Category Archives: dollhouse

excellently Bgrade SF telly

I will watch any SF or supernatural television program at least once. Some stick, some don’t. I favour programs with female protagonists. I like queer stories or subtexts because they tend to fuck up the gender norms.

Besides the usual big names (Buffy, Dr Who), I am also into Bgrade stuff. Mostly because Bgrade stuff tends to be far more subversive, and that’s where you find the women protagonists. For all sorts of reasons. But apparently women don’t sell advertising, so we don’t see such great stuff from them in the Agrade programs. The ethnicity stuff is a bit of a fail (everyone is whitey mcwhite unless I’ve noted otherwise).

I tend not to remember the names of actors, but I like to read across programs, following a particular actor. I also tend to read all these programs as part of a broader metanarrative or general universe rather than as separate and distinct worlds. This is encouraged by the fact that many of these actors turn up in the other programs.

Lost Girl: 1 season, 2010. Canadian supernatural, female protagonist, sexual content (which of course is the predominant theme in many of these shows). Definitely B.
Story: woman hero (and female sidekick) work as ‘private detectives’ in the ‘fey’ world, which humans don’t know about. She’s trying to discover who her family is (she doesn’t really understand her super powers).
I don’t mind it because it looks quite good (in a ‘cinematic’ sense), has two female protagonists (one of whom turned up in Nikita once – I think she speaks Russian?) with a male werewolf love interest for the bisexual woman hero. That male love interest reads a little queer (though his character isn’t), or at least a little gender-flex (rather than solidly Super Straight Hegemonic Masculinity), which is nice. I’m still undecided about the gender politics in this one, though there are obviously some challenges in a sexualised succubus identity for the hero. I watch this one.

Blood Ties: 1 season, 2007. Canadian supernatural, female protagonist, sexy themes but not too sexy. Low production values.
Story: human private detective discovers supernatural world, begins to work with teh sexy vampire Henry Fitzroy solving supernatural crimes.
This one is important because it’s an adaptation of Tanya Huff’s Blood Books series, which is one of the best vampire series I’ve ever read, when Huff was really at her best (I think she’s a bit weaker these days). The female hero is excellent, and while the telly series doesn’t mention it, Huff’s characters are often bisexual or queer, which makes watching the telly series (within that context) a bit more interesting. The main actor has gone on to do other bits and pieces, mostly in crime shows like CSI.

Sanctuary: 3 seasons, including 8 webisodes. Canadian supernatural.
Story: ‘Sanctuaries’ are linked places where supernaturals are a) contained/held captive or b) educated (this bit is unclear and dodgy). These places are big ‘historic’ buildings, run by a team. There’s an international network of them. They solve ‘monsters of the week’ stories.
Female and male protagonists (three or four, depending on season), very decent gender politics. Season 2 introduces an Indian-American female character. A bit too much greenscreen special effects, and not really high-end stuff. A sort of swirly aesthetic that I find soothing when I’m ready for bed. The second season picked up the editing speed/tempo a bit. Less of the sexy stuff, more of the stronger female characters (the ‘boss’ is a centuries old woman scientist). Still Bgrade.

Moonlight: 1 season, 2007, American supernatural.
Vampires…. doing vampire stuff? I think the hero was… some sort of problem solver? Indolent rich? Who knows. This one is bad. I’ll stick with something really bad if the hero is female, but this hero (the actor is now the hero on Hawaii 5-O) is not good. Totally Bgrade, but with an Agrade aesthetic at times (in terms of special effects at least), and it was a struggle even for me to get through all the eps of this doomed program.

Vampire Diaries: You know this one. High production values, sometimes very, very poor scripting and acting.
Story: teenagers and vampires!
The second season started well with the way Caroline’s turning into a vampire was handled, but this hasn’t been sustained. There’s quite a bit of sex, which is a bit weird in a teenage character/high school setting, and the relationship between the brother vampires is ripe for a little slash fiction, even thought it’s a very straight show. Sometimes the show almost seems to be self-reflexive, and the ‘bad’ brother Damon assists this with his treatment. But it doesn’t quite get there. The best bit is having the ‘bad boy’ werewolf character from Wolf Lake as the ‘good’ brother Stephan. I think he’s actually a decent actor, though he struggles.

