2012 in TV

Dec. 19th, 2012 11:56 am
cest_what: face the world (face the world)
I started doing that Fandom 2012 meme and accidentally wrote nearly a thousand words on Once Upon a Time. So I thought I would post the TV part of the meme separately, er.

Your favorite tv shows of the year?

I'm terrible about starting TV and then getting distracted by something else. So I'm partway through a season of about twelve different things at the moment. But my favourites of this year have been Warehouse 13, Revenge, Once Upon a Time and Psych.

Psych I actually tried to watch when it first aired, and I decided it was kind of dumb and not nearly as funny as it thought it was, and gave up. But every now and then Tumblr circulates a gif or some dialogue that's incredibly charming, so I got Season 3 and started watching it a few weeks back. And other than the weird fixation on casting only blonde women for all the regular and guest female roles, it is so charming. Shawn and Gus have such a darling friendship.

Warehouse 13 I started watching purely because I kept seeing femslash for it. I almost never get into live action screen fandoms, but lots of femslash = probably excellent relationships between female characters, and that's always going to pull me in. I did have some reservations for a while - it was fairly charming, but the aesthetic just kind of doesn't do it for me. I thought that a steampunk mystery procedural would hit my buttons square on, but the way that W13 does steampunk doesn't seem to work for me. I don't know, maybe it's the junkshop vibe?

As soon as the characters knew each other enough to really love each other, though, I was hooked. The kind of incredibly affectionate intertwining bonds that the warehouse crew all have with each other is basically all I want ever from team shows.

Revenge I watched basically for Nolan and Emily. I've only seen Season 1 and the very beginning of Season 2, and the chatter I've seen seems to suggest that the introduction of a third jerkily boring dark-haired white dude as yet another love interest is dragging it down pretty bad. I will watch it, though, because Emily and Nolan are still there. And also I haven't heard anything about what kinds of arcs Ashley and Charlotte get in this season, and I need to know.

Once Upon a Time is another one I started watching because I was seeing femslash around, and another one where the aesthetic jars for me a bit. Or, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn't? It's just sometimes the character style and makeup tilts too heavily into that kind of trashy/soapy Charmed look, especially Regina's evil queen persona. On the other hand I adore Regina's look in Storybrooke, and really like the character design of her younger persona, so it's kind of all over the place. I like the difference between Snow with her messy soft hair and Mary Margaret with her perfect Disney-esque short do, too.

I was a bit dubious going in, because modern interpretations of fairy tales tend to be so lazy, to take such dumb easy routes that miss the point of the story entirely, and apply modern sensibilities to "fix" the stories and make the female characters less lame, and miss the agency that the characters already had. If somebody had mentioned that OUaT's fairy tales are half reinterpretation and half unabashed Disney Princesses fanfiction, I would have been here so much sooner.

Even apart from the Disney factor, though, I do think they do some really interesting things with the tales. (I've only seen the very beginning of S2, so this is basically about the S1 tales.) Snow White is obviously the main tale of S1, and even though they give Snow greater agency by making her kickass in some standard ways - swordplay! banditry! - it isn't executed in the usual way. Snow was never the spirited princess rejecting social expectations and defiantly riding her horse astride and yearning for freedom - that's Regina, and I am so in love with the fact that the evil queen gets the classic modern fairy tale heroine backstory. Instead Snow is gentle and kind and forgiving, just as her Disney version is, and her natural bravery tends towards self-sacrifice. Her toughness and kickass swordwielding woodswoman skills are a natural extension of the fact that when she's a teenager she is thrown into the woods, and survives and thrives.

And she's open to the criticism of being too perfect, this gentle forgiving leaderly girl who can wield a sword, but even that gets extra depth in Mary Margaret, still herself but weaker and making bad decisions. Snow is the best version of herself, the best-case scenario who became everything she could be, just like Charming is the best-case scenario for indecisive, cheating David.

I don't love the fact that Ruby and Regina are the two most sexualised characters. The sexy = evil thing that Regina's got going on, especially as the evil queen, is obviously a bit ugh. And the thing about Ruby is that when the original Red Riding Hood stories are framed as being about sex, then they're about rape. And Little Red is sexualised again and again in popular culture, and it's gross, and even though Red's actual story in OUaT isn't about sex, her character design still plays into that cultural history. BUT the fact that her actual story isn't about sex, and doesn't make her a victim while still pulling in the imagery of blood and primal fear and monsters, is pretty awesome and totally works for me.

I really like the way the Cinderella story is interpreted too, the change your life refrain. The way it's explicitly not about a desire to feel pretty for a night - which is a totally ok desire, but a bit of a short-sighted use of a magical gift given all the things that are awful about Cinderella's situation - and it's not about love, at least at first, because of course when Cinderella asks to go to the ball she's never even met the prince. Instead it's about wanting a way to escape her situation and change the hand she's been dealt, and even though OUaT makes Ella's agency a lot more explicit with her Deal, it works with the folk tale, too. Cinderella received her chance as a gift, but she asked for it and she pursued it, escaping her drudgery three nights running.

On the non-fairy tale side, I really like Emma and her approach to the world. I love how much I believe in her as a bounty hunter and a sheriff: that with all her issues and vulnerable spots, her bulldog bravery and instinct towards action is unquestionable. And the show never feels the need to question it, to undercut her in that way. And I really love how much the show validates her power and Regina's power and the importance of their rivalry on the village stage. The sheriff vs. the mayor. Only Mr Gold is as important a player in the events of the village, and his power is a sneaky and far more stereotypically feminine kind.

One of my favourite moments is when Henry is trapped in the mine and somebody has to heroically strap themself into a harness and go down to find him, and Regina immediately says "I'll do it" and Emma says "No I'll do it", and nobody there suggests that it should be anyone else. There's an unquestioning understanding that the two people with the right to it are these two women.
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I've started watching Warehouse 13. So far I am utterly charmed: I love the dynamic between Myka and Pete, how it's really playful and fond and full of mutual trust in the other's abilities even though they genuinely piss each other off. I also like the way the victims of the case-of-the-week keep on not dying or having anything truly horrible happen to them - I appreciate a crime-solving drama not based on the pain and death of one-off characters.

But it's also made me think a lot about the cliche of the logical by-the-book agent and the instinctual trust-your-gut agent, and the way when applied to a female/male partnership, Agent By-the-Book is always the woman and Agent Trust-Your-Gut is always the man. (My pool of examples is a bit thin, but it's true in X-Files and it's true in Bones and it's true more than once in Warehouse 13 and I don't know enough about any other female/male buddy cop show to judge.)

The thing is, I couldn't work out what I wanted from that cliche. It's not really that I want to see it reversed, because of course there is a long cultural tradition of women being incapable of logic and being ruled by their hearts and hormones and hereditary instincts, and this modern cliche is a subversion of that.

Only ... that's the thing. What annoys me about it is that the writers of all of these shows have clearly decided that they can't flip the dynamic the other way, because a female character trusting her instincts strays into the area of Women's Intuition, and that's a trope that nobody will respect. Which basically comes out as a subliminal message to the effect that a man's instincts are worth listening to, but a woman's instincts are laughable.

So I guess what I want, what I really really want, is to see female/male partnership dynamics that hinge around a different divide. Because that one is turning into the wrong kind of cliche.

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