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Review – Every Heart A Doorway September 6, 2017

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There was a ton of buzz going around about this book not long ago, and understandably, given the amazing premise. A boarding school to accommodate all those kids who have wandered off into magical fairylands for a while, and help re-acclimatize them to reality? So much possibility.

Guys, it…it really squandered the premise.

After a promising setup, Every Heart A Doorway turns into “a fairly gruesome murder mystery at a school for kids with weird/magic abilities.”

They don’t actually have any scenes of the kids in classes, much less any “here’s how to deal with reality” sequences. It’s insular, almost claustrophobic — the characters never leave the school. There’s no mention of phones, Internet, pop culture, anything connected to the Real World they’re supposed to be reintegrating with. Early on one of the characters mentions looking something up on Google Images before she arrived, but if it wasn’t for that reference, this could’ve taken place any time in the past hundred years.

When the gruesome murders start, there’s no police investigation, no real-world forensics, no “here’s how crimes are solved in a world without magic.” Even the adult authorities at the school, who are In On The Secret, don’t manage the situation at all. It’s just…left to the teenagers to solve on their own, with the residual supernatural talents they have from their fantasylands.

(How great would it have been to have the cops show up with all their mundane nonmagical expectations, and the teachers run interference, and it takes their combined efforts to make progress? Better yet, what if the investigative team included a former student, who could handle both aspects of the case at once?)

Without spoiling any specifics, by the end of the book, it doesn’t support the idea that “learning to be part of the world you’re in” is a worthwhile goal in the first place.

This in spite of the fact that some of the kids’ fairyland-developed coping mechanisms…do not seem healthy. I don’t mean “sensible by fairyland rules but maladapted to our-world rules,” I mean generally unhealthy.

You know what series handles this really well? Star Versus The Forces Of Evil. The heroine in this case is native to magicland, studying abroad on Earth, and the show does a lovely job of exploring the nuances from “Star learns that this behavior isn’t culturally appropriate for Earth” to “Star learns that this behavior is uncool anywhere.”

And I’ve loved fanfic that explores post-magic-journey culture shock. The Pevensies struggling to balance “solving problems by breaking out our mad skills as former-adult Kings and Queens of Narnia” with “not freaking out everyone around us.” Lyra and Pan having to remember to stay close together. Dorothy getting so much cross-cultural experience so young that, after a certain point, she can drop into pretty much any world and have no trouble going with the flow.

The students in Every Heart A Doorway don’t get any “here’s how to codeswitch to Earth-appropriate behaviors” or “wow, you’re interacting with regular Earth culture really well already” or “this isn’t good at all, let’s learn and grow and develop as characters.” They stay in their insulated setting with all the patterns they learned in other worlds going pretty much unexamined.

So much potential material here! So painfully unexplored!

~*~

People were also talking a lot, when the initial buzz was going around, about book’s the asexual protagonist.

Again: cool in theory! In practice, all it seems to mean is that her narration keeps doing unnecessary and shoehorned-in detours about how totally uninterested in sex she is.

The first time it came up was fine. Awkward, but forgivable. The rest, not so much. There’s a scene where she’s having a friendly conversation, and suddenly goes into an internal monologue about how she’s flirting, and this is fun, but she’s totally uninterested in having sex with the people she flirts with. It’s like she’s jumping in to correct an assumption that the reader isn’t making — I hadn’t even realized she was supposed to be flirting in the first place.

The scene that struck me the most is: she’s admiring the beauty of a male classmate, and thinks all the other girls around her must feel the same, “although she was sure she was the only one whose attraction was aesthetic, not romantic.”

First point: the character is not aromantic. (She says so. In those words.) It’s possible to feel romantic attraction in general, and not specifically feel it toward this guy. For her. But…not for literally anyone else?

Second point: why does she think there are no lesbians at this school? Why doesn’t it occur to her that some people are aromantic? Why does she show zero awareness that even straight girls (and bi/pan girls, although I’m not sure she realizes those exist either) don’t have to feel attracted to every boy in existence?

