Call for Feature Essays About Any Aspect of Popular Culture, Present or Past

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Friday, Jul 10, 2009
Here's hoping that CBS' murder mystery series will end with a bang (or a slice, thwack, or thunk) and not a whimper.

Harper’s Island finishes its run with a two-hour series finale on Saturday night. For those few of us who are still watching, it will be a kick to finally see who was behind it all. The main killer has already been revealed, but the question of which cast member or members were his accomplices is still up in the air. But the answer to the question “Why are there so few viewers left?” is worth pondering. Harper’s Island premiered to much fanfare in early April. CBS promoted it relentlessly during its primetime shows and during its coverage of the NCAA basketball tournament in March. The network even gave it a plum schedule slot, right after the still-powerful CSI on Thursday nights. The premiere episode scored great ratings, and yet by May the show was airing in the network dead zone of Saturday night. Even worse, CBS pre-empted the program during the final week of May sweeps in favor of airing reruns of other shows.


So what went wrong? Well, the viewers who tuned into that first episode expecting a taut murder mystery with a healthy helping of violence received the latter, but not much of the former. Truth is, Harper’s Island is not a very good show. There are too many cast members running around to give any character depth to all but the primary three or four leads. The rest are typical stereotypes you see in any soap opera or horror movie. There’s the rich daddy who isn’t happy that his daughter is marrying a commoner, the sleazy uncle who parties too much, the sullen drugged-out brother, the blonde princess with a tiny yappy dog, the earnest foreigner, the bride’s menacing ex, the bumbling fat guy, the douchebag, and the token black guy. Not to mention the residents of the island where the wedding was supposed to take place: the groom’s female best friend, her nice but sorta creepy ex-boyfriend, the bully with a chip on his shoulder, and the sheriff with a history. They needed all these characters because it was a given that the body count was going to be high. But in the early episodes this cast was handled with all the finesse of a daytime soap. They all came with pre-existing backgrounds with each other, but we couldn’t be bothered to care about any of it, especially since we knew most of them were just going to be offed anyway.


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Thursday, Jun 18, 2009
Avery Brooks, who fronts Star Trek: Deep Space Nine attended Oberlin College and performed a monologue of Paul Robeson my senior year, at our alma mater’s Black Alumni Reunion. This man is bossy. But DS9 requires a wholly different spectatorship than its fellow franchisees.

As a college student, I suffered from missing the latter few seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which I had watched as a kid each Saturday evening at 7 PM, without fail. I was the only Trekkie in any household I knew, and was just lucky that folks tolerated this monopoly of the television each Saturday in the prime of prime time. It was not until I reached college that I would find a field and flock of comrades, yet had no time to actually see prime time TV.


Since Star Trek is another apocalyptic fantasy where humanity nearly destroyed itself, in our recovery, humanity has banished money and poverty by extension. This seems to explain the apparent lack of class diversity. Yet, I watch the episodes then and now, and each series reflects a very clear picture of how America projected its dominant caste fantasies concerning gender, race and class at the time.


All other forms of inequality are assumed to have been eradicated alongside most diseases. In the Star Trek universe, however, equality was really a project of assimilation just meant that everyone had some strange fusion, futuristic sense of morality that only differed by planet. It has taken President Obama to call the question of assimilation into question and value difference beyond PC jargon.


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Tuesday, Jun 16, 2009
Each one, teach one goes the ole African adage. This gets reflected in many unconventional ways in Heroes.

Kinship in Heroes


A unique feature of the TV series Heroes is a consistent sub narrative of family. Indeed, most characters in the show are developed through interactions across generations. Healing and suffering, defeat and care, are all demonstrated through family interactions through time and space. In later seasons, adults meet their kid selves and arrive at sense of peace with the loss of loved ones. Yet, it is intriguing that despite the closeness of kin, each heroine and hero is left to discover their own identity in a vacuum of guidance and care, again mimicking a common queer experience.


Hiro, the master of time and space came out to his father, played by original Star Trek bridge officer, and out-spoken gay activist George Takei. Claire the invincible girl comes out to her folks under several incidents of blood-n-gore and supreme duress. Flying man and his omnipotent little brother, come out to each other and their folks only to eventually find out that their parents belong to an entire generational cohort of heroes bent on domination and manipulation.


That older cohort faced trials similar to those of the present-day characters that likewise stumbled upon, clustered in groups, and then betrayed one another. In spite of the interaction, there are few instances where any generation is afforded the luxury of the experiences its elders. This, too, is an aspect of queer culture that is only recently receding to inter-generational mentorship.


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Wednesday, Jun 10, 2009

At first I was afraid/I was petrified


Claire Bennet can heal. Cut, stabbed, scrapped, slashed, electrocuted, diseased, burned, beaten and hurled from high places, the obstacles that this young heroine faces show us that she girl can always bounce back. The only other super-being like Claire in the TV series Heroes lived for centuries and manipulated a major conspiracy to take over the world. Yet, the super power to heal cannot mend the heart. Being different is her constant, imposed strain.


Save the Cheerleader, Save the World


An ongoing theme in Heroes calls ‘fate’ into question. Are we victims of fate, or, are we making history? The answer would seem as plain as the show itself: We manifest destiny. In other words, there are indeed several seasons of the show. The show must go on, and so in the Heroes world, we make history, both in the literal and proverbial sense.


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Monday, May 18, 2009

As the hilariously narcissistic Jenna Maroney on NBC’s 30 Rock, Jane Krakowski has established herself as a formidable comic talent, gladly stealing scenes from comedic heavyweights Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin. In a musically star-studded May 14 season finale, this season has allowed Jane to showcase her Tony award winning singing talent, most notably as a Janis Joplin knockoff in one of the show’s funniest plotlines to date.  Whether she’s juggling her Broadway career (winning raves for her role as Lola in last year’s Damn Yankees) or perfecting the art of lovable egomania on 30 Rock, Krakowski is constantly on. Jane’s latest creative outlet is the world of webisodes for Breyers new Smooth and Dreamy ice cream. In these mini movies, Jane finds herself playing opposite Clark Gable in a wacked out retelling of Gone with the Wind, and will soon star opposite King Kong, bringing her own unique comic timing and sensibility to the role made famous by Fay Wray. I spoke with Jane in a recent video interview about balancing all her projects, and how 30 Rock is really the perfect way to showcase all her talents.


 



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