The Nitpic’s Summer Watch Review – June 3 – 9

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Summer, traditionally, is not a fun time for me. In fact, I really loathe it. New Jersey air is an inescapable wall of dense moisture that most often be described as “soupy.” And bugs fill that air. Loud bugs that chirp and shriek and croak at every hour of the day and night. Bugs that get into your house and car and literally bite you. You never stop sweating. You’re always sticky. Gas is more expensive for some reason? There’s constant societal pressure to go outside and do something in the dense, sticky, soupy air. And how the fuck is it even hotter at night.

No fun. Rather, I will happily sequester myself in my 700-square-foot apartment that can be kept cool with the help of two window AC units and drawn curtains. It’s a buzzy, chilly cave, in which my boyfriend, Mike, and I wait out the long summer with cold La Croix and books and streaming services. Sure, my friends make fun of me and my resistance to sunlight. My skin tone (the kind of pasty pale you can see a lot of veins through) does not change throughout the year. But it’s no price to pay for avoiding the thoroughly unpleasantness of summer.

And so, to make my annual sequester more productive, here begins my Weekly Summer Watch List. It’ll be filled with whatever I’m watching to forget about how miserable the world is outside my little cave. And also whatever movie I happen to brave the heat for. (I do go outside sometimes. I’ll just complain a lot.)

Binging: Community

Do we have a dining room table in our apartment? Yes. Do we use it to eat at? Not unless it’s a rare occasion for which we have guests and table-eating is the most civilized thing to do. No, we like our food with a helping of comedy, so during dinner we’ll cycle through a few episodes of a favorite sitcom a night before going onto more productive tasks.

This week we restarted Community, the super quirky (read: way-too-weird) show that somehow lasted for five seasons on network television before being swept up by the ill-fated Yahoo! Screen streaming service. (It can be argued that the show actually destroyed the thing that helped save it from its six-season destiny. [I have little hope for the movie while Donald Glover’s star is shooting through the stratosphere.])

The first season is so distinctly different from the rest of the series that watching it is like watching an egg before it hatches. They’re not growing pains in the same way you’d call out a show for what might seem like tonal inconsistencies. Community is a show that morphs into itself. It evolves so far past where it began that upon a fourth or fifth rematch, some of the most fun you can have watching it is finding its mile markers. There’s moment when Troy stopped being a jock and started being a nerd, the first time the show explored a higher concept, and the first time it really, really went for it, key change and all.

Studying: Outlander

For the sake of a larger piece for which I will stay purposefully vague, I begrudgingly rewatched the first season of Outlander this week. I tried, really I did, to get into this show because of, well, the sex. The sex scenes are probably the best in the history of (heterosexual) television. And how could they not be, when you have two beautiful people and ambient lighting (it takes place in 18th century Scotland and there are fireplaces everywhere) and you have to fuck for the sake of the kingdom? Or something, I really stopped paying attention to what was happening once I realized kilts were really doing it for me.

I watched through to the first couple of episodes of the second season, when it occurred to me that this show is just its own fan fiction. I know it’s based off of books, of which I believe they’re rather faithful, but does that a satisfactory viewing experience make? Sacrificing coherent plot for the sake of your IP is a weak attempt at adaptation.

Tried: The White Princess 

This try was really half-hearted. I was already in Starz because of Outlander, and the woman from Killing Eve (which I am only two episodes into but definitely plan to revisit) was in the image, so I clicked on it. What the hell? Let’s be spontaneous.

Nope. I don’t know if it’s period TV that’s not right for me, or if I’m just not English, but man oh man I wasn’t following any of it. Too much history all at once. Lady Catelyn couldn’t even do it for me. I was out within the first 30 minutes.

New: Dietland

Don’t ever say marketing doesn’t work, because an Instagram ad for this show got me. It was an animation, where body bags with labels like “Comedian” and “Politician” on them were falling to the ground, and I thought, “Ooh! Topical!” My algorithm’s really working.

The first two episodes of Dietland premiered on AMC this week, and I’m skeptical. The show works best when it’s leaning into satire, like the line that an unironic weight management leader says to Plum, the main character, that she should “break all those bad habits. Like eating.” It was a line so expertly hit that barely read as a punchline. But Dietland seems to want to take a more plot-heavy approach with the inclusion of a vigilante organization called Jennifer, on top of an ex-weight-specialist-turned-therapist, on top some workplace police investigation. See? Heavy.

