“The Night Lands” and Sexposition
April 8th, 2012
People who coin new terms are very rarely trying to coin new terms. When I used the term “sexposition” to describe a particular kind of scene in Game of Thrones, I wasn’t staking a claim to a corner of the cultural lexicon so much as I was trying to be clever. In fact, for a while – and still, really – I refused to believe it was possible to “invent” such a simple portmanteau – all I did was add an “s” at the end of the day. However, the word has caught on, leading to a bizarre couple of weeks in which Esquire magazine and The Guardian were contacting me on the subject, I was listening to Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and writer Bryan Cogman talking about it on the DVD commentaries, and now it even has a Wikipedia page not to be confused with “sex position.”
What I realized in chatting with these journalists, though, is that we (as a larger Game of Thrones-viewing community) had never come to a clear understanding of what sexposition even was. The first thing the Esquire journalist did was run a definition by me, and I realized that I didn’t really have any corrections because I had never actually thought much about it. While I had a number of scenes connected to the term in my mind, expanding it beyond Game of Thrones would require a more rigorous set of criteria, something that became clear when Michael Hann at the Guardian began talking about sexposition in the context of Showtime’s Homeland.
While Hann’s article captured the overall issue quite well, asking broader questions that speak to why the word is useful in considering the implications of this particular narrative device, I was confused by the evocation of Homeland, a show I would not associate with the term (which is a larger conversation that would require spoilers, so if you really want me to expand on that let me know). Also, in following fan discussion around Game of Thrones, I’ve seen sexposition become more of a catch-all term for the overuse of sex and nudity in general, something that obscures the specific implications of the neologism.
“The Night Lands” features what I’d consider the season’s first explicit use of sexposition as a narrative strategy, but it also features other sequences that feature similar amounts of nudity but which I would not associate with the term. Before delving a bit more into the rest of the episode, which features some of my favorite moments in the early parts of the second season, I want to tease out this distinction in an effort to consider what this sex is accomplishing, and what we make of the show effectively doubling down on the practice.
“The First Time”
November 8th, 2011
There is something very effective about “The First Time,” a poignant piece which uses the backdrop of the performance of West Side Story to tell three parallel stories of romantic love moving to another level.
There is also something very contrived about “The First Time,” an episode that still feels the need to force the issue of sexual intercourse in a blunt fashion, lest we be unclear what the episode was about.
I’ll admit that the tension between these two elements never quite disappeared throughout the episode, one which I can admire for its simplicity even as I cringe at the way it creates that simplicity through exclusion and a narrowing of perspective. That I ultimately consider the hour a success says something about “The First Time” as an episode, but I’m not convinced that we can suggest this as a key turning point for the series so long as its structure is so exclusively tied to the episodic structure of the hour.
“Father Frank, Full of Grace”
March 27th, 2011
By the conclusion of its first season, I would argue that Showtime’s Shameless found something of an identity independent of its British predecessor. This is not to say that the show is better or worse, something I can’t judge given that I’ve seen only brief glimpses of the British series, but I felt as though the first season seemed driven by characters more than versions of characters. Between the work of Emmy Rossum, Jeremy Allen White, Cameron Monaghan and Emma Kenney, the Gallagher siblings feel as though they (if not necessarily the world they inhabit) are real people who I want to see face the challenges that result from their position. Their story never felt like we were seeing someone else’s story transposed onto these characters, as each performer seemed to be driving the characterization as much as any sort of influence from across the pond.
That is a testament to the strength of the cast, and the writers for working with them, but it is only one component of the series’ future. The other side, the part where we consider the world that John Wells and Paul Abbott have created in Shameless’ Chicago, seems problematic as the show heads into an extended hiatus before a second season. “Father Frank, Full of Grace” has some strong moments, but it has already put into motion an enormously problematic return to the status quo which threatens to undermine whatever strong character work might be done.
Or, to put it in other words, it’s already threatening to be just like every other problematic Showtime series.
Misdirected Scorn: Why 18 to Life Deserves Parole
August 3rd, 2010
I am not surprised to learn that critics, as a whole, are not jumping on the bandwagon for 18 to Life, the Canadian comedy which was recently purchased by The CW to fill out part of its summer schedule and which debuts with two back-to-back episodes at 9/8c. I watched and more or less enjoyed the show’s first season when it aired on CBC, but I did it without much emotional attachment, and certainly without any critical analysis (which is why reviews never materialized beyond the pilot). I appreciate some of the series’ choices, and am intrigued by the show it developed into, but it is unquestionably a simple pleasure rather than a complex reinvention of television comedy.
However, I was a surprised to see how many critics have been stuck on the series’ premise, and disappointed to see how many critics are unable to get past the stereotype of Canadian television and summer television as lesser entities in expressing their dislike of the show. It’s been a while since I’ve read pre-air reviews of a series which I’ve seen in its entirety, but most of the series’ reviews ignore the show itself and instead focus on attacking either its origins, its scheduling, or the apparent offensiveness of its premise – while I understand that these are all part of the series’ impact, that these critics have not bothered to watch closely enough to see the kind of show which 18 to Life is becoming seems a disservice to a show which is just trying to be an old-fashioned traditional sitcom.
Which doesn’t make it brilliant, but does make it something that doesn’t deserve this level of scorn.
“Christmas Comes But Once a Year”
August 1st, 2010
“I don’t hate Christmas – I hate this Christmas.”
When Don Draper sits down to take part in a demonstration of a new form of customer research, he finds a questionnaire which asks him to describe his relationship with his father – the question, according to the Doctor heading the study, is designed to create a sense of intimacy which will then influence a more honest or meaningful answer to the following question about who makes household decisions. Of course, the test is not designed for someone like Don Draper, who has trained himself to shut down at the mere mention of his past – he walks out on the test because he cannot fathom that someone would want to return to their past in that fashion.
