Tuesday, January 18, 2022

TV: NAOMI, PEACEMAKER and INFINITE explore superheroes

Superhero?  The key term there is "super."  It's a term that's apparently easily forgotten judging by most superhero shows.




This was especially true of superhero shows revolving around women.  We thought the genre had hit is nadir with SUPERGIRL.  The CBS and CW series was nothing but an embarrassment -- especially after they proved to be too cheap to pay the only functioning actor in the cast: Calista Flockhart.  While she went from regular to sometime guest star, the show remained center on the bland Melissa Benoist who played Kara.  At the start of the series, Kara was supposed to be 24 but Melissa played her as a en-year-old and, by season six, possibly as a 12-year-old.  It was pathetic and embarrassing.  Playing a high school Clark Kent in SMALLVILLE, Tom Welling showed more maturity from day one.


Each season, Kara and Melissa became even more pathetic.  As awful and retro as that program was, turns out there was much worse to come: STARGIRL.  The character, played by Brec Bassinger, was so archaic and so clumsy, she appeared to have been fitted with a vintage, belted maxi pad.  


In fact, that awkwardness pretty much capture what was being offered as female superheroes in the '00s (outside of THE X-MEN films) and the '10s.  That's why WONDER WOMAN was such a sea change.  Yes, THE AVENGERS films had Black Widow from the start (2012) and Scarlett Johansson provided a vibrant personality.  But, reality, we're not calling NIKITA a TV superhero show.  Maggie Q did an even better job with her martial arts skilled character but we didn't consider Nikita a superhero.  Scarlett's Black Widow had no super powers.  And it was a joke to see that first movie with 11 billed starring performers and only two were women.  As for Elizabeth Olsen, in no film did Scarlet Witch get to truly show her powers -- more powerful than Dr. Strange.  And she didn't get to show her real powers in that awful (and sexist) DISNEY+ show until the final episode.


No, for strong female superheroes, it took Krysten Ritter showing up in 2015's JESSICA JONES and Gal Galdot showing up in 2016's BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE and then, in 2017's  WONDER WOMAN and subsequent films.  Galdot was a strong presence on camera and a full grown woman. Ritter played Jessica Jones, on the three season NETFLIX series, as a take-no-crap bad ass.  There were no efforts made to make either's character precious or precocious.  They were women and they were recognizable women, despite (or because of) their super powers.  The same would be true in 2019 when Brie Larson showed up as the title character in CAPTAIN MARVEL.  That same year, broadcast TV would finally get a worthy female superhero in BATWOMAN on THE CW.  Ruby Rose was not the dumb and stupid Kara or Stargirl.  She knew what she wanted -- to fight crime -- and she had the training.  Most of all, the character's comic book world came with strong visuals that easily translated to TV.

It looked like smooth sailing but then Ruby was out after the first season and when season two kicked off, in 2021, and Javicia Leslie was the title character.  It was awful and the fans rejected it.  In fairness to Leslie, that really wasn't her fault.  It was the writing.  Ruby had played a woman with confidence.  Leslie came on to the show acting like Cheryl Ladd on season two of CHARLIE'S ANGELS, the bumbling and fumbling kid sister.

No, that's not what we want in a superhero.  Not when they're adults.  We wouldn't even take that in a golly-gee-wiz Tom Holland performance as high school Spider-Man.

It's unacceptable for a superhero to be scared all the time and feeling unworthy all the time and -- It was garbage.  It was THE CARRIE DIARIES done all over but this time in a cape and cowl.  And, no, they would never have done that with a male lead.  And, no, it was not at all believable for this adult character who is supposed to have just spent two years in prison.  

But there she was, as weak, insecure and pathetic as Kara and Stargirl.  The superhero as nebbish?  No, it doesn't play well.

Which is why last week felt almost revolutionary as NAOMI debuted on THE CW.  Kaci Walfall plays the title role, Naomi McDuffie, a high schooler who will go on to become the superhero Powerhouse.  Naomi is strong and interesting.  She's not a kewpie doll that you pat on the head, she's a young woman who holds your attention.


Give a lot of credit for that to Ava DuVernay and Jill Blankenship who wrote the pilot and Amanda Marsalis who directed it.  And, with Ava and Jill creating the show and executive producing it with Paul Garnes,  we have every right to believe the strengths will only continue, that Naomi will go the route of Buffy Summers and not the meek and pathetic route THE CW female costumed superheroes have taken.


NAOMI is one of three strong superhero projects of recent time.




HBO MAX debuted PEACEMAKER this month.  It stars John Cena in the title role.  John's playing a cartoon hero set in the real world.  It makes for many solid moments.  John first  played the character in last year's film THE SUICIDE SQUAD.

John shines in the show and a good deal of the reason for that is his teammate Leota Adebayo.  She's played by Danielle Brooks and they have the kind of strong chemistry that makes for a good buddy film or buddy cop show.  MARVEL rightly earned credit for ETERNALS and for the kiss between Brian Tyree Henry and Haaz Sleiman and for their relationship in the film -- two men in love and raising a child together.  PEACEMAKER and NAOMI are part of the DC universe -- the major comic book rival to MARVEL.  In NAOMI, her father thinks she might be involved with a female student, and it's a nice note (and credit to Barry Watson who handles it perfectly) but despite the comic books advances, one character after another on THE CW has been straight, straight, straight.  When Ruby Rose played BATWOMAN in season one, the character was a lesbian -- one with real desires, the same as any person -- straight or gay -- would have.  Since Jacivia Leslie has taken over as the lead of BATWOMAN, the character is more a lesbian with longings than a woman with an active sexual life.  This is all the more disturbing when you realize that Leslie looks her age (34) and yet comes across like a young gril still struggling to acknowledge, let alone act upon, her sexual urges.