Wolf Lake: American supernatural from 2007, 1 season. Bgrade.
Story: ex-cop (Lou Diamond Phillips!) comes to small mountain town looking for his missing wife. Town is run by werewolves. He doesn’t quite discover their existence by the end of the series.
Hispanic protagonist! Tries to bring in some Native American subtext, but fails a bit. This is a weird mix of Twin Peaks and… some strange show set in a small rural town. It’s not consistent with its kooky Twin Peaks vibe and humour. Some sexy bits, some violence, but mostly laughable. It stars Stephan from Vampire Diaries, though, Lou Diamond Phillips, and a few other characters who turn up all over the place, including Phillips’ missing (werewolf) wife, who’s also in Vampire Diaries (as the sooky Stephan-girlfriend’s vampire mother). Dodgy special effects. Just didn’t quite work.

Demons: British supernatural, 2009, 6 eps of 1 season.
Story: basically Buffy with a teenage boy hero who’s descended from van Helsing and kills supernatural things.
This one is hampered by its bad acting (esp the hero), and I’m not all that interested in a male hero. The ‘mentor’ figure is played by that guy from Life on Mars who’s in all those British cop shows. I think he was miscast. I couldn’t finish watching even the 6 episodes. I’d say B, but the people who made this also made Merlin and Hex, and they have really good special effects and a glossy look.

Hex: British 2007, 2 seasons, supernatural.
Story: Witches and ghosts and teenagers and stuff.
Sexy, bit queer, except the queer character reads a bit too much like a thrill for male viewers – I was totally unconvinced. The other female protagonist is a rubbish actor. I just couldn’t handle this one, though my mum loves it. Despite the female protagonists, it’s genderfail. Bgrade, but with Agrade production values.

Supernatural: 6 seasons? You know this one too.
Story: 2 brothers travel around rural American south (sort of American gothic, but actually filmed in Canada I think) fighting monsters. More horror than supernatural, really.
Mainstream American telly. I quite like it, even though it has just about no women in it all, fails the Bechdel test. I like to watch it as though Sam and Dean are actually lovers with a rubbish relationship. They cry and talk about their feelings all the time, but they never kiss. Well, I haven’t caught them at it yet. Jensen Ackles is interesting because he was in ‘Dark Angel’, ‘Smallville’ and ‘Dawson’s Creek’, which are big teen shows. I like the way Supernatural plays on its wider fan discourse, including the slash fiction stuff. Total gender politics fail if you read it straight. Excellently queeraliciously genderfuck if you don’t. Not Bgrade at all.

Dark Angel: 2 seasons 2000, American supernatural/SF/post-apocalyptic whatever. Stars Jessica Alba. I like this one.
Story: Female protagonist who’s a bike courier in some post-apocalypitc city (Seattle?). She’s a clone or something, reads as kind of ethnic-flexi, has cat DNA mixed in with hers. She and some other kids escaped some corporate facility as kids and she’s constantly in hiding, looking out for searchers, though she has a job and pays rent in a dodgy apartment. Decent gender politics, except for the sexing up of the hero via the cat DNA – she ‘comes into heat’. The female protagonist has a lesbian housemate who has partners and the queer stuff is negotiated. I think this is actually an ok show, though it’s Bgrade.

Haven: American/Canadian coproduction, 2010 1 season (renewed).
Story: woman FBI agent goes to mysterious town where people have random (and usually uncontrollable) supernatural skills to find her mother/follow some mystery or something.
I love this one. She has a male partner (a local cop) who is suitably deferent to her leadership, but also has spine. He has a supernatural power (doesn’t feel pain), is good looking but not too good looking, and they have some really great unspoken sexual tension that could just as easily be platonic love and mutual respect. Their relationship is what makes this show for me. That and the amazing location. It’s Bgrade, the stories are silly, but I like it. It uses the ‘kooky rural town’ trope. Also stars that guy Eric Balfour who is kind of the Kevin Bacon of teen telly.