“Christmas Comes But Once a Year” is about what happens when people who are still running away from their past run smack dab into the present, people who are either so focused on not repeating past mistakes that other parts of their lives suffer or people who have lived so much of their lives covering up their past that they have no idea how to live in a present which no longer has the same rules. All of them are hoping that what they feel now won’t last forever: they remember happier Christmases, Christmases before their lives were thrown into a state of upheaval, and they hope that those Christmases will come again.
However, Don Draper also seems to think that it will happen without having to actually do anything.
July 26th, 2010
In Huge’s pilot, Becca explains to Will that everyone at Camp Victory is on an level playing field, which was very quickly proven to be a lie as cliques emerged and conflicts arose. However, over time, I think the show has successfully shown how there is a certain equality amongst the campers, as Trent and Ian bond over music or as Will and Amber successfully travel in different circles without forming some sort of Mean Girls-esque feud. While the playing field may not be level, it is also constantly changing, shifting with each week’s event: Becca can be elevated by her role in the LARPing, or where Ian shines on talent night. With everyone facing similar circumstances in one part of their life, their differences become just like any other summer camp, which the series has treated with a very careful hand which is commendable.
However, “Movie Night” addresses head on the fact that there nonetheless exists certain imbalances, both within the series’ narrative (with George and Amber’s “dangerous” romance) and within the series’ structure (in Dorothy’s story arc intersecting with her campers). While one can chalk up the success or failure of some romances to teenage insecurities and misunderstandings, others have barriers which are more substantial, both in terms of how the show avoids falling into cliches and how the writers strike a balance between keeping Dorothy central without turning her life into its own bit of teenage romance.
And if you’re thinking that the perfect way to strike this balance is to introduce a Twilight parody, then you’re embracing how far Huge is willing to push the limits of its own success, here to its benefit.
“The Plimpton Stimulation”
May 10th, 2010
For a few weeks, there has been plenty to talk about as it relates to the Big Bang Theory: with the dissolution of Leonard and Penny’s relationship, the show has been very concerned with ongoing storylines and character development, and as someone who values these qualities of the show more than the writers themselves this has made for some episodes rife for analysis.
However, “The Plimpton Stimulation” has no such lofty goal: rather, it takes the show’s characters and lets them loose, bringing a sexually charged physicist into the picture and just sort of letting it play out. They theoretically create conflict between characters, but it never really crystallizes into anything beyond a few laughs, and while there’s a brief mention of the awkwardness surrounding Leonard behaving in this fashion so soon after his breakup it doesn’t really make any sort of statement about, well, anything.
I would have been perfectly fine with this, but the show had to drop in one single element which annoyed me so much that this “review” will end up more of a rant than I had anticipated – I call it “The Bernadette Injustice.”
“Surprise,” “Innocence,” and the Art of the Game-Changer
April 29th, 2010
You can follow along with the Cultural Catchup Project by following me on Twitter (@Memles), by subscribing to the category’s feed, or by bookmarking the Cultural Catchup Project page where I’ll be posting a link to each installment.
One of the interesting buzz words to emerge over the past few years within the television industry has been “game-changer.” Used to describe episodes which fundamentally alter our perspective on a particular series, or which send a series in a completely different direction, it’s become a common term which producers or networks will use if they want to drum up interest in a struggling series, or try to regain lost glory with a series beginning to lose its luster.
However, I hate that “game-changer” has taken on an almost wholly promotional context, because episodes which actually “change the game” are a really fascinating part of the television landscape. There is great benefit in a reinvention of sorts, as the producers of Lost learned when the Flash Forward structure brought new life to a series at its halfway point, but it is just as easy to fall off the rails: J.J. Abrams learned this lesson the hard way when his game-changing second season finale of Alias was a stunning hour of television but sent the show in directions it wasn’t capable of supporting.
What makes a good game-changer is something which lives on potential rather than mystery, which not only changes the game as we know it but also gives us a glimpse of how the new game is going to benefit the series moving forward. The change needs to feel like something which springs from the story rather than from a network note, and the consequences need to be something the show won’t live down but that it can also live with.
In other words, a good game-changer needs to be everything that “Surprise” and “Innocence,” the thirteenth and fourteenth episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s second season, embody: by merging romance with tragedy, and by turning its central character into an unwitting agent of terrifying change, Buffy moves beyond the limitations of teenage drama to something that strikes deeper into the limitations of the human condition.
Or, put more simply, Buffy the Vampire Slayer just got real.
“The Jiminy Conjecture”
September 28th, 2009
I know it’s unrealistic, but part of me wanted this episode to start with a moment of recognition from Leonard as to how he treated Sheldon last week, and for that matter a moment for Sheldon to reflect on his own behaviour. I know that this is a traditional sitcom, one where the storyline from the week before could well have never happened (to some degree) before this one, which meant that the show will pick up the next day in some ways but not in others, but part of me wanted them to admit that what happened in the season premiere was not just another incident, and that Sheldon quitting his job was not something that can just be rewritten and forgotten.
However, that didn’t happen: there are no apologies, Sheldon magically has his job back, and the only thing that continues on is Penny and Leonard’s relationship. As such, this is my final complaint: I think it was a mistake, and that it tainted what could have been a strong premiere.
Now, moving onto “The Jiminy Conjecture,” this was an example of the show going back to basics by dividing off their characters and letting the Sheldon, Raj and Howard have some fun while Leonard and Penny attempt to figure out their relationship. While my past views on the show can tell you which side of the episode I preferred, it was a fun half hour of comedy at the end of the day, which is more than I can say for the convoluted premiere.