Television

American Gods Worth the Hype

There is always hesitation when a favorite novel is being adapted.  A cherished book is like your child, and it’s hard not be defensive when it comes to these works – to find a balance in your mind between wanting everyone to enjoy this book and also it to be handled properly in adaptation. But the best thing to hear for book lovers is that their fave is not being made into a movie, but a television series. This opens up so much possibility to stay close to the source material, to not cut out anything really important to the novel, and to even expand on the existing universe.

Imagine our excitement when American Gods was slated for a second season by Starz even prior to the show’s premiere on April 30th. With already two seasons to look forward to, fans of Neil Gaiman’s 2001 novel were even more excited to see how this story was going to play out. The potential for additional seasons (or at least a third) puts less pressure on the creators to cram too much into too little time, leaving plot points or characters integral to the story on the cutting room floor. Instead, we’re being gifted with an expansion of the world Gaiman created, and with his involvement in the project, you almost feel like you’ve been handed a gift.

american-gods-premiere-date-posterNot only are Gaiman’s readers’ reeling at the fortune of how much of the story we’re going to get, but Bryan Fuller and Michael Green are the creators with David Slade on as director and producer on some of the episodes. Fans of the television series Hannibal will know two of those names well. After the worry of adaptation passed, the next wave of panic was how the material was going to be handled. It’s quite visual and haunting, and when Fuller was announced as the person taking on this enormous task, all apprehension I had about the telling of American Gods fell to the wayside. Fuller’s Hannibal was so intense in its visual storytelling that I knew Gaiman’s material was in good hands. After watching the first episode, I’m certain we’re all in for a ride.

Many adaptations simply fall flat or deviate so far from the source material it loses something in the process, or the product just doesn’t live up to the hype. This is one of the only times that I haven’t been let down in the slightest – in fact, I was so pumped up for what’s to come after watching the first episode that I couldn’t get to sleep. My husband, who was hesitant to judge because hasn’t read the novel and only had seen a few episodes of Hannibal with me, commented on how great Ian McShane is for the part of Wednesday (we’re fans of Deadwood) and said that the beginning of the show reminded him of a mix between 300 and Hannibal, and I couldn’t disagree. He wasn’t interested in watching the show despite the trailers I’d shown him, but five minutes in, he was hooked. The characters have been brought to life by an incredibly perfect cast led by Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle (The 100), and I’m fairly certain at least one of the casting directors sold their soul for such an amazing group to fill these powerful roles. Told with a touch of humor and over-the-top imagery, American Gods is a force to be reckoned with.

If you didn’t believe the hype before, trust that American Gods is well worth your time and the add-on subscription to your Amazon Prime account. You can watch American Gods on Starz and Starz apps on devices and through affiliates on Sundays at 9 E/P.  Be ready to believe.

Supernatural Writers Glynn and Berens Tee Up the End of Season 12 With “The Future”

Last night’s episode of Supernatural was extraordinary in so many ways – enough for me to want to sit down and write something about it. We’re in season 12 with the Winchesters, and with the show renewed for an unprecedented 13th season on the CW, fans are curious as to how these story lines and relationships between the characters are going to play out. Spoilers below!

With episode “The Future” (12.19), writers Meredith Glynn and Robert Berens breathed some life into a season that has felt a bit disjointed both in writing and, in some cases, acting. Shows have a tendency to drop plot points and pick them up later when convenient, and Supernatural is not immune to this. After last season’s questionable plot regarding the Darkness and the short-lived and ill-used arc of Dean Winchester as a demon in season 10, some viewers are in and out, cherry-picking the episodes they watch live (during initial airing) based on the writers and what characters are involved. The show has been around long enough for fans to know which episodes are must-watch and which ones can sit on the DVR for a few days. Whether or not the show takes note, a lot of this has to do with who penned the script.

