So, there’s this thing that happens to my brain sometimes. It kinda, sorta gets set on fire? Like, I watch a trailer for something or see a movie I liked, and my brain jumps from that was kind of interesting to holy SHIT I can’t think of anything else and are you expecting me to do something important right now, like work or pay attention to what you’re saying, because, seriously, I’m too busy thinking about this thing I just saw; in fact, I need to watch this thing again, like, maybe another 50 times or so, like, right now. So. Bye!
So, yeah. I do that. It can be kind of annoying, actually, because it can last a little longer than — strictly speaking — is probably normal, but it’s just how my brain works, and as long as I only do it with TV shows or actors’ filmographies and never progresses to actually stalking people in real life . . . you know, I’m not going to worry about it too much. Anyway, about maybe ten days ago, my brain caught on fire again . . . with the MTV series Teen Wolf, of all things.
I have never seen the 80’s movie Teen Wolf. I’ve heard of it, of course, and I laughed my ass off when I saw a short clip on TV and discovered that all the teenagers in this school were apparently just totally chill with this fucking werewolf playing basketball with them . . . but I’ve never felt any particular inclination to see the movie itself, and when I heard that MTV was making a TV series based on it, well, I was laughing my ass off at that, too.
But the thing is, I read fanfiction kind of obsessively — in fact, that’s mostly how I work through my current pop culture flavor of the month — so over the last couple of years, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of the authors I really liked were all into this Teen Wolf show. And I was like, Really? THAT show? But when I kept hearing decent things about it, especially post season one, I figured, Okay, maybe I’ll check this out sometime.
Sometime was ten days ago, when I decided to look up a couple of clips on Youtube, maybe glance at a fanfiction or two, and check out this “Stiles” character that everybody and their mother seemed to love. I figured I’d see if it looked like my kind of thing or not, and if I wanted to check it out between noir flicks.
. . . and within a few hours my brain was burning, and my long suffering but awesome sister and I sped through the twelve episode first season in two days.
Scott McCall (Tyler Posey), an asthmatic and permanent benchwarmer for the high school lacrosse team, is bitten by a werewolf and has to deal with all the bullshit that goes along with that, like gruesome, unexplained murders, hunters who want to kill him and all his kind, and not shifting into wolf form in front of his new girlfriend.
1. The fandom was absolutely right: Stiles (Dylan O’Brien) is easily the best character in the entire series.
Stiles is Scott’s snarky best friend, and while of course it’s true that the geeky comic relief is generally the best character in any series, I specifically kind of love Stiles and all his sarcastic, hyperactive glory. I like that he’s clearly the brains of the outfit. I like his relationship with his dad. I especially like whenever he makes fun of Scott because, good God, does Scott deserve to be made fun of sometimes. (And occasionally punched in the face. I swear, that kid . . . well, we’ll get to Scott.)
Maybe the best thing about Stiles is that he’s the funny one and the nerdy one but not exactly the nice one. After all, he does spend basically the whole first season pretty actively hoping for a main character to die, and that main character is not actually a bad guy. And while Stiles is incredibly loyal to Scott and sweetly anxious about his dad’s safety, he doesn’t seem to have much of a problem tricking or using anyone else to get what he needs. He’s kind of a terrible little shit, in a way, but he’s so much fun to watch.
2. Scott, however, is less of a terrible little shit than an obnoxious, lovestruck twit who’s kind of a horrible friend.
Honestly, I don’t hate Scott. He does have some good moments and a few reactions I totally buy, although I do think Tyler Posey is probably one of the weaker acting links on the show. (He’s pretty young, though, and it’s totally possible he’ll get better with further seasons as he settles into his character.) But by God, all Scott EVER DOES is think about Allison.
Allison is Scott’s love interest, and their star-crossed romance — especially in early episodes — is easily the most boring thing about Teen Wolf. On the upside, the show is pretty quick to call out Scott for his woobiness, his single-minded devotion, and his utter lack of priorities, which is not only gratifying for this reviewer with a cold, dead heart . . . it’s also, occasionally, hilarious. (I can’t tell you how hard I laughed at this one scene. I was dying.)
Allison, herself, is okay. There are a couple of episodes where she was kind of driving me crazy, but she also has a few moments I really liked, and I think I might enjoy her storyline more in Season Two, where it looks like she’ll have more to do than think about Scott and look confused about all the weird shit that’s happening around her and think about Scott some more.
3. Some of my favorite characters in this teen show are the adults. Specifically, Scott’s mom and Stiles’s dad.
Melissa McCall (Melissa Ponzio) is kind of hilarious. She’s pretty no-nonsense, has amazing reactions, and actually calls out her son on some of his bullshit. (You might be noticing a trend here, in what I enjoy in a character.) She seems like a very competent single parent, which is rare enough in television, much less television that features creatures that go bump in the night. If Ponzio had displayed even half this much personality while she guest-starred on The Walking Dead, I would have been a lot more invested in her character.
And then there’s also Sheriff Stilinski (Linden Ashby), who I simply can’t not call Sheriff Johnny Cage — because I’m sadly older than the target audience, dammit, and that’s the movie I’m always going to associate Linden Ashby with. Anyway, he’s also a funny, no-nonsense, competent single parent, and I basically adore every scene with him and Stiles together. I think they have one of the most interesting relationship dynamics in the whole show.
4. Oh, also: Kate (Jill Wagner) is kind of awesome.
I won’t talk too much about her for Spoiler Reasons, but yeah. She’s a crazy badass, and I found her pretty damn enjoyable to watch. It’s funny to think of her as the girl from Wipeout. I always forget that TV show hosts generally have other ambitions in the business besides reality show competition gigs, like acting.