Is she just supposed to be really blinkered and self-centered, as a character flaw? Maybe, but I never felt like the narrative saw her that way.

Is it a “the lady doth protest too much” situation, where she is falling in love with the guy, and is aggressively denying/projecting to avoid facing the idea? Also possible, but has Unfortunate Implications for the way her asexuality is established by repeating “and she totally wasn’t sexually attracted to people, nope, not at all.”

~*~

The book is really weird about gender. Most of the students are girls (a couple hundred of them, to a grand total of 5 boys), and this is explained as a result of socialization and sexism and boys not wandering off as easily without getting noticed.

Which…doesn’t track with the genre it’s supposed to be commenting on. At all.

For every Lucy and Susan, there’s a Peter and Edmund. For every Alice through the looking-glass, there’s a Milo in a phantom tollbooth. Wendy Darling disappeared with both of her brothers in tow, and that’s not even counting Peter and the Lost Boys. Dorothy, Betsy Bobbin, and Trot are balanced out by Button-Bright and Zeb. Lyra had her Will. I could go on.

On top of that, this main group of characters ends up including 2 of the boys (along with maybe 4 girls).

Why establish a mostly-female setting if you’re then going to overrepresent the male characters that dramatically? Why not just have a roughly-gender-balanced school in the first place?

And it manages to wring a heck of a lot of heterosexuality out of this casting. Every major female character mentions having a male love interest in whatever fantasy world she wandered into. One of the boys basically wandered into Halloweentown and had a romance with a skeleton…very specifically a girl skeleton. I already mentioned the ace girl’s weird obliviousness to the possibility of gay people. And the only flirting we see between students is m/f.

The aforementioned super-beautiful boy is trans. Which is nice! And the subject is handled more naturally than the asexuality. Doubly nice.

But in some ways that only makes the broader context weirder. If there’s a setting where nobody is explicitly LGBT, it’s easy to read that as “underneath the veneer of everyone politely ignoring the topic, people are still LGBT at the average rate.”

Here, the author wants to have explicit representation! But it’s like…she made one of her boys trans, and one of her girls ace, and then just…stopped. Without considering the idea of LGBT people existing generally. In background characters. In sidelong references. In the concept of female characters other than the heroine who aren’t into a hot guy.

~*~

At least it was short? I blew through the whole audiobook in a single work day, so the disappointing aspects weren’t dragged out for long.

But seriously, there were a lot of disappointments. And now I’m worried there are people writing better versions of the premise but getting shot down as ripoffs, or getting publishing deals but no hype because all the “what a cool, unusual premise!” posts have been done.

…Does anyone have recs? I’ll also take recs for your favorite culture-shock fics of existing portal-fantasy series. Anything that takes this books’ premise and actually, wholeheartedly, runs with it.

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Akemi Homura wields the Shield of Rassilon July 28, 2017

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Madoka Magica features a ton of references and/or obvious influences from other magical-girl series. This bit, I would lay good odds, is a Doctor Who reference.

Here’s some production art of the Seal of Rassilon:

Seal of Rassilon

Here’s Homura with her shield:

Homura and shield

And here they are side-by-side. Either someone on the Madoka design team was a Who fan, or that’s a heck of a coincidence. (The Coincidence of Rassilon, perhaps.)

Seal and shield

A fakenews fandom LJ history June 8, 2017

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I got asked a thing about Daily Show/Colbert Report fandom history, and ended up typing a couple hundred words. Figured I’d repost it here, for anyone else who came in late and wants backstory.

In the beginning, before the Daily Show had any spinoffs, there was just tds_rps. Then the Colbert Report came along in 2005, and people started using “fake news” to refer to both shows together, in contrast to “real news” for the fans who wrote RPF about news anchors.

At that time Livejournal didn’t let you have tags on posts at all. When the option was introduced, that was one of the motivations for creating the fakenews_fanfic community — to create a place that had comprehensive tags from the beginning.