“The Future” brought back the angel Castiel (Misha Collins) who had been incommunicado, and returned to the main plot of the season. A woman pregnant with the antichrist (Kelly Kline, played by Courtney Ford) is being fought over by heaven and hell and Sam and Dean Winchester (played by Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles) struggle to find a way to save as many lives as possible while putting down the threat of Lucifer’s child being born, while Cas decides to take the fight on himself for the Winchester’s safety and to redeem himself for heaven.  This all feels a little bit like Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens in terms of possibility for plot direction, and if it did happen to go that way, I for one would not be upset about it. 

This week’s writers scripted the characters in such a natural way that I actually fell back in love with the show. Glynn and Berens didn’t overcrowd the script by pushing way too many characters and plot points into an episode, nor did they make excuses for where they might be in a way that distracts from the story they’re trying to tell on screen at that moment. Other episodes have tried to patch plot holes with shoddily presented exposition, and “The Future” didn’t try to do that. With the exception of one moment regarding the pregnancy term with a nephilim that I don’t think could have been helped with as far along in the season we are, there wasn’t a ton of exposition just thrown out flat, and even at that Jared Padalecki’s delivery allowed it to flow like conversation.

In addition to the dialog that felt very natural, the small things Glynn and Berens put into the script truly allowed the audience to suspend disbelief in a show that was beginning to feel like a soap opera. Cas trying to return a cassette tape Dean had given him. Sam is hard at work calculating and plotting their next move. Cas is locked out of the Impala, and even though he’s arguing with Sam about what to do and defending why he’s mad at Cas, Dean still tosses Cas the keys and continues his conversation. That’s real. That’s layering a scene. This writing team proved it doesn’t have to be all close ups and dramatic pauses. A scene doesn’t have to stop for emotion to be pouring from the characters while also moving the plot along.

Any actor will tell you that a well-written script makes their job easier, and it really showed last night. The cast’s mannerisms as their characters were less exaggerated than some of the season’s previous episodes. In those cases I alluded to above, the characters are sometimes written and therefore played in ways that feel like caricatures of who they have been portrayed as for years. Lucifer’s power and fierceness as he screamed at the demon Dagon (played beautifully by Ali Ahn) came through without coming off cartoonish which matched the tone of the episode, and the timing of everything, whether comedic or dramatic, was perfect. Collin’s portrayal of Cas essentially being kidnapped and talking to Kelly from the backseat of the Impala was outstanding. Padalecki expresses Sam’s earnestness and hope to perfection, and the hurt Dean feels is played even more poignantly in this episode – almost unlike anything we’ve seen since season 8, but Ackles’ facial expressions and tone of voice are always on point.

Amanda Tapping (who also played angel Naomi in Season 8) directed the episode, continuing an enjoyable trend of Supernatural alum directing episodes. The potentially triggering suicide attempt at the beginning of the episode could have been played far worse than it was, but in the hands of Tapping, it was presented it in a way that was actually beautiful and used as an integral piece of storytelling – not showing the skin being pierced, but instead focusing on the face of the actress to draw full attention to the emotions the character was going through. For a graphic suicide scene, it was, in my opinion, tastefully done. The framing of scenes was beautiful, especially when peeking through the art deco cutouts in the Men of Letters bunker and wall partition in the motel room. While a few things stuck out in an I wish they had… kind of way, the episode was one of the best of the season, hands down. [Note: Next week we’ll have an episode directed by another person who’s no stranger to the Supernatural family, Richard Speight, Jr., and written by new arrival Steve Yockey, both fan favorites.]

As usual, there were some dissenters online (especially on twitter) who expressed hatred of the episode because, frankly, they simply don’t like one of the main characters, no matter what the writers do. Their negativity is in no way a commentary on Glynn and Berens’ abilities. The arguments ranged from asking why Cas was still alive to why he would leave the Winchesters in danger, but when played against every character arc in the show’s history, especially in regards to the recurring theme of doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, their arguments are hollow. Glynn and Berens wrote a story that was completely in line with the overarching themes of the show and the motivations of its characters and seemed to foreshadow a frightening and compelling end to the season – something the audience needs after the past two years’ season finales fell a little flat. Whether audience members liked the episode or not, everyone is wondering if Cas is being influenced by the unborn nephilim that saved him from Dagon, and how this potential pull on loyalties will turn out for Cas, Sam, and Dean. This is one of few times during season 12 that I can say I’m genuinely looking forward to finding out what happens next for the Winchesters. 