5. He’s not a major player — not yet, anyway? — but so far, I’m enjoying how the show is handling Danny, the openly gay teenager on the lacrosse team.
Mostly because he’s popular and likable and nobody has a problem with him. Like, every single kid at Beacon Hills High is like, whatever, he’s gay, can we get back to ME now? Obviously, it’s good to have shows that deal with all the shit that gay teenagers have to deal with in HS, but I think it’s also equally important to have shows that just don’t make a big deal about it, that it’s just totally normal. Cause, you know. It should be.
6. The real terror the kids at this school have to face? Their teachers.
Holy shit, these teachers. They are all horrible human beings — like, these are not the kind mentors you go to after class to talk about your sad family problems. These are the guys that make fun of you in the middle of class because they clearly hate their lives and are secretly hoping to get fired so they can get back on track with whatever their original dream was. I’m not sure how kindly actual teachers would look upon this show, but I’ll admit to finding these guys pretty (meanly) hysterical.
7. Also? Seriously, who the hell plays lacrosse? Maybe this is because I’m from the wrong part of California, you know, the northern, rural part where the only real sport is football, but come on. I want to know how many public high schools in California actually have lacrosse teams. (Also, two Olympic sized swimming pools. Please.)
And while I’m ragging on silliness . . . there’s a bit of total Asthma Fail in the pilot. Oh yeah. One of these days, we’re going to get a kid who takes his inhaler three times in three minutes — preferably after appearing to have some actual kind of respiratory distress and not just deciding, well, I don’t have a lollipop; why don’t I just put my inhaler in my mouth instead — and he’s going to have some godamned shaky hands. Honestly. Why is no one ever twitchy after this? And why does every asthmatic character ever always take a puff off their inhaler when they’re feeling even the slightest bit scared? I WILL CONTINUE TO MOCK YOU, HOLLYWOOD, UNTIL YOU START TAKING ME SERIOUSLY.
8. My mockery will continue with the werewolf makeup because, duh. Werewolf makeup is always the funniest.
In the show’s defense, the werewolves do have kind of an 80’s look to them, so maybe the makeup itself is kind of an homage. And BTVS continues to have (forever) the very worst werewolves. Still. I laugh pretty much every time I see one on Teen Wolf — especially at all the glowy red and blue and yellow eyes — which means I laugh basically every episode. It’s a recipe for success, really.
Also enjoyable: werewolves don’t take stairs. They don’t need to. They just leap past that shit. A LOT.
9. It occurs to me that I’ve talked a lot about characters and makeup and not very much about the actual plot. And . . . yeah. I don’t think I’m going to start now — it’s considerably easier to avoid accidentally writing big spoilers that way.
Here’s what I will say: I enjoyed this show from the beginning, but the pilot — and really, the first few episodes — are regularly short of amazing. Even for a teen soap, I think they spend a little too much time on unnecessary romantic complications between the main two characters when there are so many other, more interesting mysteries left hovering in the background.
However, it does pick up, and by the end of the first season, I was genuinely finding myself drawn more and more into the story. And from everything I’ve read, the show only gets better, darker, crazier, and more intriguing every season, so I’m really looking forward to watching Season 2 now.
10. Besides, we all know why everyone’s really watching this show, right?
Cause, let’s be honest. If you can push past the pervy factor — and the actors, at least, are all above the age of consent — there are some decent looking young men in this show who are fairly constantly taking off their shirts for you to admire. Like Derek (Tyler Hoechlin), pictured above — who’s very favorite activity in the first season is to lurk in corners and stare ominously at people. Ominously and hotly.
It should be said, though: despite its best efforts, Teen Wolf is currently losing the Exercise Porn War to Arrow. These werewolves sure do like their shirtless pull-ups, but when they start actually climbing salmon ladders while simultaneously angsting away, then I’ll start being impressed with their exercise regimes.
(I will give Teen Wolf this, though: they know their audience. One of the Special Features on the DVD? Season One: Shirtless Montage. Priceless. Shameless, but priceless.)
Be advised: I keep out any major plot points and spoilers, but there are a fair number of quotes, so some details are bound to leak through. Also, 98% of these quotes are from Stiles. Cause he’s the best.
Stiles: “That’s the spirit. Everyone should have a dream, even a pathetically unrealistic one.”
Scott: “You know what actually worries me the most?”
Stiles: “You say Allison, and I’m gonna punch you in the head.”
Scott: “She probably hates me now.”
Coach: “My grandmother moves faster than that, and she’s dead. Do you think you can move faster than the lifeless corpse of my dead grandmother?”
Melissa McCall: “Is my beautiful, talented, wonderful son actually bringing me dinner?”
Scott: “Thought you wouldn’t mind skipping the cafeteria tonight.”
Melissa McCall: “You are the most thoughtful, loving, most conniving little con artist ever. You are so not getting the car tomorrow night.”
Melissa McCall: “What? There’s a curfew. No car. But I will take this. Love you!”
Sheriff: “So you lied to me?”
Stiles: “That depends on how you define lying.”
Sheriff: “Well, I define it as not telling the truth. How you define it?”
Stiles: “. . . reclining your body in a horizontal position?”
Allison: “Maybe you should stop pretending to suck for his benefit.”
Lydia: “Trust me, I do plenty of sucking just for his benefit.”
Scott: “Am I gonna hurt someone?”
Scott: “Could I kill someone?”
Scott: “Am I gonna kill someone?”
Melissa: “Can you please tell your friend to use the front door?”
Scott: “But we lock the front door. He wouldn’t be able to get in.”
Melissa McCall: “Yeah, exactly. And, by the way, do either of you care that there’s a police enforced curfew?”
Scott and Stiles: “No.”
Melissa McCall: “No. All right, then, well, you know what, that’s enough parenting for me for one night.”