Anyone can start a new LJ comm, so they weren’t centralized or organized in any logical way. If someone felt like there was a need that wasn’t being filled by the existing comms, they would make one. Like, for a while tds_rps was joined by tcr_fps, which was open to Report-specific fics. It had such a narrow focus, there was argument about whether Jon/”Stephen” fics should be allowed — because even though “Stephen” the character was in them, Jon wasn’t a fictional character, he was just himself.

You can see why a community like that would get a limited amount of traffic. People who liked writing “Stephen” fic usually also liked writing about Jon. And a lot of them liked writing about Stephen-the-actor too, and there was heavy crossover with fans of news RPF, and fans of Strangers With Candy (the comedy Stephen co-created, where he played a character who was a lot like “Stephen,” and the sense of humor was very similar), and so on and so forth….

So one of the reasons fakenews_fanfic rose to be the main fandom community was that it had a broad focus. People could post all their fake-news-related fic in the same place. Not every reader had exactly the same interests, but there was enough overlap that everyone would be interested in most of the fic posted. And the tags meant it was easy to go through and find exactly the things you liked.

For a long time there wasn’t a single kink meme, just people making “put your kink prompts here” posts in their personal journals. Eventually someone decided to be more organized, and created a dedicated community for it. I don’t actually know who! It was a personal project, not the official creation of any other community.

Fills from all the separate kink posts are bookmarked and tagged in one place. (I do know who handled that, because it was me.)

In which I have a lot of thoughts about Michiru March 7, 2017

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All caught up with the Sailor Business podcast. They get better about doing research as it goes on! Plus, by now they have a large-enough listener base that a lot of solid, deep information is being called/sent in. Good stuff. Very listenable.

Followed a rec from one of their episodes to the Love and Justice podcast, where the shtick is that they compare plots across all the different versions. Starting with the Crystal episodes.

I did wince when they got to Ami’s introduction, and were confused that the manga was “more modern” than the ’92 anime, because she uses a CD instead of a floppy. Guys, your whole thing is comparing different versions, and you don’t realize the manga had two different releases? (Well, three at this point, but the uber-high-quality edition hasn’t been released stateside.) The version used for the Kodansha translations has a whole lot of updated art, most of which involves fixing wonky figures and adding more details, some of which involves the Dark Kingdom tech getting an upgrade.

Again, it’s still early episodes, and fun enough that I’m sticking with it. Hopefully someone eventually clues them in.

***

I ended up writing a long thing to Sailor Business, because they’ve been really doing a disservice to Michiru’s character. And apparently I have a lot more Feelings about her than I realized.

Context: They just passed the two-parter where Usagi is a daimon target. Before Uranus and Neptune arrive on-scene, Michiru asks Haruka if she’s really okay with the possibility of that cute girl being sacrificed. Haruka, stoically, insists that she’s fine. They gotta do what they gotta do.

…So our hosts keep saying Michiru is “passive” or “go along to get along.” Because Haruka is the more overtly loud and confrontational one…and that means Michiru is just following her lead, taking cues from her.

But now they’ve seen Michiru’s episode with Ami — she didn’t waver or wait for direction, she went straight for the jugular. And that’s a microcosm of how she’s approaching the whole quest: do something ruthless and cruel in the short term (pulling no punches with Ami/killing the Talisman holders) for the sake of a greater good in the long term (making Ami stronger/saving the world).

There’s an old butch-femme trope/cliche, that femmes are “steel wrapped in velvet,” and that’s Michiru. On the surface she’s all soft graceful feminine hobbies, but underneath she’s perfectly capable of knifing you in your sleep.

The flip side of the trope is that butches are “velvet wrapped in steel,” i.e. Haruka has a tough exterior but is a marshmallow underneath. Which lines right up with the podcast’s favorite relationship trope — “which of these people is the dog, and which is the cat?” Haruka is the dog! She barks really loud, but she’s a sucker for belly rubs. She yells a lot about how they have to kill the Talisman holders, to cover the fact that she’s the one who wrestles with it most in private.

