Disclaimer: this is pretty long, and maybe not very good. It’s broken into sub-headings, which might make it easier to read in chunks, or if you have a sudden need to blow chunks. I kid.
I may as well get it out of the way now, before anything else: it was to a certain degree begun in a misguided way. I’ve done my best to avoid being shallow, but at times I show for what I am: a red-blooded twenty-something guy with eyes and hormones. There may be plenty of fish in the sea, but some of them serve as better lures than others. A cautious fish myself, I rarely actually bite, but I’ve had more than enough close calls when one or another set of shiny scales has caught my eye and I’ve dared to draw closer and investigate.
Of course, I’m not alone in my shallowness, so perhaps the metaphor is unnecessary. Sometimes all it takes to get me to turn on a movie or try out a TV show is an attractive lead. There are of course always other concerns which may preclude such a decision; for example, interested as I am in shows like True Blood and Final Destination, I’ll probably never watch them because of gratuitous content I’m better off avoiding. I guess it’s not a revelation that people have personal reasons for viewing things or not, but I want to make it clear (as much to you as to me) that I do use some discernment. I may not have asked to be tied to the mast, but the wax in my ears has sufficiently saved me from most sirens’ songs.
The first time I remember truly being hooked on a show for sensual reasons was Heroes, whose draw (for me) was Hayden Panettiere. I hadn’t been paying attention to the show at first, but come Superbowl time the ads began to pour in and I was one of many pulled in by the simple call to “save the cheerleader, save the world.” I suppose there were plenty of other things about Heroes that might have attracted me: the comic book heritage, the compelling cast of characters, the general quality of the writing. But while those things ultimately kept me watching, none of them made me start. I watched engaging television merely because I wanted to see a pretty girl.
It took me a while to come to terms with that reality. It’s the subject of much teasing, typically from people who refuse to admit it to themselves. I realized over time that mockery over having a “crush” on a pop star only holds power so long as one actually feels ashamed of it. The moment you go from saying “nuh-uh” to “yes, and?” the teasing falls hollow and the teaser ends up looking a tool. Besides, the difference between you isn’t that you’ve a celebrity crush and he hasn’t; it’s that you’ve made the mistake of being vulnerable.
Recently I’ve gotten hooked on two shows which will no doubt be the source of plenty of second-guessing and mockery from most (particularly the male) friends of mine. Enough people have already raised a brow that I wanted to go ahead and address the fact head-on, acknowledging that hormones brought me in but surprisingly good stories kept me interested long after the initial pheromones’ potency faded.
Pretty Little Liars
I’ve always been a sucker for mysteries. Some of my earliest memories of reading involve the Hardy Boys and a knock-off collection called The Three Investigators. I’ve seen most episodes of classic Scooby-Doo and Wishbone. Film Noir is as close to a favorite genre as I get.
Of course, the reason I started to sit in on viewings of this ABC series with my younger sister had precious little to do with crime solving. Having been exposed (due to my sister’s voracious appetite for crappy teen drama) to nauseating quantities of Degrassi and the like, I initially began stopping in to make fun of the show. Next, in creepily typical fashion, I looked the show up on IMDb and thumbed through the photos. Needless to say, the title didn’t lie. With my sister’s viewership as an alibi, I proceeded to actually watch an entire episode.
And then two. Three. The season ended, and I thought little of it. But then the next season began, and I joined my sister, and it wasn’t very long before I realized it was on as much for me as it was for her. I looked online to see if the prior seasons were on Netflix; to my delight, they were, as of less than 24 hours prior.
Season Two was just added to the library a few days ago, and Rachel and I are tearing through it in much the fashion we did Season One. I watch now not for an excuse to ogle but because I’m genuinely eager to know what A will do next, who he/she/they is/are, how the latest terrible turn of events will be unravelled. I’m playing a game of catch-up, trying to guess how characters just introduced will turn out to be the way I’ve seen them in the most current seasons. Mostly, though, I’m just enjoying a great mystery, rooting for the team of unfortunate detectives tasked for better or worse to the case.
A secondary, unforeseen benefit of this show has been the introduction to some truly interesting people. No longer pretty faces, many of the actors have become part of my Twitter/Instagram/Tumblr libraries, by which I am seeing new places, hearing new songs, and finding new ideas. The fact that Troian’s blog is named after “The Pillowman” still makes me smile, robbing me of any lingering doubt that a “serious” person can’t watch this show.
The Vampire Diaries
Sometimes we have to eat our words because we were wrong. Other times we were right, but not as right as we’d hoped. Such was the case here.
I had some vague idea that TVD predated Twilight, but came into the pilot post-Twilight fever and couldn’t help but see the similarities. I hastily (and wrongfully) attributed the conceptual plagiarism to the show (which, to be fair, did come after the first couple Twilight films, and was likely informed and helped by those films’ success), shrugging off the whole thing as a waste of time and chastising myself for having wanted to watch at all, knowing it was simply because I found Nina Dobrev ridiculously attractive (a holdover from the old Degrassi mocking days, I suppose).
I wrote this summary of the pilot episode, which (regardless of how you feel about the show) may prove entertaining. I post it here less because I need to and more because there will never be a better place to post it:
After a couple years of billboards and magazine ads I finally took the plunge and watched the pilot. I think it’s safe to say this show is NOT good, or at least the pilot wasn’t. Aside from providing a better explanation than Twilight (the franchise without which this show would no doubt have never happened) for why a centuries-old immortal would dote on a high school girl, the pilot offered very little to set it apart from typical teen romance trash. The same painfully “emotional” expressions on the face of the tortured self-denying heartthrob, the same ridiculous vampires-move-super-fast editing, and of course the same awkward exchanging of glances between the girl and the desperately intriguing new kid in the classroom (complete with his impressive knowledge of some subject he probably shouldn’t be so knowledgeable about).