Derek: “Start the car, or I’m going to rip your throat out . . . with my teeth.”
Derek: “You faint at the sight of blood?”
Stiles: “No, but I might at the sight of a chopped off arm!”
(Kate thinks Scott has stolen something out of her bag — which he totally has.)
Kate: “C’mon, Scott. Prove me wrong.”
Allison: “I’ll prove you wrong. Uh, it wasn’t Scott going through your bags. It was me.”
(Allison defiantly holds up a condom in front of her aunt and father.)
Jackson: “I am not watching The Notebook again!”
(a few minutes later, in the video store)
Jackson: “Can somebody help me find The Notebook?”
Allison: “Sorry, sorry. I just totally soccer-mommed you.”
Scott: “That’s all right. I’ll just pick up my masculinity on the way back.”
Sheriff: “I’m carrying a lethal weapon. If I want the curly fries, I will have the curly fries.”
Stiles: “If you think getting rid of all the contractions in your sentences makes your argument any more legitimate, then you are wrong.”
Stiles: “Hey, it’s me again. Look, I found something, and I don’t know what to do, okay? So if you could turn your phone on right now, that’d be great, or else I’ll kill you. Do you understand me? I’m going to kill you. And I’m too upset to come up with a witty description about how exactly I’m going to kill you, but I’m just going to do it, okay? I’m gonna — UGH. Goodbye.”
Coach: “So, Stiles. Great kid, zero ability to focus, super smart, never takes advantage of his talents.”
Sheriff: “How do you mean?”
Coach: “Well, for his final question on his midterm exam? He detailed the entire history of the male circumcision.”
Sheriff: “Well, I mean it does have historical significance, right?”
Coach: “I teach economics.”
Sheriff: “Aw, crap.”
Stiles: “You know, this whole women make you weak thing is a little too Spartan warrior for me.”
Scott: “Something smells terrible in here, anyway.”
Stiles: “Really? In a boys locker room? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Stiles: “Yeah, it’s called heartbreak. About two billion songs written about it.”
Danny: “You’re a horrible person.”
Stiles: “I know. It keeps me awake at night.”
Stiles: “All right, first off . . . throwing Derek under the bus? Nicely done.”
Scott: “What do we do?”
Stiles: “We get to my Jeep. We get out of here. You seriously think about quitting your job.”
Scott: “I love her.”
Stiles: “That’s great; now, moving on –”
Scott: “No, no, no. Really. I think I’m totally in love with her.”
Stiles: “And that’s beautiful. Now, before you go off and write a sonnet, can we figure this out please . . .”
Scott: “Was that okay? I mean that was a howl, right?”
Stiles: “Yeah, technically.”
Scott: “Well, what did it sound like to you?”
Stiles: “Like a cat being choked to death, Scott.”
(Everyone is barricading the door except for Stiles.)
Stiles: “Guys, can we just wait a second — guys, can you listen to me, wait a second — guys — Stiles talking — can we hang on one second — HELLO!
(Everyone finally turns around)
Stiles: “Okay, nice work. Really beautiful job, everyone. Now, what should we do about the twenty foot wall of windows?”
Jackson: “What do you mean, no?”
Stiles: “I mean, no. You wanna hear it in Spanish? No.”
Stiles: “Call me Biles, or I swear to God I’ll kill you.”
Derek: “By the way, one more thing?”
(Derek slams Stiles’s head into the steering wheel.)
Stiles: “God, what the hell was that f– ”
Derek: “You know what that was for.”
(Stiles gets his father drunk so he can access crime scene and arrest records)
Stiles: “Another shot?”
Sheriff: “No, no. No more.”
Stiles: “Dad, come on. You work really hard. You deserve it.”
Sheriff: “Oh my god, I’m going to have such a hangover.”
Stiles: “You mean you’re going to have such a good night sleep. (aside) And I’m going to have an eternity in the lowest circle of Hell.”
Stiles: “Well, I shouldn’t say I told you so . . . because it’s not strong enough. How about I’m always right, and you should listen to whatever I have to say and never disagree ever, ever for the sake of your wolvlihood?”
Scott: “I’m not letting him die.”
Stiles: “Could you at least think about letting him die? For me?”
Melissa McCall: “Have you told her how you feel?”
Scott: “She knows.”
(Melissa smacks Scott in the forehead.)
Melissa: “Come on, she knows. She knows? Listen, dumbass, I’m going to let you in on a secret that most guys don’t even have a clue about, all right? You ready? Women love words.”
(Someone Bad is forcing Stiles to hack into Scott’s phone to turn on the GPS)
Someone Bad (ominously): “Are you going to save him? Are you going to save your best friend who you know so well that you even know his user name and password?
(Stiles enters the username)
Someone Bad (disbelievingly): “His user name is Allison?
(Stiles enters the password)
Someone Bad (annoyed): “His password is also Allison?”
Stiles: “Still want him in your pack?”
(Intimidating Bad Guys are looking for Scott)
Stiles (lying): “Scott McCall? Um, haven’t seen him since the dance. Jackson, you?”
Jackson (badly nervous): “Um . . . I . . .”
Stiles: “Oh, for the love of God.”
Soapy, supernatural, enjoyable fun with, I think, some honest-to-God potential . . . especially if they occasionally ease up just a little on Scott’s and Allison’s romance and put the focus somewhere else . . . Stiles, for instance, or hooking up Scott’s mom and Stiles’s dad. (That’s gonna happen, right? I mean, it just has to.)
Love will save you from yourself. Or, alternatively, you can just always listen to your wisecracking buddy instead, and he’ll save you from yourself.
14 thoughts on ““I Don’t Know Whether to Kill it or Lick it.””
