Friday, February 24, 2017

Riverdale: the Show that Never Was

Every corpse has a tale to tell. This one has a touch of evil.
Foreboding Coroner on the CW's Riverdale

Well, it's that time of year... midterms! The time of year when my best blogging intensions give way to evaluating exams and essays. But, I couldn't let the month go by without telling you about the Riverdale that I imagined and the Riverdale that I actually saw.

The Riverdale I imagined (based on the trailer): a moody, mystical take on the classic (wholesome/boring? traditional/sexist?) Archie comics. In this series, we get a grittier take on the ostensibly idilic small town. We also get a Twin Peaks-esque murder mystery complete with weird, supernatural plot twists. We get three main characters (Archie, Betty, Veronica) who subvert the typical love-triangle plot lines and negotiate their relationships with one another in surprising and insightful ways. It was a great show (in my mind!).

The Riverdale I saw (based on the pilot): a mild, fairly silly soap opera that includes a murder mystery and mean-girl negotiations (a la Pretty Little Liars) between Betty, Veronica and a really awful Queen Bee named Cheryl. Much less Twin Peaks. Much more 90210 (complete with Luke Perry!). Not bad. But not great either. Very vanilla. Very Betty.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Weekend Watching: Gaslight

"You're slowly and systematically being driven out of your mind."
Joseph Cotton as Brian Cameron in Gaslight

The term "gaslighting" has been making the rounds in American political discourse. My advice? See this classic film. 

Gaslighting, which is synonymous with manipulating a person or group into thinking that they are going out of their minds, comes from a classic play Gas Light that has been adapted to film twice. The 1944 version of Gaslight, staring the incandescent Ingrid Bergman, is my favorite. 

Bergman stars as Paula, a troubled young woman who witnessed her aunt being murdered as a child. As an adult, Paula is caught up in a whirlwind romance, gets married, and is now living with her new husband in relative isolation. Unfortunately for Paula, her happiness in love is short-lived. Soon, she begins seeing and hearing things... a creaky floor, a flickering gaslight. Her husband assures her that she's mistaken. Eventually Paula begins to think that she is going mad. But is she? 

Gaslight explores psychological abuse in a creepy, personal way. Watch it and you can decide for yourself whether or not it is a good metaphor for the state of our body politic.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Bingeworthy: Rectify

 "At the least I feel that those specific coping skills were best suited to the life there, behind me. I doubt there will serve me so well for the life in front of me, so I will seriously need to reconsider my world view." 
Daniel Holden in Rectify

Last week, I mentioned the glacial pace of one of my favorite shows, Rectify. Rectify, a moody, dreamy Southern Gothic drama about a man who is released from prison after serving 19 years for a rape and murder he may or may not have committed, moves at the pace of a humid Southern town in August. There is plenty of time to watch Daniel Holden struggle with life outside his cell walls and to watch his family struggle to reintegrate him into their web of relationships. And, there's ample space to enjoy sunset and fireflies and classic drawls (Clayne Crawford's Alabama roots shine in his spot-on performance as a Southern frat-guy character Ted Talbot Jr.).  

There are also many opportunities to consider the nature of justice, redemption, conversion, and repentance. How does a man who will always be connected to a terrible crime find forgiveness or freedom? Daniel struggles to attain both. How does 'hope deferred' change a person? Daniel's fiercely loyal sister Amantha, who worked for her entire adult life to secure his release, struggles to find meaning in her life. For those interested in conversations about whether or not the criminal justice system should be retributive or restorative, Rectify gives viewers a meditation on what imprisonment does to a human soul. And, there is one scene - a classic tent meeting complete with gospel choir and baptisms - that captures the enthusiasm and earthiness of revivalism in the American South. 

If you want a visual treat, a thoughtful discussion of justice and love, and an immersion into Southern religion, try Rectify.