December 19, 2015

Fall/Winter 2015 TV Summary

Posted in Interfaith, Judaism, Pop Culture at 11:48 pm by chavalah

"Dark Swan" promotion from OUAT season 5A

“Dark Swan” promotion from OUAT season 5A

Happy Holidays! I might be more prolific than usual this month and write another post, because as all science fiction/fantasy and/or pop culture geeks can tell you, it’s a big time for movies. 😛

But to start, some lukewarm thoughts on the two television shows I watched this season; “Once Upon a Time” and “The Leftovers.” Rounding off with “The Man in the High Castle,” a show I haven’t watched (and a book I haven’t read) but is surely a springboard into Jewish and other significant issues.

Once Upon a Time, season 5A

This might be my least favorite first half of a season ever. There’s still a lot I liked about it, particularly making King Arthur into a villain. “Once” is very good at twisting the attributes of traditionally heroic characters to show the dark sides of their personality traits. (And, paradoxically, the sympathetic angles of a canon villain’s bad choices.) I also really liked how “the dark one” magic played on Emma and Hook, their motivations and their weaknesses that led them into flirting with being Sith Lords, hee.

I’m usually more ok than some others with “the rules” of magic being a bit all over the place, because the true purpose of this series is to show, through a mythological construct, the emotional consequences when these characters choose to follow such choices as hope, faith or love, vs hate, fear and anger. But this half season, things felt a little less internally driven and a little more externally forced by the writers, like Merida physically and psychologically bullying Rumple to become “brave” so he can do the minor plot thing for Emma. Part of this has to do with introducing intriguing secondary characters who are primarily meant to propel the plot for the leads before abruptly disappearing. Maybe we need some spinoff shows, hee.

I’m incredibly disappointed in Rumple and Belle getting a hard reset into being the villain and the ignorant wife. We’ve been here before, due to more understandable circumstances, and I’m not keen to see it play out yet again. I like characters who change, and I especially feel duped because I had such hope for them, “Once” showrunners. 😛

And in that vein…I’m a little wary about entering the underworld in the next half season. I feel like the writers were a little loose with setting up the backstory, because I don’t think the point of this family show is to promise that everyone will rot in hell after death, no matter what. 😛 I think this will be a very specific journey to a place that holds very specific people (and speaking of, there are some guest stars who I can’t WAIT to see in 2016. :D) But what happened to “dead means dead”? Why does Hook get a pass when no one else does? I rather wish that Nealfire, Graham and others might confront Emma on this point. 😛 And I’m also hoping—if we save Hook from death, which seems likely, someone else should be gone forever. Should be some lasting consequences, at least.

The Leftovers, season 2

I suppose, overall, I’ve become more amenable this season to the idea that this show might not be about the Christian rapture, but about a predominately Christian-identified nation convinced that it has experienced the Christian rapture. 😛 I contextualized more of the imagery and liturgical music, I suppose. And this year, we did briefly get to see a pair of Chassidic Jews and a tour bus or two of Chinese people. Booyah. But the most obvious show of diversity came through the introduction of the awesome and nuanced African American family, the Murphys. Looking forward to seeing these folks again.

But actually, “The Leftovers” is only nominally about the Rapture/Departure, what have you. What it’s mostly taken with is the multiple resurrections of its protagonist, Kevin Garvey. If I thought I was annoyed by his storyline last year…*cracks knuckles* It’s a simple identity crisis story, writers; you’re ridiculously blunt about it when Kevin is singing “Homeward Bound” while having flashbacks. You don’t need to kill him, and then break the laws of nature to bring him back—magically draining a lake so he won’t drown or whatnot. Honestly, this storyline sounds like something that should be parodied on @GuyInYourMFA.

Give me more of Nora Durst and Ericka Murphy—played beautifully by Carrie Coon and Regina King. Speaking of a literary conceit that actually worked, their episode felt like a short story that was bookended by two rocks being thrown through front windows. In the face of losing their children, these women grapple with motherhood, guilt, and they earnestly ponder the supernatural. Or give me more Matt Jamison. He’s the most human depiction of a Christian religious figure that I’ve come across in TV drama; not the boy-next-door clergy (in Jewish terms, I always think of Rabbi “Look at the Parking Lot” from “A Serious Man”), nor does he belong on the pulpit of the Westboro Baptist Church. He seems like someone who would fit nicely into a Marilyn Robinson novel, at least from what I’ve gleaned second-hand. (Speaking of Twitter and hashtags, I kind of wanna try one of her books, but I have #TooMuchToRead. :/ Anywho.)