I finally finished this, and rather enjoyed it. Not brain-fire enjoyed, but I’ll be watching Season 2.
Stiles is indeed pretty fabulous, and very reminiscent of Kenzi from Lost Girl, minus the light fingers, gothiness, and drinking problem. This is very much a good thing – I love Kenzi. I also love Scott and Stiles’ parents. And the coach. His wild hair and general demeanor make it really easy to imagine him in a straitjacket in a padded cell, and it’s kind of delightful.
I basically agree with your assessment of Scott – I like Tyler Posey sometimes? He can be pretty adorable, and that helps make Scott more palatable, even during his more annoyingly Allison-obsessed moments. But then I found some of his line readings fairly weak, especially earlier on. I do like how completely out of his depth he is for virtually the whole season. Like that scene in the second episode where Derek comes into his room, shoves him up against the wall and threatens him? I kind of loved that he was just completely, pants-wettingly-terrified, because I feel like so many shows with male leads – even teenaged ones – would be too worried about him coming off as a pussy to have him show that kind of fear.
I was also really impressed by just how many different people and issues are involved in the werewolf thing, all with their own agendas, and how deftly the show juggled these. There’s Derek, who wants to protect the wolfy secret and find the Alpha, Peter, who wants revenge, Papa Argent, who wants to kill the Alpha and find the Betas, Kate, who wants to kill all werewolves, Jackson, who wants to figure out Scott’s secret and take it for himself, Sheriff Stilinski, who just wants to know what the fuck is going on, and finally Scott himself, who wants to be shot of the whole deal. (Well, that and Allison.) About the only characters on the show who consistently work as a team are Scott and Stiles.
I also really liked that, when it came to the villains, they did bad things to serve these agendas, but didn’t prance around being gratuitously evil because hey, they’re VILLAINS.
But oh god, the Scott and Allison romance. I didn’t always hate it, but I don’t think I ever actually got invested in it either, and it’s generally only in their scenes that I remember this is an MTV show. Like, earlier on, they would have about one scene an episode that just screamed “Teen Appeal!” to me. Usually involving some form of crappy pop music.
Oh, also, I was thankful when I finally got to the episode with the “I don’t know whether to kill it or lick it,” line, because trying to figure out the context for that was driving me crazy.
Argh, I forgot to say – that scene where Stiles asks Lydia to dance, and she declines, and he goes “You know what? Let me try that again. Lydia, get off your cute little ass and dance with me”? That was so not cool. I really didn’t like that it was somehow meant to be a romantic scene, or that that line was meant to be okay behaviour. It was him being an asshole, apparently because he thinks having a crush on her means she owes him something.
I really hope that’s the last instance of this sort of thing, or that at least, the show calls him on it. Because the storyline progressing along these lines would make me hate any romance the characters might ever have, but more importantly, could ruin my love of Stiles. And I really, really don’t want that to happen.
I don’t hate the scene as much as you do, but I also know it’s problematic, and I’m unfairly pushing things in Stiles’s favor because I love him and don’t particularly like first season Lydia. Which doesn’t really matter — even if I think it’s kind of a rude to go to a dance with someone and never dance with them, she is still under absolutely no obligation to do anything with Stiles that she doesn’t want to. She doesn’t owe him anything, absolutely.
Offhand, I can’t remember any scenes in future seasons like this. One or two awkward scenes, yes, but I don’t think anything with that whole ‘I love you, so eventually you have to realize you’ll love me back’ thing. (Although if you encounter one that I’ve forgotten, I’d be curious to hear about it.) I will say that I, personally, don’t start shipping those two until Season Three. In Season Three, Lydia and Stiles seem to be on a much more even footing where they can just be friends and deal with plot stuff and character development without every scene being Stiles staring at Lydia adoringly. The whole ‘Girl on Pedestal, Looking Down at Lovestruck Boy’ thing doesn’t work for me. It’s not healthy for either party.
Well that’s a big relief. ‘Cause with the extremely tone-deaf portrayal, I don’t know how I’d factor that scene into the character without my Stiles love taking a big hit. But if it’s a once off, I can just blame the writers instead of him, if that makes sense.
The brain-fire thing is impossible to explain. It started before I really began watching the show. (Actually, I think it started after I watched a few clips for later seasons, and then I just wanted to get past the first season so I could watch those clips.) But I’m glad you’re enjoying it enough to keep going instead of wondering what the hell is wrong with me. 🙂
Maybe at some point I’ll try out Lost Girl again. I only saw an episode or two, and about all I remember from it now is that I liked Kenzi.
I think Scott gets more, I don’t know, heroic as time goes on? But I don’t think they necessarily back down from being scared, so you’re right, that is a good thing. And yeah, he does do adorable pretty well, which helps with ALL THE ALLISON ALL THE TIME. I think the Scott/Allison stuff is a little less annoying in Season Two, or at least I don’t think every single episode is about it. I do remember wanting to strangle myself a little in those first few episodes, though.
No, I think I get it. I usually get to be extremely obsessive when something hits that sweet spot of having an actress I’m crushing on, in a really good role, and I love the show in and of itself. Like Ashleigh Cummings from Tomorrow When The War Began in Puberty Blues (the first season, anyway) which is a weird and slightly guilty experience, because while she’s my age, her character is not. I can also get that way about things I hate, but think are bad in an interesting way, like The Newsroom and Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip. Ask me about any of these shows and I will not shut up.
Lost Girl can be a lot of fun. Silly, shamelessly trashy fun, although I haven’t seen Season 4 so I don’t know what that’s like. Surprisingly for a trashy dumb popcorn show, it’s also quite progressive in terms of gender and sexuality. And Bo and Kenzi are one of my favourite friendships on TV. Scott and Stiles remind me of an aspect of their relationship that sadly seemed to disappear after Season 1 – that while Bo was much stronger and leader-y, Kenzi made good backup because she was smarter and more practical, able to play to her and Bo’s (and occasionally Dyson or Trick’s) strengths. I think Bo’s a better friend than Scott, though. Also, John Fawcett of Ginger Snaps directed a few episodes. So there’s that.