Eastwick: American 1 season 2009 supernatural.
Story: set in the Eastwick of the great film Witches of Eastwick, with three similar protagonists (same talents, etc), but with slightly different backgrounds, etc.
Genderfail, and undoes all the good work of the film. Okish special effects, Bgrade in execution, but intended as something more. Reminds me of Gilmore Girls in terms of setting. One of the few with a non-anglo protagonist.

Other programs that I watch, and which inform my reading of the above programs:
FRINGE!!!
Murdoch Mysteries (19thC police crime)
Hellcats (female athletes)
Veronica Mars (female teenage private detective teen)
Outcasts
Being Human (UK and US)
Misfits
Caprica and BSG
Sarah Connor Chronicles
Smallville (early series only)
Stargate Universe
True Blood
Dead Like Me
Pushing Daisies
Eureka
Warehouse 13
Heroes
Dr Who, Torchwood and Sarah Jane Adventures
Ultraviolet (British vampire/crime show)
Walking Dead
Buffy and Angel and Firefly
The Cape
V
Dollhouse (totally fucking gender FAIL and I hated it so much I had to stop watching. This show convinced me that Joss Whedon is actually fucked up RE gender stuff and that Buffy was a fluke we should attribute to Jane Espenson and other people NOT Whedon).
Nikita (a woman spy = supernatural in my book)