Michiru handles the idea much better. Michiru is the cat who will knock all your stuff onto the floor, and look you in the eye while she’s doing it, with zero remorse. Michiru is the senshi who would win Most Likely To Become A Supervillain — not from brainwashing/hypnosis, we already know who’s most likely to go through that, but based on her own personality and for her own reasons.

So when Michiru asks Haruka if she’s okay with killing that cute innocent Usagi to save the world, there are two things going on here.

First is basically a supervillainy spot-check. Michiru knows it makes sense to her to kill a few people for the Greater Good, but is that really the moral strategy, or just the most coldly efficient one? Well, Haruka wouldn’t be capable of doing this for the sake of cold efficiency alone. So Michiru can reliably calibrate her moral compass by Haruka.

The second angle is Michiru being a concerned girlfriend. What if they get the Talismans and save the world, but afterward Haruka can’t handle the guilt? What if she has lifelong nightmares about Usagi’s death?

We don’t see what would have happened if Haruka had broken down and said “no, I’m sorry, this is too much, I can’t go through with it.” So different viewers can have different interpretations. My guess is that Michiru would say “it’s okay, sweetie, you don’t have to, we’ll find another way”…and then send Haruka home and go to Tokyo Tower on her own, making herself solely responsible for whatever happens to any Talisman-holders who show up.

Because sacrificing three lives for the sake of the world is one thing, but making Haruka feel bad about herself? That’s a bridge too far.

So, yeah, ruthless…but also, to be fair, a teenage girl in a traumatic situation. Part of the way she’s handling it is by telling herself, “look, I know I’m not a Good Person. A good person wouldn’t be this resigned to murdering three innocent people. But at least I can protect Haruka’s soul from being crushed along the way. I still get to draw the line somewhere, and I choose here.”

It takes another level in heart-rending when (and wow, I am looking forward to these episodes) you find out that Haruka got into the senshi game for Michiru. She told Haruka not to do it — trying to protect her, although at that point it was in an impersonal, “nobody should have to deal with this stress” way — and maybe Haruka would’ve listened, except then Sailor Neptune got in a monster fight she was going to lose without Sailor Uranus as backup.

So on some level Michiru is trying to atone for not being strong enough to keep this cute girl out of the fight.

 

…and you know, this makes it all the more satisfying when we get to that one SuperS special. A minor antagonist claims he has world-destroying powers, but Uranus and Neptune aren’t intimidated by that threat anymore. And Neptune cheerfully leans into her ruthlessness — she’s 100% bluffing, but she’s very good. Terrifies the pants off the guy. She has the power to simultaneously be a Big Damn Hero and out-villain the villains.

(Would you believe it, when I was a teenager, Michiru was the senshi I was least interested in? No, really. Even accounting for the context of her relationship with Haruka, who is probably my team-wide fave, I was not expecting to have this many Michiru feelings. But someone was Wrong On The Internet, and bam, here we are.)

“On The Subject of Noncon Fanworks” September 25, 2016

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An excellent essay about darkfic and sexuality (cw: author discusses her own trauma/abuse history). Centered on Sherlock fandom, though the general ideas apply no matter what characters you’re writing about.

I wanted to highlight this part:

If, instead of normalizing the existence of fics that portray noncon and underage, we make these themes taboo, if we pathologize them, if we require noncon works to be kept in a separate archive, if we insist that it be labeled with derogatory terms like “rapefic,” then what will happen is that writers who think that their work has “a bit of dubcon” in it will not tag it as such, in the hopes that it will fly under the radar and they won’t be banished to the leper colony with the filthy rapefic fans. This will have results that neither the responsible creators and consumers of noncon, nor the people who dislike it and categorically oppose it, want: that someone who doesn’t want to see noncon will see it.