In the comic book world, BATWOMAN was lesbian from the moment she was reintroduced in 2009's DETECTIVE COMICS.

Batwoman autographed

Actually, she was outed in 2003  And there have been other DC gay superheroes from time to time, although the main impression DC has always given is that they do gay characters as stunts to get attention and then drop it.  Like when they got so much attention for making GREEN LANTERN familiar with gay characters -- or at least living in a world that they also inhabited -- only to drop it after Judd Winick left the title and they'd garnered a ton of publicity.   Or making Jonathan Kent bisexual in the comic book (he's now Superman) and then, after getting all the press for it, sending Jon's partner off to another planet. 


Jon Kent is on THE CW in SUPERMAN AND LOIS.  But the most recent episode had him shirtless in bed with a fully dressed young woman.   In the comics, Tim Drake is bisexual.  On HBO MAX's TITANS, Tim's never been sexually interested in anything but women.  


THE CW has an appalling record when it comes to gay superheroes and it's even more appalling because, until NAOMI, every one of the DC programs was produced by the same man -- the same gay man -- Greg Berlanti.  Married with two children, you'd think Greg would want to present gay characters.  Apparently not.  BATWOMAN, STARGIRL, BLACK LIGHTENING, ARROW, THE FLASH, SUPERGIRL, LEGENDS OF TOMORROW, SUPERMAN AND  LOIS and TITANS.  All those programs?  From Greg Berlanti.


Besides BATWOMAN, where is the gay superhero in his programs?  Sara Lance on LEGENDS OF TOMORROW (Caity Lotz) is involved with Ava (Jes Macallan) and that's worth noting.  Their rare scenes together add texture to Sara's White Canary superhero.  But it's equally true that Wentworth Miller, who has publicly stated (since he came out) that he wants to play gay characters, was on LEGENDS OF TOMORROW for 24 episodes and he wasn't playing a gay character.  

What's Greg's problem?  Does he think straight audiences will be turned on by two women but grossed out by two men?  What's his problem?  He's an out gay man who employs many gay actors (some who are out) but can't seem to portray a male superhero in love or lust (or both) with another man.  It's like DC COMICS just doing bi-sexual males -- they're superheroes and they may suck a cock but, don't worry, they'll pound some vagina too.  It's as though the whole comic franchise is in the midst of a homosexual panic.


Danielle's Leota on PEACEMAKER?  The TV show has made her Amanda Waller's daughter.  Waller is played by Viola Davis in the two SUICIDE SQUAD films and she makes a cameo in PEACEMAKER speaking, over the computer, to her daughter Leota.  Leota  is married to Keeya (Elizabeth Ludlow) and they're planning a family -- if they have a girl, Leota wants to name her Octopussy after Maude Adams' character in the James Bond film.

They have a sweet and passionate relationship that's important to rounding out the character.  Otherwise, she'd be less of a person and more of a sidekick tagging along behind Peacemaker.

It's a strong cast but, most importantly, it's a strong storyline.  Each episode adds a little more tension.  And the series has some of the best visuals since STARZ's NOW APOCALYPSE.  Yes, it was fun to see John Cena's nude butt sticking out of the back of a hospital gown and to see him battle a villain while wearing just his tighty-whities, but we're talking about camera framing and color scheme.  This is an inventive show. And there aren't a lot of those these days.


SINGLE ALL THE WAY?  A great NETFLIX film that we never got to work into a review.  It's hilarious -- as you'd expect any film that features both Jennifer Coolidge and Kathy Najimy to be. SINGLE ALL THE WAY is a funny comedy about Christmas in the spirit of the Barbara Stanwyck classic CHRISTMAS IN CONNECTICUT.  As Christmas looms, Peter (Michael Urie) finds out his new boyfriend is married.  Single again, he's about to go home for Christmas, to his family that wants him to be with someone, they desperately want him to be with someone.  He hopes his roommate and best friend Nick will serve as a buffer for the holiday visit.  But Mom (Kathy) wants to fix him up with her hot gym instructor James (Luke Macfarlane) while Dad (Barry Bostwick) gets, before anyone else, that his son is meant to be with Nick (Philemon Chambers).  It's a great holiday movie and one you should check out, anytime of the year, on NETFLIX.

Another film we wanted to note but weren't able to previously?  PARAMOUNT+'s INFINITE.  This is a superhero film based on . . . a novel.  Not a graphic novel.  We note that because there is this belief that there's a limited number of superheroes up for grabs.  Not true.  There are other comic book publishers besides DC and MARVEL.  And there is also more source material for superhero films and TV shows than just comic books.  INFINITE stars Mark Wahlberg and that may be why it got so many negative reviews.  Mark's a solid actor but critics -- or simpletons that pose as critics -- have been going after him since 2017.  It has nothing to do with his work onscreen and everything to do with their own need to virtue signal since they don't have the brains or analytical abilities to actually critique.

INFINITE's different enough that it was always going to be a slow builder.  That would have been true even if Chris Evans had starred in the film. It's an interesting concept at the heart of the film and it generates conversations and the film's reputation will only grow.  

We highly recommend it and we're glad to note it and two other projects (NAOMI and PEACEMAKER) that put the super back in superhero.

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