I don’t mind that Scott gets more heroic in future episodes. I mean, it’ll be a shame to lose an aspect of the show I liked, but it makes perfect sense as character development.
I remember the first episode of Season 2 was the first time I ever saw the show, and I was thinking “OK, it’s really sweet that this kid sneaks out to his girlfriend’s family member’s funeral to support her from afar, but WHY THE HOLY FUCK is that more important than looking for their other, newly werewolfed friend? The one who’s probably going to either kill someone, be killed by these hunters, or freeze to death if they don’t find her ASAP?”
But it’s good that they apparently tone it down apart from that.
Well, now I feel basically obligated to ask you about The Newsroom and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, although in no way will I be able to contribute to the discussion. I saw one episode of The Newsroom, and then I was busy with six weeks of writing in Seattle, so I just never got back into it. (And after hearing such mixed things, I’m not sure I really want to.) I desperately wanted to like Studio 60, but just couldn’t, and I gave up on it even before it got cancelled.
That’s cool to hear, about Lost Girl. There is definitely a shortage of awesome female friendships in movies and television, and it makes me a lot more interested in trying it out again.
Okay, where to begin… Both shows are meant to be an example of how a TV show/news outlet *should* be run, centering around a team of writers/journalists who rebel against an increasingly substandard industry by setting out to do sketch comedy/the news RIGHT, goddamnit. Then the network, gossip columnists, the Christian right, the Tea Party, and the internet are trying to bring them down because of it. It’s really quite amusingly egotistical, and at this point I feel it’s relevant to mention that Studio 60’s protagonist is based on Aaron Sorkin himself.
And speaking of, the autobiographical elements make so many elements of the show hilarious – and also a bit creepy, in the case of the main romance. It feels like I’m reading someone’s self-insert fic, I swear to God. We are literally introduced to
AaronMatt as he’s winning some big writing award, just before he’s begged to come back to the show he was “fired” from because it fell apart after he was gone. When he comes back, he has to write the entire show himself because everyone else is shit, but successfully turns it around… I think. Honestly, by the end, the show itself seemed to have mostly lost interest in the show-within-the-show, focusing instead on the romance, a character’s medical drama and negotiating a hostage crisis in the Middle East. Which is a really fucking weird storyline to have on a show about the making of an SNL clone.
He wasn’t actually fired, also. He refused to apologise for a sketch he wrote following 9/11 that some people found offensive, and quit when his boss apologised instead. He is meant to be a huge goddamn martyr for this. The sketch was very obviously not offensive, because he has to be clearly and totally in the right, but the only person martyring him is himself, and I don’t know who the fuck it’s meant to be helping, or how. I do have to wonder if any of this (though probably not the 9/11 part) was inspired by Aaron Sorkin leaving The West Wing. I hope so, because that’s funny. Even when
But anyway. The other side of the self-insert thing came in the form of Matt’s ex Harriet Hayes, based off of Aaron Sorkin’s ex-girlfriend Kristin Chenoweth. Like, at one point she’s going to do a lingerie photoshoot – which Chenoweth actually did, for the same magzine even. She gets talked out of it by Matt mansplaining to her that she only *thinks* she wants to do the photoshoot, she doesn’t actually want to. Which I wouldn’t much care about, but this is far from the only time on Studio 60 or The Newsroom that a male character knows a female character’s mind and feelings better than she does. Also, Harriet had spent the entire episode getting lectured by her male co-stars on how doing the photoshoot would cheapen her as a person. There was some serious Madonna/whore bullshit going on there.
Also worth mentioning – Harriet getting the blame for Matt going into a funk because he burst into her dressing room and saw her kissing the baseball player, Matt refusing to get back with Harriet himself, but being happy to spend ten fucking thousand dollars or kiss the hell out of her (then pretend it never happened) if it’ll disrupt her relationship with another guy, Harriet feeling so guilty for calling him out on this behaviour that it kinda ruins her relationship with said guy, Harriet being asked to “fake it,” with Matt because going into another funk when she’s mad at him is affecting his writing, and of course, them eventually getting back together.
Then the Beta Couple features Bradley Whitford taking over the father role for single, pregnant Amanda Peet without her consent, then giving the creepiest declaration of love I have ever heard, mostly since he frames it in terms of predator/prey. Then he starts stalking her – refusing to take no for an answer, changing his number so she won’t recognise it and hang up, and getting everyone he knows – including people she has to work with – to write to her and tell her why she should go out with him. Then as soon as he comes to his senses and backs off, she changes her mind, because she was just scared that he didn’t really love her the entire time.
So basically we have a long pattern of women not really knowing what they want, no meaning yes, stalkery and possessive behaviour being portrayed as cute and romantic, and these women being held somewhat culpable for their love interests’ behaviour, obsessions, and feelings of rejection. Which, given the creepy nature of these obsessions, also feels really victim blame-y to me, though I’m sure neither woman was meant to be seen as a victim. This would be bad enough ordinarily, but when one of the couples are avatars for the showrunner and his ex-girlfriend? Yeeeesh, and ha!
I don’t think I’ve seen a single other show where the two main characters (and to a degree everyone else) were so goddamn concerned with their own manliness. Maybe Two & A Half Men? There just seemed to be an awful lot of comments about their own masculinity, ot er men’s lack of masculinity, using femininity as an insult, or asserting that they are red-blooded males who are very attracted to women and not to other men. But what was weird about it was that the show itself portrayed this all as completely normal and healthy; not a sign of massive insecurity, which is what I would assume about anyone like that.