I wrote the above paragraph close to a year ago, and my predictions are already coming true. I have seen noncon and underage fanworks being posted without appropriate tags and warnings. Some of these inadequately tagged fics are being posted by the same people who accused me and my fellow gender politics panelists of being rape apologists and pedophiles. The creators of these works defend them as being somehow different than the works the so-called rape apologists create, because they themselves were underage when they drew the fanart or wrote the fic, or because the work features the right” pairing, or the “right” kind of non-consensual situation, or because they don’t “eroticize” the noncon aspect, or because there’s a sufficient amount of comfort to offset the hurt, or for any number of other reasons.

It’s framed as a prediction, and maybe with respect to Sherlock fandom it is, but for fandom in general it’s nothing new. I remember wrestling with the same kind of cognitive dissonance more than a decade ago:

“Okay, I like stories where characters get hurt, but that’s a Bad Thing to enjoy. But I also like the emotional payoff when characters are rescued at the end! So when describing this, I should emphasize the rescue part. Imply that any scenes with pain and suffering are just a necessary evil on the way to the morally-acceptable payoff. Or, hey, maybe don’t mention the suffering at all.”

That mindset not only discourages people from warning for dark story elements, it stifles the general discussion about them, so that even if you want to warn, you can’t pick up the vocabulary to do it well.

I remember one fic of mine — it had a brief sex scene, and it was consensual, just incredibly unhealthy. Potentially very upsetting! And the only warning I put on it was a general sexual-content label. Partly because I was erring on the side of what looked more Morally Pure, but also because it was neither “non-con” nor “sex that is positive and affirming and healthy in every way” — and I didn’t have a handle on how to articulate the situations in between.

Fandom in general should be a place that helps people figure this stuff out, not a place where people get shamed and shouted down for trying.

So here’s a thing I didn’t know about Monstrous Regiment. September 3, 2016

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Section 28 of the UK’s Local Government Act 1988 put a ban on things like “promoting homosexuality” and “portraying homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle” by “local authorities” in the UK.

Part of that was inspired by the AIDS panic, part of it by voters being mad that Arts Council funding was going to, in short, gay stuff. Or just general feminist stuff. Theater companies with names like Gay Sweatshop or Monstrous Regiment (that last one named after a 16th-century polemic against women getting to rule anything).

In practice, this spiraled out into a broad climate of caution and self-censorship. School boards were afraid the law covered them, so they shied away from anti-bullying initiatives that would have protected LGBT+ students. Support groups for these students shut down. School libraries wouldn’t even stock books with LGBT+ characters….

And publishers, knowing that would put a crimp in their ability to sell and market those books, generally erred on the side of “not even gonna try it.”

Only four Discworld books had been published before 1988. Another 26 were published over the next decade and a half. None of them had any of the gay stuff.

The 31st Discworld novel — also called Monstrous Regiment — is the one with the lesbians. Lots of crossdressing, characters trying to hide their genders, some whose actual gender identities are arguable, and two who are undeniably girlfriends.

Section 28 was repealed on September 18, 2003.

Monstrous Regiment came out in hardcover on October 1, 2003.

Which means Pratchett, and who knows how many people at all the other stages of publication, had it ready. They had it queued up and on-deck, and must have put things in motion literally as soon as they found out it was marketable, because it was on shelves two weeks later.

You did good, Pterry.

Whyyyyyyyyy. [queer women on TV edition] March 24, 2016

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I would not have guessed there had been 147 lesbian/bi female characters on TV total, let alone 147 lesbian/bi female characters who got killed.

And that’s just TV! First thing I thought of was Cloudburst (2011), a film I was loving right up until ten minutes from the end, when one of the sweet old lesbians randomly drops dead. Why, movie? Why did you have to do that?

Couldn’t remember the title off the top of my head…so I found it by googling “old lesbian couple movie.” Not “old lesbian couple movie where one of them dies,” wasn’t necessary to get that specific, it was the top result anyway.