All of these things are also happening all at once, so most of the episode consist of Plum walking around a city, being bewildered by strangers, and asking questions of them. Mostly, the episodes feel like pilot-itis. A lot of seeds are being sewn, so the show may require a little more patience than I’m willing to give.

I’m mainly skeptical about the treatment of Plum’s weight. A show with a title like Dietland means we’re in for a lot of fat-stigma-confronting, but those stories are often very tired. Because fat people, specifically fat women, are marginalized, storytellers tend to feel the need to overcompensate with a lot of fabulousness and loud displays of confidence. A woman shows up late to the Waist Watchers (cute) meeting that Plum is attending, and when she’s chastised for not hating her body enough, launches into a rant about how much she loves her body. Her speech peaks with a strong grab of her crotch (I’ve never seen a woman do that.) and a proclamation that she gets all the dick she needs.

No, our protagonist isn’t like that, but there’s a yet floating around that sentence. It’s the kind of fat character treatment that, however well meaning, always translates as a little preachy and a lot pandering. Is it empowerment, or is it disingenuous to feel the need to have a character like that in the first place, when it is not likely any woman’s reality?

I was reminded of a pin I saw recently by the illustrator Adam J. Kurtz. It was a pink triangle with the words “GAY AND BORING.” He explains:

The pink triangle has been a symbol of gay pride and activism for decades, and thanks to those who came before us, LGBTQ folks now have more rights than ever before. The work isn’t over, but we’re getting closer and closer.

One of those rights is the right to be BORING AS HELL. Sure, we’re fantastic, sassy, fabulous, and all those exciting words. But we’re also just plain old people who wanna stay home and watch TV while scrolling Instagram explore page on the couch next to our partner… and that’s our right too.

Do women have to be fat and fabulous? Can’t they just be fat and boring?

Movies: Hereditary

Hereditary is a film that the more you think about it, the more annoyed you become. I’d blame massive hype and high expectations on my viewing experience if not for the fact that the movie rolls off a cliff in the most lackluster way that I can’t help but be annoyed by it.

Deservedly or not, Hereditary has claimed its place among other well-received horror films of the last year or so that can be classified as genre-bending horror. Get Out functioned as social thriller. A Quiet Place worked as minimalist family drama. The first half of Hereditary wants to sit beside The Babadook as an exploration of grief and trauma, and for a while there it has the whiff of success. The overbearing matriarch of the Graham family dies, but the remaining family isn’t reeling from the loss more than it’s trying to reconfigure itself in her absence. What does “family” mean when all family’s ever done is damage?

There are so many images of home in this film that beg to be interpreted as something other than set dressing. Toni Collette’s Annie is an artist that creates dollhouses of her own life, which play on the idea of removing yourself from your narrative, and recreating it as a form of therapy or catharsis. There’s a sculpture of three houses, one on top of the other, which seem to be carved out of a mountain. The houses are crooked, but bound together by the rock they can’t escape from. There’s another house sculpture where light is coming through all of the windows except one that’s boarded up on the second story.

I mean, come ON. You really think Hereditary‘s bounty of symbolism will amount to something profound, until the third act when you realize it’s abandoned all of its commentary for typical horror fare. That fare is fun, to be sure, if not derivative (I’d call the references to The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist homages if this one weren’t so frustrating). There are a few images that will be difficult to burn out of your brain, but the twist falls incredibly flat. Not only is it confusing, but apparently it’s completely arbitrary.

The writer and director, Ari Aster, has the makings of a career that is, per Vulture, “at least in part a response to a culture of studio horror films that tend toward either neat resolutions or adhere to standard patterns of narrative progression.” It seems that his choices are only made for the sake of doing something different than what is expected. Which is fine, when those choices work. But if you’re doing something strictly for the sake of subverting the genre, aren’t you forsaking your movie as a whole (or at least its coherence) out of spite? Or pride?

Ultimately, the ending feels like a jumbled mess of superfluous myth, and the best parts of the movie end up feeling like misdirects for their own sake. And after writing this, I’m even more annoyed.

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