact that if you're film is supposed to present a positive message about being gay, why do you cast a straight actor in that role?

There's so much fakeness and fakery.

Take the pretense that the US media gives a damn about the Iraq War.  It doesn't.  Where are the guests calling for the end of the Iraq War?  Where are the reports from Basra and Baghdad?

As we noted last week in "TV: 60 MINUTES of gossip," the media couldn't even be bothered with covering the 15th anniversary of the Iraq War.

If you didn't get how bad it was, Saturday saw the funeral for one of the seven service members killed in Iraq in a helicopter crash in March.  The British press could carry stories -- and did -- about the funeral of Christopher Raguso and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio could attend the funeral but the NYC press was largely unable to cover it?

We find it interesting and telling that NYC's NBC and CBS stations elected to 'cover' the funeral by running AP stories.   We get it, we do.  It's 51 miles to travel from NYC to Long Island, you gotta go clear down I-495, it's just too much trouble and expense for the purveyors of nothingness.  They chatter, they babble, they just don't reflect the world around us.

ROSEANNE returned to ABC with two new episodes last week.  Some on the left sounded like George H.W. Bush as they tried to rip her apart.  Her show did not preach Donald Trump.  Her show reflected the country.  It's a sharp return and a funny one.  But it's also an honest return.

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