Someone ran stats for this year, going off of GLAAD’s stats for primetime broadcast programming. “In 2015 there were only 35 fictional wlw characters on television and 80 days into 2016 they’ve killed 8 of them. That is a fourth of them. In less than 3 full months of the year.”

Why, industry? Why did you have to do that?

Good stuff. (Madoka, Empowered, Lancaster County, Abd el-Kader, and more.) December 13, 2015

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Fandom good things:

More Madoka is on the way! No idea what I’m going to think of the plot, but it’s going to be lovely. And lend itself beautifully to Princess Tutu crossovers.

Empowered is coming up online! (Legally, even.) The whole first volume is up — and for those of us who have already gotten nine or ten volumes into the hard-copy version, there’s long-winded author commentary as a rereading bonus.

We invited the translators of the [Ancillary Justice] into Bulgarian, German, Hebrew, Hungarian and Japanese to discuss the process, with particular interest in the translation of gender. What emerges is an insight into the work of translators and the rigidity and versatility of grammatical gender in the face of non-standard demands. Where necessary, translators turned to innovative and even inventive ways to write their languages.”

Nonfictional good things:

“Why do so many ex-cons end up back in prison? Maybe they don’t—a provocative new study says recidivism rates are drastically lower than we think.”

Thanks, Obama: “Between 2007 and January of 2015, overall homelessness fell by 11%, and chronic homelessness declined by 31%. […] Homelessness among veterans declined by 35%, and over a shorter span of time — between 2009 and 2015. The number of unsheltered homeless veterans across the nation has plummeted by 50% in the past four years.

“In the days following the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, a coalition of Muslim-led groups in Southern California and elsewhere around the nation has committed to raising $100,000 for the families of the shooting victims.” And they were at $97K when that article was posted.

“Your drunk uncle posting ‘Homeless Servicemen Should Come Before Any Refugee’ memes on Facebook is utterly full of it. Lancaster County is doing both. It has ended homelessness among veterans in the county and it is welcoming and assisting desperate refugees fleeing ISIS’s brutality in Syria.

Best for last: “Given the cowardly, inhospitable opposition to Syrian refugees that all of these candidates have decided to make an issue, it’s safe to say that not a one of them knows anything about the person that gave Elkader, Iowa its name.”

His name was Abdelkader El Djezairi, and when there were riots and a planned massacre of Christians in 19th-century Damascus, he mounted an incredibly hardcore armed defense/rescue/refugee-smuggling operation. Had people crowded in his own house, paid reward money out of his own pocket to get other Christians there, organized his own small army to escort groups of them safely out of the city.

“At least 3,000 Christians were killed before it was all over. Abd el-Kader was credited with saving upwards of 10,000 Christians, including the entire European diplomatic corps.”

This guy is amazing. Where’s his big-budget action movie? (Apparently Oliver Stone is working on a biopic, but it isn’t finished, and we could really do with people going to see it on-screen already.)

Erin Listens: Great Gildersleeve, Amos’n’Andy, My Friend Irma December 1, 2015

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The listening to old-time radio continues. Seriously, I can burn through 19 episodes in a single work day, I’ve gotta keep ’em coming.

The Great Gildersleeve has gone downhill since its first season. Shifted from comedy to more soap-opera drama, which is not nearly as interesting as the show seems to think it is. (They did two storylines in a row where Gildy spends all season courting a woman, they’re engaged for half of it, then in the season finale he decides he doesn’t want to marry her and frantically tries to sabotage the relationship. At least the other characters kept lampshading it the second time around.)

(In both cases he gets out of the engagement for unrelated reasons, and in the seasons since, his relationships with both of them have gone back and forth between “flirting” and “jealously trying to agitate each other.” Straight people, I swear.)

On the plus side, the historical angle is still interesting — I just passed the end of WWII, and the characters are slowly moving out of the era of war bonds, rationing, and high interest in the Red Cross. And I’ve only caught a few of the vintage pop-culture references — to “oh, you kid“, to Alphonse and Gaston — gotta wonder how much I’m missing by being born 50+ years after the target audience.