Undoubtedly the worst part of the season came by way of Liv Tyler’s antagonist. Her squeaky voice makes her sound like a one dimensional little girl villain prevalent in some horror, and due to the story constraints she’s barely able to move beyond that. But what I’m surprised received no backlash was the scene where she raped a guy. I get it; “The Leftovers” is nowhere as big as HBO’s flagship, “Game of Thrones,” but for all of GoT’s flaws in execution, Ramsay’s actions at least made contextual sense. There was no “enemy protocol” or character motivation that gives this rape scene a pass. And we certainly don’t get any sort of realistic aftermath, IMHO. Talk about inserting something for mere shock value. Big fail in my book.

The Man in the High Castle

From the off, and even before knowing about the controversial subway seats/ads, this concept gave me the heebie jeebies. It’s like I’m Superman, and every time I engage with the outside world, I get Lex Luthor tattooed across my eyelids. Or if American pop culture was obsessed with another class of “supervillain”—say, the Ku Klux Klan? Even if consistently portrayed as “the bad guys,” if I were Black I wouldn’t want to constantly see those hoods. It’s a bit of a moot point, because, as I’ve argued on this blog before, the United States turns to Nazis as our supervillains because we can see them as totally “Other,” something we unfortunately cannot extend to the KKK.

So here’s the time for a standard disclaimer—I’m not judging anyone who watches the series, much less who read Phillip K. Dick’s 1962 book. I’m sure, at the very least, it portrays the values of underdog resistance and the fallacy of fascism. But as a Jew, I look at Pop Culture Nazis and I wonder…are we losing track of things here? Do we need the fictional Nazis to take over the country for us to understand that antisemitism, racism, and other forms of xenophobia (which all exist here in real life) are bad? Do we have to imagine the Nazis having power to do worse than the Final Solution in Africa? (The latter of which probably deserves a historically accurate show or two, given the atrocities that actually happened there under colonialism.) Aren’t fictional Nazis a bit of a cheap shot at trying to gauge universal issues?

I just have too much baggage for this franchise. 😛 The Nazis are such a huge part of modern Jewish history, and, to my mind, can be so misunderstood. Starting (perhaps hypocritically) with the fact of how prevalent they are to the Jewish idea of peoplehood. I’m pained every time I read a study that claims Jews consider “remembering the Holocaust” to be THE most important aspect of our cultural life today. Should we be diminished to our ability to survive atrocity? Should we forget what Hitler tried to erase, all the centuries of Yiddish language, food, culture and religion, from writer Sholem Aleichem to rabbi Regina Jonas? (And that’s just Eastern Europe, of course.) This is part of the reason why I try to read a lot of Jewish fiction, but I usually stay away from the “Holocaust” theme. The Jewish Book of Life podcast recently did an episode about this, with regards to kids’ books.

In the real United States of late, plenty of other people are invoking the Jews of the Holocaust in response to some horrific public “discourse” concerning racially profiling immigrants and registering Muslims. I’m all for making comparisons to hopefully increase communal empathy for underprivileged groups, but sometimes something is lost in translation. Like when people compare the Holocaust arm tattoos (rather than the “Jude” stars) to registering “non-Christians.” The arm tattoos were used exclusively at Auschwitz to identify bodies, because the SS killed so many people there per day. It’s a little different than what we’re facing here. I’m wary of the idea of shoving Holocaust education down everyone’s throat, but Jews should be more than dead bodies in your allegory. Real, living people were victims of that genocide, and what happened to them, sans alternate history franchises or comparisons to other groups, should matter, too.

(For a different take from another Jewish Rachel, check out Tablet’s review of this television show. She raises some good issues about current events, HOWEVER. *dusts off superhero cape* I’m here to battle my arch-nemesis, shallow interpretation of The Hunger Games trilogy. :p Katniss is not a messianic world-saving hero, but a teenager largely coerced into creating propaganda for the commanders behind the scenes. And if you want to talk “realistic”—the highly improbable hypothesis of the Axis powers winning the war doesn’t quite cut it. A series that probes how violence is destructive, no matter which side you fight for, is more “adult” in my opinion. Anywho. Stay tuned for more Hunger Games thoughts (plus a little something called Star Wars, most likely arriving soon!)



  1. […] Upon a Time, season 5B I wrote in December that I was looking forward to seeing certain recurring guest stars again, and that was definitely […]

  2. […] written in some depth about season one and season two, though I’ll have to rehash some bits in order to come to terms with the final […]

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