Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Television Watching 2

At the same time I am eliminating certain kinds of entertainment, I'm also analyzing what stays, and why it's worthwhile. What I'm realizing is it's simultaneously unsurprising and completely unexpected what "works" for me entertainment-wise, ethically speaking. One stupendously trashy show has struck me particularly.

Among the unsurprising keepers - and unembarrassing ones - are Luke Cage, with some of the best women characters I've seen in a long time, a killer soundtrack, and a team of black writers filling out a fully realized world it's exciting to learn about and inhabit for a while. Jessica Jones and Agents of Shield too, yeah. Trek, of course, but I won't bore anyone with the details; that's another tag entirely. On my DVD shelf are the queasily balanced Caprica (strong female characters, sure, but a creepily sexualized teenager at the center, and an entire ensemble of absolutely bat-splat crazy people all-round) and Battlestar Galactica (I am not overjoyed with the gender issues and the fact it's an overwhelmingly white, eurocentric show, though it really began to explore these things at least, which so much television fears to).

Of course, few people embarrass themselves by liking Luke Cage, a well-received entry in a Marvel Universe which has been well loved as well as blockbuster successful.

Meanwhile, few people would ADMIT what I am about to, but I have to for the purposes of this post.

I watch The Royals. I watch it gleefully, in tandem with a friend of mine whom I shall not name unless they choose to out themselves, and reveling in its soap operatics, its tonguey-cheekiness (sometimes exposing actual nether cheeks - so naughty!), and ... well, I mean. Dame Joan Collins.

Here's the thing about The Royals. Lambasted in a hurry by everyone in need of protecting their cred against its excesses, laughed at for being unrealistic (that's the POINT, rather), and avoided by all except apparently enough millions of viewers to keep it afloat, the series is on its way into a third season and shows no sign of dying on the vine.

This show is Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, it's Grand Guignol. It's sumptuously daft, and not pretending remotely to be anything else. It is stocked entirely with ham in every casting, and home to more pouty lower lips than I've seen anywhere else on TV - and that is saying something. It's actually got a bit of heart here and there, and the delirious sets and costumes and performances are just right for the madness of the politics and deception around which the whole thing swirls prettily, like a gaudy fan.

Politics and deception have always made good tube. Dynasty hasn't even got a patch on Her Joanness in this gig. Most addicting-cinematic-TV of the 21st century has traded in exactly this sort of GOTCHA plotting. Joss Whedon has made a career out of it, and everybody likes him.

Not so The Royals.

Which is a shame. Not only is the show a lot more fun than the darker takes on murder and mayhem currently on offer (it doesn't hurt your heart to watch it), it's just as valid in honest ways.

And some other ways too, where there are dark shows doing the same thing and failing in important ways.

To wit: the women.

The Royals is outright run by women. The Prime Minister, the Queen, the Princess, the scheming would-be consorts of the on-again/off-again male heir, the million thieves and killers and hangers-on and lovers and exes ... the only characters here who actually move any pieces on the board are the women.

Oh, sure, current-King Cyrus is a gas to watch, for his chin alone. He's up there with Bruce Payne for greasily gluttonous scenery sneer-chewing, and I adore him all to bits.

But it's the tragically-eye-makeupped, colt-legged Princess Eleanor who's learning her way around real power. It's her mother, Queen Helena, played (if not simply embodied) by the sounds-Patrician-to-most-Americans Elizabeth Hurley, who has the will to do literally anything. It's the Queen's secretary, Rachel, who will pop your eyes with her understated outrages.

And even more importantly: most of the men are merely sitting around looking pretty. Prince Liam is all but non-present even when he tries to look determined. Jasper, the youngest and most impressively-eyebrowed security detail, who spends his time caroming through multiple roles only hoping to be near the princess, all but has "Mr. Fanservice" written all over his wonderfully cliche'd role as would-be protector. And his chemistry with her works both on the swoony and the emotional level.

Even the older fellows, especially those security gents, are awfully nice to look at, for those of us a bit leery of leering at the twentysomethings.

And all of them exist only in relation to the actions of the women, even the king, even the craggy fall guy so dedicated to The Crown that he sticks with being the fall guy even when he's given a pass.

In terms of its gender prominence and sexual politics, The Royals is an outstandingly progressive show. It's still a bit white (some of the people of color from season 1 seem to have disappeared entirely; including a very nice pretty security guard I rather miss) - I mean, if we've rewritten the royal family this radically, why not break the Caucasian monotony - but at least it's forward-looking on something, anything, in a world where we continually regress, culturally. And it's not a small thing. Women are, after all, a significant part of the world population. At least, two key women in The Royals are Black and Indian.

In a world where embarrassing discussions abound regarding Prince Henry's girlfriend, picking apart her ethnicity as if it is in any way relevant to anything at all, it's not the worst thing to see women in the royal milieu living entirely NOT on the terms of any men anywhere.

Imperfectly acted? At times. Overheated? Yes, please, and do turn it up. Ludicrous? Indeed, and loving it. This is a hilarious show, and means to be. Yet its reputation, as far as I have seen, has been formed by people dumb enough to think it is dumb enough to take itself seriously.

It's also a good laugh, and provides a few wonderful things to guess about along the way.

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