Watch This: Arrow


(Proud of me for resisting a title like “Arrow Hits The Mark?” You should be. I also might have made the title: “Stephen Amell Gives This Wretched World The Olliver Queen It Deserves.”)

So, can you tell that I am kind of a slave to The CW? I may no longer watch Gossip Girl (though my love for Blair Waldorf is absolute and undying), but I am absolutely in love with The Vampire Diaries—which is much, much better than the title would suggest, is actually better than True Blood, and has something like fourteen million viewers. Though it was tragically not renewed, last season’s The Secret Circle was absolutely amazing. And I watch Supernatural every Wednesday night—that show is several episodes into its eighth season.

So, as a great big nerd, I was excited but nervous when I heard that The CW was making a show based upon the DC superhero, Green Arrow. Despite the appearance of the protagonist and a number of excellent casting decisions, Smallville, which reimagined Clark Kent’s adolescence as he comes to terms with his blossoming superpowers and struggles to save the day while keeping his secret, all before his days as Superman, Smallville was just not a good show. There were wonderful things about it. There were also some dreadful things about it that made it difficult to watch.

The Green Arrow himself looks like a Robin Hood figure. He is a masterful archer whose gadgety arrows (often self-indulgent gadgety arrows) assist him in a number of circumstances (you know Hawkeye from The Avengers? Similar basic idea. Radically different characters and backstories). In real life, his name is Olliver Queen, and he is a billionaire and owns a company, Queen Consolidated, which is based in Star City—one of many fictional metropolitan areas that exist within the DC Universe (like Metropolis, Gotham, Central City, Bludhaven). His villains are rarely big-shots, but assassin and archer Merlyn is arguably his archenemy, and Green Arrow has always had unpleasant run-ins with the Eastern European aristocratic supervillain, Count Vertigo. He has a sidekick, Speedy (best shown on Young Justice, where in addition to being incredibly handsome, he ceases to be a sidekick and adopts the name “Red Arrow”). Above all else, Green Arrow is an archer who learned how to shoot a bow while trapped on an island after his boat was sabotaged. Now he works in secret …

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Not A Tale As Old As Time

photo of beauty and the beast pictures
I was born in the later 1980s and I grew up in the 1990s. Disney’s Aladdin was the first film that I ever saw in a theater. While my two favorite Disney films were Sleeping Beauty and The Little Mermaid, I also watched and enjoyed Beauty and the Beast. Not as much, admittedly, because Disney films are all about the villains, and Beauty and the Beast is one of those Disney films that did not have a “Disney villain,” but rather an actually detestable, genuinely villainous antagonist—Gaston. As a preschooler, I wanted to be friends with Maleficent, Ursula, and Jafar. I genuinely hated Gaston.*

Speaking of Gaston, who else loved the fate that befell him on Once Upon A Time? (And who else is totally shipping Belle with Ruby? Oh, that’s right. Almost everyone who watches the show.)

Once Upon A Time is not the only recent show to borrow from fairy tales. I am speaking, of course, of The CW’s Beauty and the Beast, which premiered a few weeks ago and plays on Thursday nights after The Vampire Diaries (a show which I absolutely adore).

Now, I love The CW. Vampire Diaries, Supernatural, Arrow, Gossip Girl. For every unwatchable Heart of Dixie, they have something that I look forward to every week. The CW has been very good to me. The Secret Circle was also just wonderful, but was for some reason it was canceled. And this year, Beauty and the Beast has taken its time-slot.

Unfortunately, this show is . . . not the best.

I found the pilot episode reasonably enjoyable. I love the leading actress (she was Lana Lang on Smallville, which was a great show if you can ignore the terrible writing and just concentrate on Tom Welling), and this show’s biggest strength is the protagonist, who is a detective, and her partner, another female detective. I love their interactions and their dialogue. And it’s almost primarily a crime drama, and I love crime dramas. Plus, the protagonist kicks ass, and I love kickass female protagonists. As you may have noticed.