Then there seems to be a lot of “LOL, women, am I right?” jokes on both shows. Mostly of the “Women being dumb/incompetent,” variety, although occasionally we get “bad drivers,” or “emotionally flighty” too. For starters, virtually any love interest either protagonist has who isn’t their One True Love will be portrayed as a total moron. On the other hand, any boyfriend the female leads have will end up being some kind of asshole. Harriet ended up outright negatively comparing each of them to Matt. (Dude, I don’t know what Kristin Chenoweth thought of this, but if my ex wrote a show like this about us, I would laugh and laugh and then wonder about taking out a restraining order.)
Anyway, back to the women are stupid theme. All the regular female characters on both shows are supposed to be smart, but most of them – especially the two main Newsroom women – still cop some pretty uncomfortable stupid jokes. Like, Jordan from Studio 60 is the youngest ever president of the entertainment programming, but she literally can’t understand the connection between someone selling a product and the same person describing said product in a positive way. This prompts Bradley Whitford says she’s not allowed to touch the baby’s college fund, or drive her anywhere for that matter, and later gently tells the baby that she shouldn’t go to Jordan for advice on anything other than shoes or lipstick. This is meant to be a heartwarming scene, by the way.
Meanwhile, Mac and Maggie from The Newsroom cop it even worse, especially in the first season. Mac’s the “best EP in the business,” and Maggie’s supposed to be a younger version of Mac, best EP in the business – but I can’t understand how either of them would even get hired in a newsroom, with all the supposedly funny scenes demonstrating that they are pretty dumb and incompetent, and don’t understand things like math, or technology – just to make sure we’re hitting the stereotypes. To make it worse, they both have a lot of arguments and banter with their love interests, Will and Jim, but Will and Jim always get the better of them. Look, I love a good joke about someone being an idiot, and I’m fine with the idiot happening to be female. But when your female characters who are supposed to be really intelligent are complete flibbitygibbits, and all your one-off stupid characters are female, that’s where it seems like you’re saying “LOL, women are stupid, amiright?”
The Newsroom also tackled feminism and sexism a couple of times. Predictably, this went poorly. The first storyline involved Jim secretly rescuing a feminist blogger from her sexist boss’s sexist ire. (This was made funnier because Matt from Studio 60 had a habit of making similarly sexualizing comments to some of his employees, especially his young PA. But apparently because he didn’t use an angry tone of voice like Sexist Boss, it wasn’t sexual harassment, just witty and charming.) She did chew him out for doing it in secret instead of just offering to help and letting her decide – as well she should – but she also defended Sexist Boss, so I think we were meant to be on Jim’s side during that argument anyway. Which is a shame, because examining the way in which sexism and chilvary can be tied up together is far more interesting than a man saving a woman from another, sexist man, and being rewarded with a romance with the woman. That’s a pretty demeaning way of dealing with sexual harassment against women.
Both shows have a pattern of female-on-male violence being cute, funny, or awesome, too. Including when the females are meant to be likable characters, and the males have done absolutely nothing wrong. But let’s talk about the one which is meant to be our other Very Special Episode about sexism. Economic news anchor Sloan’s ex-boyfriend put naked pictures of her on the internet. She was upset for a while, and the storyline was resolved with beating the guy up to get her groove back, and this was supposed to be awesome, even though beating the shit out of your ex is a pretty psychotic thing to do, even if the dude was a gigantic asshole. Also, it just didn’t make any sense as a revenge plan, because there were a bunch of witnesses and she’s a celebrity, so assaulting the guy would either land her in the courts or the tabloids or both. (My dad says that the guy wouldn’t charge her with assault because it would mean admitting he got beaten up by a girl, and no man would ever cop to that, I guess? My dad seems to share a lot of Aaron Sorkin’s views, so maybe this is, indeed, what we’re supposed to believe.) And up until that point the storyline had been a really quiet and down-to-earth look at the issue, so such an extreme, unrealistic solution really didn’t work, tonally.
Said episode also had a storyline wherein Maggie pointed out that Jim’s feminist blogger girlfriend, and I think other feminist bloggers by association, are phonies and hypocrites because one of the feminist blogger’s pieces was picked up by a website that also writes about nip slips. I’d understand if she were calling the website hypocrites, but I don’t get how the blogger is supposed to be able to control what else some website which reprinted her article writes about. This part of the storyline didn’t make much sense. Then we get into how Maggie’s a “slut,” and doesn’t see anything wrong with that (which I completely agree with – everyone can have all the sex they want, so long as it’s safe, consensual, and not cheating) but oh, she’s not really a slut, she’s just afraid of sleeping alone. Because God knows a regular female character we’re meant to like and sympathise with can’t enjoy casual sex.
I think I’ve covered the gender stuff, so now it’s time to discuss Studio 60’s handling of race, which is… Wow. There’s a storyline where a black cast member, Simon, wants to hire a black writer. It turns out this is because he used to be a gang member (who grew up over a heroin dealers’, natch) and his gangster friends saved him from that lifestyle, and now he feels guilty over being rich and successful and wants to save others. The problem is that this assumes another black person would automatically come from similar circumstances. It’s rather deliciously ironic, really, because just before they implied that all African Americans are gang members from the hood, they had a scene about how terrible racial stereotyping is. I find the lack of self-awareness rather baffling.
There was another storyline about race that stretched out over a two-parter, but it was so goddamn messy I couldn’t figure out what the point was supposed to be. The new writer didn’t want to be the token black guy in the writer’s room, and Simon’s point was he should because… some people are racists?