television round up

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1. Dollhouse is crap.
Because:
– I’m pretty sure it fails the Bechdel test.
– the gender stuff sucks arse. A bunch of beautiful young women kept, powerless, by a business which rents out their bodies for vast sums of cash. It’d be horrifying if there was no chance of it ever coming … true… Wait. Ok. So this one sucks for even more reasons.
– the gender stuff sucks arse. One of these ‘actives’/slaves begins to remember who she is and destabilises the internal workings of the business. Or does she? Even Alias had better gender politics. The female protagonist at least knew who she was and made a series of choices. Echo is, really, just a vehicle for male fantasies. In this case, it’s Joss Whedon’s fantasies. And they scare me. Whedon: fail.
– the gender stuff sucks arse. I thought it was going to get clever and tip all this stuff sideways. I’m still waiting. Oh, gods, just watch an episode or two and you’ll see for yourself.
– the race stuff sucks arse. Whedon repeatedly fails ethnicity.
I’m beginning to think Buffy was a fluke. Joss Whedon sucks.
scc.jpg2. Sarah Connor Chronicles is awesome.
Because:
– it passes the Bechdel test. It even encourages us to think about different types of femininity and whether or not cyborgs can be female. And then it makes us think about masculinity in the same ways.
– it not only has a bunch of violence and shooting-up (as per most SF these days), it also deals with the effects of violence and living with violence and terror on the lives of people.
[SPOILER]
– the second season ends with the ‘nuclear’ family set up in season one (with Sarah as ‘mum’, John and Cameron as kids living in the middle class suburban family home) crumbling. The patriarch is done away with, the mother discovers she’s actually much happier when in control of the family, directing its motion when literally on the move, Cameron is rescued from adolescent oblivion and John learns that heterosexual romance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. So the gang are back on the road, with Sarah as head of seriously badass single parent family.
[/SPOILER]
Phew.
– the program deals with the difficulties of adolescence in a complex way. John is continually reminded of his responsibilities as the future of humanity, but is still constrained by the middle class nuclear family. There’s tension between his eventual role as male hero and his relationship with his active, powerful, controlling mother. Not to mention his desire (and isn’t that a complicated mess) for the cyborg Cameron. His mother’s power is also complicated: it’s at once essential to the group’s survival (she is ruthless) and also highly problematic. I was most fascinated by the way she began to crumble in the suburbs: without purpose she began to suffer, quite horribly, from post traumatic stress disorder (as they all did, really).
– time travel is tricky. Unlike Dr Who, which does not in any way deal with paradox and time travel in a clever way, SCC makes it clear that time travel is complicated and that paradox is difficult to avoid. We’re left wondering if these time traveling heroes and villains are so effectively separated from their reality that their skills and missions and motivations have become meaningless. As each action changes the future, their original, independent missions seem less and less important or even logical. Which humans are good, which evil? What does it mean for humans to work with the machines, when Judgement Day is, essentially, marking the machines’ commitment to killing every single human? Even the terminators’ motivations seem skewed by changing context: is Weaver a baddy or a goody? Can John Henry be redeemed by his human/christian teacher and the friendship of a human child?
All the moving about through time (disassociating characters from their temporal and social contexts) and changing of futures means that missions in the ‘now’ are unanchored from their intended purposes. This flux is perhaps best illustrated by the terminators’ moving so far from Arnie’s original (and unimpedable) mission: to terminate Sarah Connor.
– Cameron is problematic.
sccp.jpg
As that series of posters above makes clear.
Cameron’s obviously sexualised: she is presented as the object of John’s unrequited (and eminently problematic) sexual desire. She presents herself at various moments as a sexualised entity: in the final moments of season one she pleads with John not to kill her because she loves him. This is a transparent effort to delay termination by a cyborg temporarily ‘corrupted’ from her mission to protect John. It is, clearly a lie, a moment of deceit. But we have spent almost the entire season being carefully led to read her as a potential love interest for John – his desire for her suggests that she should, ‘naturally’ return his interest. But this isn’t your average heteronormative love story. It is made quite clear that Cameron has been ‘programmed’ to protect John so as to avert Judgement Day. She is clearly fixed on this male character, but her motivation is not heterosexual desire. Or is it? We are reminded by the character Jesse (another ‘love interest’ from the future) that John Connor has formed an intense and apparently unnatural attachment to Cameron in a future world. And that she reciprocates this.
The buffybot problem is quite clear here: is a machine-woman operating to protect a particular male character anti-feminist?
– I’m prepared to let SCC go a little further with this storyline – I like the way they’ve presented these female cyborgs (Cameron and Weaver the ‘mother’) as incomplete or otherwise troubling.
It’s difficult to just accept them as your stereotypical ‘buffybot’ fantasy model cyborgs. Both cyborgs have become characters in their own right, and both are clearly negotiating their way through some serious gender stereotypes: Weaver must ‘learn’ how to be a ‘mother’, and continually fails to perform ‘correct’ femininity (and not only as a mother – she is also a corporate chief). Jesse – Reece’s ‘lover’ from the future (though, it turns out, not from his particular future; she is a Jesse from another time line, a time line created by Reece during this ‘now’) also fails to adhere to familiar gender stereotypes. As does Riley, John’s girlfriend-from-the-future. Sarah Connor herself is challenging. Though she approaches the ‘mother lion protecting her cub’ caricature, her continual deviation from this role is enabled by her more complex relationship with John, Reece and Cameron. Sarah herself has problems with motherhood, or with her role as a mother. There are a series of incidents where it’s made clear that Sarah enjoys or at least finds great satisfaction in her ‘professional’ dealings with freedom fighters, underground characters and general sneaky/terrorist/badass types. She’s also mad-keen on making plans. Sarah seems to also find it difficult to occupy the conventional mothering role and these badass roles. But it’s actually quite nice to see a character exploring the fact that mothering isn’t simple or ‘natural’, and that it isn’t always a wonderful blessing.
lh.jpg – it keeps me thinking. Unlike Dollhouse, I’m not prepared to give up on SCC yet; it doesn’t make me so angry I want to scream. It keeps me wondering how it will resolve these tricky relationships.
It references Linda Hamilton (even if this Sarah Connor doesn’t have Hamilton’s fully ripped hardbody), and we’re continually reminded of her transition from Arnie’s innocent, almost-helpless victim to the hardbody badass of T2: gender is flexible, femininity and gender is flexible. I’m still not sure about Cameron: is she a buffybot? Or is she something more? If she’s something more, we have to allow for cyborgs having emotions, identities, personalities beyond her programming. And if this is the case, what does it mean for a woman to have been ‘made’ by other machines?
2. Fringe.
I like it. But I don’t have much to say about it right now.
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