Worth noting: the unintentional subtext between Gildy and Judge Hooker keeps cropping up. Sample line: “All that time I was flirting with [yet another love interest], I was thinking of you!” They literally did a “we rented a single hotel room together and ended up sharing a bed” episode. Then spent New Year’s Eve alone together, complimenting each other. “You’re a he-man, a real masculine personality.” / “I’ve noticed women looking at you on the street. Recently!” Really, guys. Really.

Intercutting that with Amos’n’Andy, which is…not as racist as pop-culture osmosis had led me to expect? The leads are a couple of white actors doing dialect voices to play black characters, so there’s that. But it’s not like they’re the Two Black Stereotypes in an otherwise-white world — most of the characters are black, and there’s as much variety and characterization as in any of these other shows. I don’t know that I can unpack it any further than that.

Our heroes fumble their way through get-rich-quick schemes, romantic entanglements, and the schemes of unscrupulous friends and unsavory relatives. Oh, and there was that one time they got arrested by the FBI on suspicion of stealing military secrets for the Nazis. (I’m listening through the war years here, too.)

Wikipedia let me know that Calvin and the Colonel is actually an Amos’n’Andy remake with cartoon animals. Neat. I knew the voices sounded familiar, but I wouldn’t have guessed they were the same.

Speaking of familiar voices, one of the side cast members is clearly trying to do the Mel Blanc thing (most familiar today from Porky Pig), “try to answer a question one way, stutter over some phoneme too hard to get through it, try to phrase it another way, stutter, try again, stutter…” Except that the actor is not Mel Blanc, or even Mel-Blanc-league, so what he’ll do is…say the whole answer (with a few ums and ahs around it), then say a whole new phrasing of that answer, and so on.

Makes me miss the Mel Blanc Show. Unfortunately, limited stores of preserved episodes means I burned through all of those at least a year ago…

Lighting up my days more than anything since running through all the Our Miss Brooks episodes is My Friend Irma. Our heroines are Jane and Irma, a couple of working girls sharing an apartment in NYC, which right away puts you on a more progressive foundation than some of these shows.

(I know Gildy is supposed to be a buffoon, but it’s still pretty teeth-grinding when he lectures his niece about how she should learn to be a good wife rather than planning to get a job. …And then, with no sense of irony, complains about girls with career aspirations to his female cook. Followed by his female secretary.)

Jane’s the sensible and sardonic narrator; Irma is a sweet, dreamy Cloud Cuckoolander. Sometimes Jane’s treatment of her crosses the line into patronizing, but there’s enough real affection to make it worthwhile. Similarly, Irma’s love interest is kind of a shiftless bum who’s always chasing schemes and making bets rather than settling down to a normal job, but it’s clear that he isn’t dating Irma because she’s gullible. And he tries to do genuinely selfless things once in a while (though they inevitably blow up in his face, because it’s funnier that way).

It’s sweet and fun, and has a steady pattern of not making me want to pull my hair out in frustration. Would rec.

Erin (Re)Watches: 30 Rock, 3rd Rock, Damages, Burn Notice, Grace and Frankie November 24, 2015

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Another post with reactions to the TV which has played on my computer over the past however-many months.

…including all the way back to March, which is when I watched Burn Notice. Did I ever mention that?

It was suggested as a follow-up to Leverage. Not quite as unrelentingly feel-good, especially during the last season or so, when it takes a turn for the unnecessarily grimdark…and our ex-spy hero is even more wrapped up in his own quests than Nate Ford is. But there’s still a healthy amount of Scrappy Underdog Do-Gooders Helping The Helpless, as well as Lovely Detailed Competence Porn.

And what I said mid-watch still holds: Michael Westen has the greatest mom. She has her own life and concerns separate from the action characters’ shenanigans, but she helps them out in increasingly involved ways as the series goes on — you really come to appreciate how much she has the unpolished version of some of Michael’s skills and abilities, and that’s where he got it from.