Of course, there are a few differences. Nina Dobrev’s Bella wannabe has actual tragedy to explain the melodrama but even two dead parents don’t seem to have her looking nearly as doleful as Kristen Stewart acting happy. This is less an excuse to get hooked on the show as it is a reason to wish the Twilight movies had been cast differently; then again, there are so many wonderful .gifs we’d have missed out on.
Elena’s friend is psychic, suggesting she won’t be alone in her foray into the crazy supernatural world that’s no doubt about to descend on Mystic Falls (admittedly, a cool name, not to mention better than “Forks”). More interesting (to me) is the other “friend” who is so desperate for validation — and is so jealous of Elena’s “luck” — that she could prove a very interesting enemy if recruited or turned early on.
Speaking of which, there’s the vampire lore itself, refreshingly close to what I remember vampires were supposed to be like: violent, unable to withstand sunlight, really good about not coming over uninvited, etc. TVD’s creators understand what Stephanie Meyer obviously tried to ignore: the reality that anyone who goes to school will inevitably be exposed to copious amounts of sunlight (convenient how they never sparkle while sitting in the cafeteria, no?) and the ring — as yet unexplained, but acknowledged — somehow providing its wearer with protection is definitely a clever conceit.
Unfortunately the cleverness seems to end where the dialogue begins. It’s catty but not in a fun way, trying too hard to be edgy (drinking and toking and screwing, oh my!) without having the luxury of actually being edgy (though given True Blood’s reputation, perhaps forced restraint isn’t all bad).
The blood feud between vampire brothers indicates the potential for interesting conflict but not the promise, depending on how long it takes the writers to reveal just what happened fifteen years ago that made one bloodsucker swear to devastate the existence of the other.
Honestly, though, the show just feels unnecessary, meant to fill the void between Twilight films while holding the attention of sex-starved tween imaginations with a sloppy if passable love triangle (oh, did I fail to mention that Elena’s childhood friend who’s in love with her is jealous of the new arrival? Yeah, that’s a thing).
In all fairness, though, the books on which this series is ostensibly based were published over a decade before Twilight existed. Where overlap exists, it may well be because Meyer plagiarized it and made it commercially viable first. To that end, it is hard to judge a show’s complete run based on a pilot, and given the network’s recent renewal of the show for a fourth season, there’s reason to believe that the show might actually provide something worthwhile after working out new-show kinks. Certainly the acting — eye-rolling dialogue aside — is competent, and the atmosphere appropriate.
Halfway through the pilot I decided I wouldn’t watch another episode, but upon further consideration I’m thinking perhaps I shall use this as an opportunity for material. Writing down my thoughts on the show has been entertaining for me, and perhaps reading them will be entertaining for others. So I look at it this way: if the show becomes good, I can enjoy watching it. And if it’s bad, I can enjoy writing about why. Either way, I win.
Two days later Nina was still beautiful and I was still bored, and — keeping with my thoughts at the end of that review — I decided that perhaps the show would get better if I gave it a couple more episodes to prove itself. Next thing I knew, I was watching the season finale.
The Vampire Diaries did something I had absolutely not anticipated: it made good on all its good potential and twisted in all the places I foresaw it going bad. I attribute much of my original disdain to a closed mind which wanted to see Twilight correlations where none existed. The entire main cast demonstrates surprising depth, and the atmosphere of Mystic Falls — particularly its history with the Founders — is genuinely engaging so far as supernatural thrillers go.
My only real qualm with the show — and it isn’t keeping me from enjoying it — is when it dips into quintessential CW territory. The Vampire Diaries may appeal to a broad audience but it is targeting those lovesick teenage girls who sigh longingly at the covers of crappy romance novels; put another way, there is a lot of kissing and touching and removing of shirts in this show.
Unforeseen side effects of getting into TVD include an incredible soundtrack (seriously, Anberlin and Mat Kearney?!) and the impetus I needed to make me finally pick up and read Dracula — a topic I’ll elaborate on elsewhere. Intriguingly, insomuch as Stoker’s classic represents “real vampires,” this show is far more accurate than its more popular competitor, and where it deviates from either it does so in a witty, tongue-in-cheek way. For example, this exchange:
Damon (reading Eclipse): What’s so special about this Bella girl? Edward is so whipped.
Caroline: You have to read the first book first, otherwise it won’t make sense.
Damon: Ugh, I miss Anne Rice, she was so on it.
Caroline: Hey, how come you don’t sparkle?
Damon: Because I live in the real world, where vampires burn in the sun.
I suppose I just wanted to put these things out there more as a means of making sure I could defend myself against my greatest soul-searching critic: me. I don’t feel like I’ve lied or am making excuses. I honestly am enjoying these two shows (between episodes of a less assailable show, Mad Men), regardless of what led me to them. If nothing else, perhaps bringing them up here will convince a friend or two to give them a try (they are on Netflix, after all). I’d love to be able to chat about and deconstruct young adult television; God knows my sister wants someone to occupy my time so she doesn’t have to endure any more of my philosophical “chats.”
Hm. Maybe that should’ve been the focus of my blog all along. You know,
“Watch the TV shows, save the girl!”