I really think that you could do some interesting stuff about censorship, and producing politically charged media, and how someone who did so would be seen by people who take the opposite POV. But not the way Studio 60 or The Newsroom do it. I’m sure there are real-life examples as ridiculous and ethically one-sided as what we see on these shows, so my issue isn’t that it’s unrealistic. It just makes a really fucking boring storyline. That kind of Right Vs. Wrong shit might fly in a popcorn show, but not in talky, awards-baity, non-suspenseful dramas.
Studio 60 tried to balance it out slightly with a Nevada judge played by John Goodman, but dude was a shitty stereotype and a terrible example of a reasonable character who happened to strongly disagree with the protagonists, because he was hopelessly vindictive, biased, and unprofessional throughout his entire storyline. He wasn’t meant to be that way – we were meant to think he was a great judge because he ended up doing a complete turnaround when he finds out the arrested cast member has a brother in the military, and being biased and unprofessional in the protagonists’ favour.
The Newsroom then tries for balance by making Will a Republican, except he seems to be the most left-leaning Republican ever. Just off the top of my head, I can’t think of a single viewpoint of his that would make you think he might vote Republican – but I can think of a number which make him sound like a Democrat.
Really, except for the occasional attempt at a balancing-out character, almost all the people on both shows tend to be rather samey. Not in terms of personality as much as worldview and values, I think because they tend to just be assigned the same worldviews and values that Aaron Sorkin has. They also have a tendency to state their opinions about things or go off on a topical rant every five fucking seconds. (This is a big part of the problem, I think. For all I know every character on The Avengers: EMH has the same thoughts on various facets of society and American culture. But if so, it’s not an issue because they don’t go on about it all the damn time.) I think that’s really shitty writing, honestly, from an experienced, talented guy who should know better. I shouldn’t feel like all the characters on a show are just thinly disguised versions/mouthpieces of the writer, you know? The Newsroom doesn’t seem to be as bad about this, so you know, maybe Aaron Sorkin is improving.
The Newsroom manages to be more sanctimonious generally though, via the news sections. Aaron Sorkin says it was conceived as a romantic comedy set in a newsroom, but to me it largely comes across as an easy way to deliver politically charged lectures, especially on how much he hates the Tea Party. Which gets extremely annoying, even when I agree with the viewpoint being violently shoved down our throat. And the show doesn’t even bother to follow it’s own creed on what great journalism is! They’re supposed to be delivering very impartial, fact-based journalism, but that’s not what they actually do. Like, Will’s big Season 1 finale masterpiece was a total opinion piece about how much the Tea Party sucks. Stuff like them being “The American Taliban,” and “Loving America but hating Americans.” I don’t know who the fuck this is going to convince. People who already hate the Tea Party might agree with him, people who don’t would likely just think he’s being a jackass, because statements like that – statements that are virtually impossible to substantiate – isn’t going to change anyone’s mind, new information would. Or well, might.
I’m sorry this was so long. This was actually the shortened version… I did say that I have a hard time shutting up about these shows. How far did you get into Studio 60?
No, that’s okay. I enjoyed reading it, though I’m afraid I don’t have much to say in return except that, yeah, most of the seems pretty awful. I did not make it very far into Studio 60 at all. I can’t even remember how many episodes, maybe five or six? Maybe? I seem to remember that Bradley Whitford’s character has a coke habit, and at one point, he gets all angry at Amanda Peet’s character because it comes out that she’s drove drunk once, which, yeah, that’s bad, but he’s all like, at least I never drove high, like he only did morally acceptable and super responsible things after snorting cocaine?
Mostly, what I remember is that the sketches weren’t funny. After everything you’ve written, this seems like a really minor complaint, but it killed the show for me. The sketches weren’t even a little funny. They just seemed preachy and preachier, and I found them entirely grating, and I couldn’t buy into the fact that other people wouldn’t find them grating too. Even if I agreed with the general message, I hates those sketches. So eventually I just gave up on it.
Yeah, that’s true, and happened just like you said.
The terrible sketches are the main thing I hear discussed the show by a wide margin, and I’m a little disappointed because there is so much other shit that I never see pointed out and mocked.
That being said, I agree with everything you said about them, and I do think it’s a fairly significant flaw because the entire damn show is built around trying, and supposedly succeeding, to make a good sketch show. They even get really preachy about how they’re making good TV. So it’s sort of like if the monster in a horror movie – a deadly serious, scary horror movie, not a fun one – was some wimpy looking thing that had been made out of $5 worth of supplies from a craft store. It’d just render the viewer unable to buy into the story and ruin the mood.
I wonder if it would have been better if they’d just made the show a bit shit, like their sister show 30 Rock – and also The Comeback, although that’s about a sitcom.
Also, I found it really weird how focused they were on religion and Christianity – or, I would’ve done if I were a viewer in the world of the show. As it was, I guess it would be more accurate to say I found it weird how focused Matt and the rest of the show were on religion and Christianity. Like, okay, Harriet’s a Christian. There are loads of American Christians, so why does anyone give a shit? Why’s the show treat it like she’s got a third arm or something? Why do seemingly the majority of the sketches involve religion? No wonder they have to deal with pressure from Christian audiences; I’m not even religious, and the sheer volume of sketches and jokes about Christians on a supposedly generalized sketch show would still really put me off because there are tons of things worth making fun of and I wouldn’t understand why it always had to be Christians.
Amusingly, Harriet’s reaction to this was that she didn’t care because the sketches were funny. Heeeeee.
By the way, I read a defence from Aaron Sorkin about the sketches being bad. He says they’re not meant to be funny, they’re meant to be rehearsals. To which I say bullshit, some of them are finished sketches being filmed in front of an audience, and they’re no better, and even at the ones that are rehersals, we’ll get shots of crew members and such laughing. That’s a shot put in there specially to tell us that yes, this is supposed to be funny.