On the comedy side of things, Grace and Frankie was a lot of fun. When lawyer-friends President Bartlet and Sam the Eagle reveal that they’ve been secretly having an affair for years, their shocked wives, Jane Fonda and Ms. Frizzle, end up forming an unconventional support-group/friendship as they struggle to cope.

It’s funny and snappy and sweet by turns. The premise has a tough tightrope to walk — being queer and closeted and in love with someone you can’t be open about is hard, but being lied to and cheated on and divorced is also hard, but when the lies are about queer stuff the reaction can go to a homophobic place very easily. IMO the first season does a really nice job of letting everyone be hurt and angry for legitimate reasons, without vilifying anyone.

There’s plenty of room for them to bomb at it whenever the second season comes out, especially after the S1 cliffhanger. But given their track record, I’m optimistic — they’ve been good about the characters’ flaws being the product of these specific characters, rather than sweeping statements on the behavior of All People of Sexuality X and/or Gender Y.

Made it through a rewatch of 30 Rock more recently.

It kinda suffers on second viewing because the good jokes are no longer delightful surprises, so there’s not as much delight to distract you as much from the terrible bits. (I don’t want to say there are a lot of terrible bits…they’re just really outstanding in their terribleness. Like “this thing they’re referencing is rape, but the show doesn’t realize it’s rape, and seems to expect you to find it hilarious” levels of terrible.)

But, y’know, the characters are still mostly lovable in their ridiculousness, Liz Lemon is still great, and Liz and Jack’s relationship is still all kinds of heartwarming. The guy she marries didn’t wow me,  but they’re believably happy together, and the wedding was excellent. (“I’m a princess!” Ahhh, had forgotten that happened.) It’s a series with a good finale! So few manage to pull that off.

And I totally did not pick up on Kenneth’s immortality during the first viewing. That was a worthy second-watch bonus.

These days, comedy-wise, I’m working through 3rd Rock From The Sun. (For reasons other than “thematic naming.”)

It’s a nice mild sitcom about aliens. The main actors are all really good at interacting with human society in weird and confused ways — you get genuine sci-fi vibes out of it, even with, so far, absolutely no special effects. (The hilarious ’90s 3-D animation in the opening doesn’t count.)

There’s some awkwardness about social issues, nothing I haven’t been able to shrug off. You just have to keep your “product of the ’90s” filter up. Sometimes it’s even pleasantly surprising. There’s an episode where the alien family is trying to figure out how race/ethnicity works, and one of them tries to go “I don’t see race, there is only the human race”…to which a co-worker immediately replies, “dude, I’m black, it’s a thing, deal with it.”

And it’s doing pretty well in the “unrelentingly feel-good” department. To the point where I don’t think any of the characters have been mean or vindictive or petty, even for purposes of hilarity. The comedy all flows from the culture clashes, and from the aliens being sweetly, earnestly bizarre.

Back in the dramatic end of the pool: did a rewatch of Damages not long ago.

It’s a very different experience when you know from the start who’s plotting to kill who, and for what reasons! Less tense in some ways, more satisfying in others.

I would really love a show about the lawyer that Patty Hewes is pretending to be when she first meets Ellen. Tough but fair, relentless in the pursuit of justice, and without, y’know, the murder-y streak.

…and since I originally checked the series out on the promise of complicated adversarial f/f potential, I would also love a show that’s basically the same as Damages, but without Ellen getting that one reason to reeeeeally hate Patty. I mean, as-is, the hatesex would be intense, but there’s no plausible way to get anything else! If Ellen’s feelings were left to be more ambiguous…if she was pushing back against the ruthlessness of some of Patty’s methods but undeniably impressed by the results…also, drawn along by her own ambition, and slowly growing into her potential to be just as terrifying, with Patty wary of the potential competition and not allowing herself to show just how appealing she finds Ellen’s progress….

That would be some good shipping, right there.

(Basically, I want The Devil Wears Prada as a law-office AU.)