It’s shortcomings? Well, it’s a reboot of the kind of the weird Beauty and the Beast series from the 1980s, but with a lot of differences. It borrows from Dark Angel (remember Jessica Alba in post-apocalyptic Seattle?). The crime in the pilot episode is directly stolen from a season one episode of The Closer. The type of poison used, how the poison was delivered, and even the motive for the poisoning.

But, possibly more importantly, the “beast” himself is just not terribly interesting. I mean, he’s a handsome guy. But his entire story has to do with his deep-seated anger issues which arose from being the subject of horrible experiments. I . . . I am just not interested in watching a show in which one of the main character has explosive outbursts of anger. It makes me uncomfortable, and I spend any scene with him in it feeling anxious. Not everyone feels that way, but a lot of the comments on tumblr seem to be that his behavior is “triggery.” And that’s accurate.

The CW is a wonderful network. But Beauty and the Beast just did not appeal to me enough to keep up with it. Does anyone disagree?

 

*Plus, “every last inch of him’s covered with hair.” Gross. I know that they didn’t have Nair or laser hair-removal (which, thanks to ambiguities in the English language, sounds like a process that removes laser hairs) back then, but they had scissors, razors, and wax. Pick one, Gaston.



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The Bechdel Test Is Good, Not Always Enough

photo of bechdel comic strip pictures
Two female characters in a film, television show, or book have a conversation with each other. The conversation is not about a male character.

Pass.

That’s how the Bechdel Test works. When I first learned about this test, I was horrified that any work of fiction might not pass that test. I mean, typical women’s lives, thoughts, and conversations do not revolve around men. I know this because I actually know women. It seems simple, right? And there are some horrible writers out there who apparently think that female characters only exist to further the characterization or story of male characters. Sickening and horrifying.

The Bechdel test does not always work to determine if a show has quality, obviously. It also does not determine if a show is reasonable in its portrayal of women. I cannot recall a single instance of Hermione having a talk alone with another female character in the Harry Potter series (like I even needed to name the series). This is because the series is almost exclusively told from Harry’s point of view in, primarily, a third-person limited voice. Basically, that means that few things happen directly on the pages of the books that Harry does not personally experience. And yet I think that most people would agree that Hermione is a strong, empowering female character.

The same problem might arise if a book’s protagonist is female but she finds herself surrounded by male characters. She can be a powerful female protagonist without having a female best friend—or even a female friend.

The Bechdel Test still has value, however (a friend mentioned that The CW’s critically panned but totally watchable and fairly enjoyable pilot of Beauty and the Beast, which aired recently, totally passed the Bechdel Test. So far, everyone, including me, loves the female protagonist and her female fellow detective but does not care so much for the Beast part of the story). And it can be applied beyond its original scope. Or adapted, anyway.

For example, two gay characters can be non-lovers and have a discussion that involves neither other guys nor various gay stereotypes.

The problem with sloppy (or just bad) writing is that sometimes characters exist to serve the plot, and so their lines are written to reflect that. If you want to describe a male protagonist’s body without making potential homophobic readers uncomfortable, have two women talk about him outside of his presence in a scene.

But that’s not how characters work. That’s not how good writing works. Conflict drives a story, but above all else, characters and their interactions with each other and their environment should drive a story and dictate the events. Everyone and everything should be well-rounded and complete in order to present the best story in a compelling manner. If everyone is reduced to stereotypes and exist only as shallow vessels for the writers to convey information, it weakens the story and does not do any favors for the sorts of people represented.

 

PS: I am a writer, and I checked recently, and even just from outlines, my first book definitely passes the Bechdel Test. But also, you know, more than that. It’s good—you should never have to consciously modify your writing to pass the Bechdel Test. There are a lot of interesting things in the world aside from men that women might discuss. And no, I do not mean “like shoes.”



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