Supernatural airs Thursdays on the CW at 8pm EST, 7pm Central.

Moving away from the “strong female” trope and just writing good characters

Over the course of television and film history we’ve watched as generations of women lobbied for female representation. Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman in the 70s has been iconic, as well as the ladies that made up Charlie’s Angels leading into the 80s and Lucy Lawless’ Xena in the 90s. The badass women who were beautiful and beat the hell out of the bad guys were important to lots of girls growing up, but The Powers That Be take these characters as a base for building not so great characters with traits that became a tiring trope – a disservice to the audience, let alone the women behind these characters.  While female characters who dress scantily, are excellent marksmen, and punch assholes in the face are awesome, when the characterization stops there the importance of creating a female role in the first place is lost.

Important steps forward have been seen in characters like Buffy Summers who was feminine, wore makeup, and loved pink while also being exceptionally skilled, allowing girls to see that just because you like things that are typically associated with girls doesn’t make you weak – and that you don’t have to discard femininity or look down on girls who drew hearts in pink glitter pen on their notebooks to be powerful.

Michonne, Danai Gurira, The Walking Dead

Danai Gurira as Michonne [from TWD Wikia]

The Walking Dead‘s Michonne has been a touching example of a fascinating female character as we watch her slice through zombies and enemies alike with a cold and quiet demeanor, only to be shown how vulnerable and nurturing she really was. Her strength was displayed in putting down her weapon when she had the opportunity to and picking it back up again when she was needed. Meanwhile, Bella Crawford on Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal was stubborn and desired to die with dignity and Orphan Black‘s clones display a mixture of science mastery, ability for manipulation, and suburban motherhood among their strengths. Creating female characters with depth that didn’t bust in people’s faces on the regular was also important, redefining “strong women” and broadening the characters we were seeing on screen, both big and small. Showing emotions doesn’t always make you weak, wielding a weapon doesn’t always make you strong, and giving a diverse display of what it means to be a woman reaches and resonates with a broader audience.

We’re seeing a beautiful change in female representation in media overall, but within the shows themselves that are providing this representation, it’s better than expected. While the film industry is still trying to catch up, television (network, cable, and instant streaming) is sprinting away with characters that are dynamic and fully fleshed out with strengths and faults in all shapes, sizes, ages, ethnic groups, and sexualities in shows like The 100, The Walking Dead, Agent Carter, How To Get Away With Murder, Jessica Jones, Daredevil, Vikings, and so many more. More than that, we’re getting relationships between women and platonic relationships between women and menI have to pause for a moment in disbelief and joy because those two things make me so incredibly happy. Women are not only being written with characteristics like fierce loyalty, cleverness, ruthlessness, and nurturing love, but we’re also being shown why the pretentions of previous decades are absolutely ridiculous. Recently in an episode of Agent Carter, already noted for doing at excellent job in representation (especially for the time period in which it is set), the male characters scoff at the idea of a larger woman – despite being a trained member of the agency – being able to take on an integral part of a mission that required her to be physical.

Lesley Boone, Rose Roberts, Agent Carter

Lesley Boone as Rose Roberts in Season 2 of Agent Carter

This attitude is similar to what the men did to Peggy Carter herself, and while no longer doubting Peggy’s prowess, Sousa doubted this woman’s ability to do her job while scapegoating it on him being able to focus and not be worried about her. Of course she accomplishes her task with a satisfied grin. Reinforcing the same point that Agent Carter made in its first season, this moment added appearances into the mix, giving bigger women such as myself (who had to experience disheartening looks of shock when I told people I did 5ks for fun and was training for a half-marathon) representation and a boost of confidence.

The true heart of these shows is character, and it seems as if creators are realizing just how important these things are to their audiences. Some are understanding better than others by giving us a wide range of female characters that are representative of not just their audience, but the world we live in. What we’re seeing more and more of is a move away from creators struggling to write a “strong female character” in an original way that avoids the cookie cutter trope and just creating female characters – and writing good story lines for them. What an intriguing concept.

