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.


How daughter Anna helped Frances Moore Lappe destroy her life's work

We've long been fans of Frances Moore Lappe's DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET.  Then we made the mistake of reading the 50th anniversary edition that was published last September.  We'd ignored it until Trina began writing about it.  We'll include her last piece on the book in a moment but she and C.I. are correct, this edition is a repudiation of Frances' entire work.

We get it.  She's old.  She's thinking of dying.  Daughter Anna needs a job, let's turn the franchise over to her.

No, let's don't.

Anna's an idiot who doesn't understand mom's work and makes that clear in the recipes that she (Anna) selected for this awful edition.

The whole point of DIET FOR A SMALL PLANET (until the 50th edition) was that you can eat healthy, you can feed your family healthy meals.  You can get protein without meat.  You can eat healthy.

The recipes in the 20th anniversary edition made that clear.  Want to make healthy bread?  Easy Mexican Pan Bread (beans and cornmeal are among the ingredients), Whole Wheat Quick Bread, Jenny's Tofu Corn Bread, No Wait Wheat-Oat Bread, Quick and Easy Pumpernickel, Wheat-Soy-Sesame Bread, Triti-Casserole Bread and Boston Brown Bread -- all built around healthy ingredients.

In the 50th edition?  One bread recipe gets three pages.  It's the only real bread recipe (ginger bread doesn't count).  Why does it need three pages?  To let you know what THE NEW YORK TIMES said about it and other nonsense.  What are the non-optional ingredients?  Salt, yeast and all purpose flour.  Yes, this is white bread.  Would you have ever expected garbage bread in a Frances Moore Lappe book?  In previous versions, she offered recipes for bread in which she boasted only two slices of the bread would provide you with 1/5 of the protein you needed for the day.  This garbage bread that Anna's promoting?  No nutritional value at all.

Well Frances was trying to make it clear that you could do a meal for a family and do it quickly.  So this new garbage bread recipe, it's quick right?


You start out by mixing the ingredients.  Then you set aside..  For 18 hours.  18 hours.

Then you're going to kneed the dough twice and then give it 15 minutes to rise.

Guess what?  You're not done yet.

You're going to roll it into a ball.  And cover it for two hours.

You're then going to bake it in the oven -- covered -- for 30 minutes.

Then bake for another 20 to 30 minutes.

Then let cool for 30 minutes.

Wow.  What working mom or dad has the time for that garbage bread recipe.

At least 21 hours and 45 minutes to make that bread?

Anna Lappe is one stupid idiot.  And she's destroying her mother's work by telling readers to spend almost 22 hours making garbage bread that has no nutritional value.  You might as well be serving your family Wonder Bread.  

As C.I. and Trina have noted, the recipes in this edition are a complete repudiation of Frances Moore Lappe's life's work.  Shameful.  We could do this over and over, by the way.  We could pick any dish at random from the 50th edition and show you how it takes too much time and provides too little nutrition.  

Here's Trina's review:

A bad Diet for a Small Planet in the Kitchen

Frances Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet is in its 50th edition which came out last September.  I hate this book.  That's going to be shocking to readers of this site because until this edition was published, DfaSP was my favorite book and one that I recommended over and over and referenced all the time -- in real life and here at this site.

What changed?

The arguments she's long made about sustainability and access are stronger than ever.  It's just her recipes this edition that are both crap and undermining of everything she's arguing.

C.I. shared some thoughts in Friday' morning's snapshot and noted that she hoped she wasn't stepping on my toes?  Not at all.  Her remarks clarified a lot of what bothered me about this book.

I am a registered nurse.  I do know a thing or two about health.  This book's recipes aren't about health.  And they certainly aren't about working mothers trying to feed their families.  It's a bunch of crap.  I think it might have happened because Frances is trying to turn the franchise over to her daughter.  There's a story in the lead up to the recipes where someone's friend (daughter Anna?) is at a food eatery where you make your own order and comes up with all these vegetables and the wait staff asks if she wants some protein and the friend, we are told, laughs through her mask and I didn't find the story humorous or charming.  I found it offensive.  Someone is working for a living, they're working at an eatery that tries to offer healthy foods and the author wants to make fun of them?  

That's everything that's wrong with this update.  

As C.I. noted, it's frou-frou garbage.  I'm not a working mother now.  I'm a working grandmother.  I checked with my grandkids, they don't want these new recipes.

In the original book, Frances was taking dishes -- like enchiladas -- and building on them, redoing them so that they could be healthy and even meatless.  And it worked.  You could make these meals and your kids would eat.

This garbage?  No.

And C.I.'s right about the grocery deserts.  The original book understood that way our society was set up and how you needed to be aware that some people had limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables because they lived in areas underserved by grocery stores.

This book doesn't grasp that at all and thinks you can get this frou-frou ingredient and that one at your average grocery store when, no, you can't.  

Barbara Kingsolver, years ago, made an important comment to the I'm-too-cool-for-school crowd when they were putting down canned vegetables.  Canned vegetables travel with less expense than do fresh ones -- fresh ones can require refrigeration and make other demands.  You should be local and produce and what is in season.  If you care about minimizing your impact on the environment, that's what you should do.  This book has no grasp of that reality.  None at all.

There's a bread recipe.  That has no nutritional value.  That uses all purpose flour and has no nutritional value or health benefit.  But, hey, an NYC chef's gotten famous off the recipe so let's include it.

Time and again, the recipes are useless.  Working mothers aren't helped with recipes that kids are not going to want to eat.  The book could have done cauliflower recipes where you cooked them with the same sauce as chicken wings.  That would have worked as a recipe kids would be interested in.

This reads like recipes for Carrie Bradshaw in the 90s -- at a time when even Sarah Jessica Parker knows that Carrie is out of touch and has to be updated.  

The recpies truly are, as C.I. noted, a repudiation of the books' emssage and core.


This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot" for Friday:







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