(That article is fucking classic, and is here if you’re interested. http://featuresblogs.chicagotribune.com/entertainment_tv/2007/01/aaron_sorkin_sp.html
He also said that the comedy writers who’d said they didn’t like the show were unemployed, and did real comedy writers like Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, or Billy Crystal not like the show? For this reason, I hope to someday read a quote from Stephen Colbert, Tina Fey, or Billy Crystal saying they didn’t like the show.)
Did The West Wing have any issues with its portrayal of gender, romance, race, religion, or ethically black-and-white Good Guys vs. Bad Guys storylines? Because I’ve heard that’s a way better show.
Sorry about the grammar and unfinished sentences in the above comment. I need to remember to proofread things.
Yeah, I think that was my problem with the sketches. If they were just my least favorite part of the show, it wouldn’t be a big deal. I’d just ignore them the way I ignore the minor flaws or imperfections in all the other shows I like — but Studio 60 was so holier-than-thou about how they were doing this important work, this great, hilarious, meaningful work, that I just couldn’t buy into it. It was constantly a problem for me.
I’m not sure how it is everywhere else, not having really BEEN anywhere else, but the way religion and, in particular, Christianity is portrayed on American TV is just weird. (And mind you, I’m just speaking generally here because I don’t remember Studio 60 enough to comment on it specifically, although I do seem to remember there being some bitter, anti-Christian sentiment, now that you mention it.) Like, on any given team in any given procedural, there will be one lapsed Catholic who is angry or bitter throughout the episode, yet has a spark of hope in God or the church at the end. A happy ending means reclaiming faith, or at least considering it again — no one ever ends an episode happily as an atheist or agnostic. Atheism is never the correct choice. At the same time, Christians often ARE painted as scary fundamentalists in Hollywood, and finding men and women of science who are also men and women of God? Ha. When Christians and atheists argue about their portray in Hollywood, they’re both right. And then, of course, you have the media, and Fox News vs Comedy Central, and Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays, and it’s all just . . . BLARGH.
Yeah, I read through most of that article, and mostly it just strikes me as hideously defensive, like wounded pride. Because the rehearsal excuse is obvious bullshit, and the unemployed comedy writers excuse is condescending, elitist bullshit — like, even if it is true (which I highly doubt), the idea that currently unemployed writers can’t also be REAL writers is just awful. I would also like to see Colbert, Fey, or Crystal say that they disliked this show now.
I’m sure there are episodes of The West Wing that fail in such regards, but as a whole, I think the show handles gender, romance, race, etc. remarkably well. I didn’t finish the whole series — I think I gave up in the first few episodes of Season 6 — but I would easily recommend the first two seasons at least because I think they’re tremendous. Even when the show is preachy . . . I don’t know, it’s just better preachy. If you ever check it out, you’ll have to let me know what you think, but for my money, it’s intelligent and interesting and complex and funny. The cast is incredibly talented and work really, really well together.
And never fear — I only mock trolls about grammar.
Yeah, I guess what makes Studio 60 stand out to me is how fucking constant the religious stuff was. Most of the time, they have a Very Special Episode or two and that’s it, you know? Or their religion will just be referenced occasionally, when it’s relevant.
I’ve seen that sort of elitist shit expressed a couple of times on Studio 60 and The Newsroom, usually in reference to the internet. And yeah, it’s clearly a bunch of crap, not only for the reasons you stated, but because regarding their criticism, it shouldn’t really matter whether they’re employed, or “real,” writers, or whatever. Like, Tina Fey saying “I don’t like Studio 60,” would carry more weight than a random internet commenter saying so, for example. But all the people cited in the article he hated had clearly written a substantial amount about the show – so at that point, you should be looking at their argument, not at their credentials, and if they’re making valid points, it shouldn’t matter who they are.
I should probably check out The West Wing at some point – the only reason I haven’t yet is because I am intensely uninterested in seeing the everyday lives of politicians. But I do find Aaron Sorkin to be an interesting writer, so you know, maybe it’ll balance out. I think I’ll avoid telling my dad until I’ve already watched all I’m going to watch, though. It’s his favourite show, and I don’t know if I could bear the intense scrutiny and inevitable frustrating arguments.
Actually, I have a West Wing question, come to think of it. Did Josh and Donna do the whole Unresolved Sexual Tension dance? Because my impression was they had it through all or most of the show, but my dad says they were platonic until they abruptly hooked them up towards the end. But my parents aren’t always the best at picking up subtext, so I’m not sure.
So you know, religion does come up a lot in The West Wing — it’d be kind of hard to do a show about politics in America without it — but I feel like it’s fairly well balanced, or at least more balanced than what you’re describing in Studio 60. I’ll also say that I find most of the characters pretty likable, which is great, because otherwise a show about politicians would probably bore me to tears, too. 🙂
I’m sorry to disagree with your dad, but yeah, the UST was definitely a thing before the end of the show. They were absolutely one of my ships, and it’s not like I was the only one rooting for these two. I suspect that it wasn’t scripted in the very beginning, but since Bradley Whitford and Janel Moloney had such awesome chemistry, the creators decided to switch focus from Josh’s original love interest. (Which worked fine for me since Mandy was never one of my favorite characters, anyway.) I actually checked out of the show before Josh and Donna officially hooked up, but I definitely think there were seasons of groundwork for their relationship.
It’s weird, because The Newsroom’s a lot better about it too. Off the top of my head, the only time I can remember religion really being brought up is when Maggie wants to ask some aggressive questions to a politician claiming God told her to get into politics. But based off of Studio 60, I would’ve thought Aaron Sorkin would be awkwardly working the topic of religion into basically every show he did, ever.
Thank you for the answer!