The Audience Payout: Growing and nurturing an enthusiastic fan base loses out to over-monetizing network television

Sometimes networks can be shortsighted in considering their audiences when they’re trying to look at the bigger picture. Business decisions are currently being made that don’t take into account the fan bases that drive the success of their shows – at least not from the fan perspective. Media companies are in the business of making money, and with the popularity of streaming sites like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime continuing to rise while original content on those sites are gaining traction, this might nudge a network into considering its own streaming as a for-pay service while pulling their shows from the popular sites to cash in on the market. The problem is, it’s not a question of when – it’s already happening.

BBC has already pulled shows from Netflix, and the CW is looking to follow suit. Normally the comings and goings of shows available on Netflix streaming don’t cause a fuss, but these two networks provide some pretty popular shows. Doctor Who has been removed from Netflix, which I’m afraid to tell my kids since they recently talked about going back and watching some of the tenth doctor’s episodes. A heavily present network on Netflix, the CW has shows with large fanbases: The Vampire Diaries, iZombie, The 100, The Originals, The Flash, Arrow, and Supernatural.

If you look at the fans that are most active on social media, promoting the shows they love through these outlets and in other ways such as buying merchandise, the fans of the CW especially are known for urging family and friends to watch the shows either as their weekly ritual or as guilty pleasures. These fans attend conventions frequently, an experience which I wrote about earlier this year. The shows are important to them, and across Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Tumblr, the shows are discussed in detail and even academically.

With Netflix, getting new people to watch these shows was easy, especially ones like Doctor Who and Supernatural that have been on for over a decade. Having heard a little about them or being pressured by a friend to give a show a try, someone could click Season 1, Episode 1 and be on their way. An entire audience that returns to the shows again and again to rewatch either alone or with friends they’re bringing in as new viewers should be enough to realize how important presence on a popular streaming site is; add to that the potential for growing an audience that wasn’t old enough to get into the show when it first aired, but has since taken an interest in it, and it makes sense to keep this platform available. Being able to stream from the beginning to catch up to the new shows is how many have moved to watching the shows live, helping ratings of shows that may have fallen by the wayside years ago.

Again taking the fans into consideration, the active audience demographics for these shows are on the younger side, and if they or their parents are already paying for cable, internet, and Netflix, does the network think that they will pay long term for an additional streaming service? I’ve left behind shows that I had to pay by the episode for or gone to torrent if I really wanted to watch them. Promising people that something won’t be available for Netflix streaming may boost sales of DVDs temporarily, but DVDs are no longer the viewing platform of choice. NBC, ABC, and CBS following suit would completely complicate the viewing experience with too many subscription services and drastically reduce the amount of households that purchase cable subscriptions, something they already know as CBS is inviting you to try an All Access on demand pass – your first week is free. Asking viewers to buy access to shows through a new site when they’ve been paying to access television and movies for years through a cable company or a site they’re comfortable with is taking a gamble on a sector of the audience that will question just how much they want to watch these shows – you can only act like a crack dealer with television for so long before the audience moves on or finds other ways to access the shows. Plus, there are always other shows available to get hooked on and that can provide meta writers fodder – you’re not the only drug on the street.

Attention spans for media can be short and viewers can be fickle, and if the accessibility to shows become too costly or complicated, the audience will walk – maybe not everyone, but enough to make a network like the CW take pause. Obviously a way to make money for the network instead of connect to the fans that support their shows, this venture is sure to alienate the audience more than connect with them. The number of shows I’m interested in watching has lessened the more restricted the access to them gets. If it’s a pain in the ass to watch, I’ll just write, draw, or read a book and watch something on my DVR. I was a more enthusiastic fan because the shows were available on a streaming platform that I was already using, and with Doctor Who gone and the threat of the CW leaving, I can already feel my interest in watching the shows waning. Who wants to try to get into Arrow if they don’t have time to catch up before past episodes of the show vanish? In the meantime, I’ll be over here waiting for the next seasons of Daredevil and Jessica Jones.