Thursday, August 10, 2017

Raven's Home: First Impressions

Something had to replace Girl Meets World, right?

You might remember That's So Raven as one of the most popular and long-running series in Disney Channel history. Ten years ago, the show aired its final episode. Ten years later, it's returned as a spin-off featuring a divorced Raven trying to raise her two kids with the help of a divorced Chelsea and her son. They are all under one roof in Chicago.........Raven's home.

Just a few things before I get to the review here. I don't know why this spinoff is happening or who asked for it. And that's not to say I wasn't happy with seeing Raven on my screen again, in her element getting back into the character that entertained me so much as a kid. Because I was. But there are some things that really don't need to be revisited. In this day and age, reboots and spinoffs come off less like genuine creative endeavors and more like sly marketing strategies. Disney Channel wants its old audience back. So what do they do? Announce the return of one of its most recognizable characters. But they still have to appeal to the kids, right? Give her two kids that she couldn't have possibly had at such a young age, unless they were ten years old or younger which they clearly don't seem to be. And also, make her and her best friend divorced with children because we have to cash in on the success of Fuller House, a very similar show that didn't need to be made either but has won over viewers in spite of the critics.

What I'm saying is that right off the bat, there's something calculated, something manufactured about Raven's Home that doesn't make it seem like something the network actually wanted to do because they wanted to reintroduce Raven and Chelsea to a younger generation. They just needed something to fill the void of this one particular show that ended earlier this year and got cancelled because they no longer had any use for the show. With all of the problems that Girl Meets World had during its run, it really did seem like Michael Jacobs and the writers wanted to give kids an enjoyable product, and give parents something they could enjoy with their kids. With Raven's Home, the only thing that stands out so far is Raven herself. It's almost like Disney just wants you to remember this one thing that was popular for a couple years and water it down to whatever the hell else airs on their network. Seriously, I'm really going to have to do reviews of Bizaardvark and Bunk'd?!

Anyway, I decided to just condense my thoughts here in one review because honestly, the show isn't worth reviewing individual episodes yet. It's not at that point where they differ wildly from each other, and after three episodes, why would it be? We're not talking Rick and Morty here, this is a live-action kids sitcom on Disney Channel in 2017. I know exactly what the game is at this point. When I find that one episode that stands out, either for being incredibly good or offensively bad, I'll make it into an edition of Mike's Quest. The show deserves that much.

Honestly, after three episodes, I can say the show is decent. It's just decent and I don't have strong feelings on 85% of the stuff that the show does. It hasn't done much to separate itself from the rest of the Disney pack. When Girl Meets World arrived, there was a very distinct tone. Good episode or bad episode, it gave me material that a lot of other shows couldn't. Raven's Home is just paint by numbers so far. It kinda reminds me of Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn, but at least with this show, I understand why it exists, why people would watch it and what appeal it has. Raven is really the only bright spot so far. She's the one that's going to elevate the show beyond just being another robotic Disney sitcom. If there is one thing I noticed, it's that in terms of jokes and dialogue, it's not That's So Raven. I don't know what these network heads put in the water (it was probably in 2010/2011), but all of the shows they have now share the same comedic DNA. A joke that Raven's Home would use is the exact same joke that a show like School of Rock would probably use. I wish I could figure out the problem, but all I know for sure is that the shows made in 2005 and the shows made in 2017 are cut from a different cloth. It's almost as if there's this constant desire to be funny. Which I find ironic because a lot of these shows aren't funny.

You know what? I'm losing my train of thought. Raven's Home, if possible, has the ability to do great things. Show the hardships of being a single parent, develop Booker's character and his relationship with Raven as they try to hide the one thing they can actually bond over. Mature Chelsea's character as she becomes more responsible and self-reliant while keeping some of her original charm. And, if possible, get some good comedy out of Raven in this new position of parenthood. Unfortunately, the only way that can happen is if it goes to ABC. Let's be honest, the fans of the original show are older, less interested in the new generation of kids shows, and are only here to see two characters. A more mature That's So Raven deserves a more mature home. The younger generation won't understand the connection with the original show because they didn't grow up with it, so who is this supposed to appeal to and what does the show want to be?

That's the problem with a lot of these reboots. They don't really understand what they're supposed to be. I saw the sneak previews for the upcoming Hey Arnold! and Rocko's Modern Life specials, and it's obvious from the jump that they were made for the older generation who grew up watching the shows. Anyone else wanting to watch it can, but we all know who these specials are supposed to appeal to just from short clips. I'm not sure where Raven's Home is supposed to be going, but after what Disney did to Girl Meets World, I'm worried it won't live long enough for us to find out.

-I want to continue Mike's Quest (maybe finish it by the end of the year), but I don't know what show I should tackle next. Here's the list of targets: K.C. Undercover, Raven's Home (I need to get material from this show soon), Andi Mack, Stuck in the Middle, Bizaardvark, Bunk'd, Game Shakers, and School of Rock. If I'm not careful, one of these shows is going to get cancelled before I review it. But anyway, which one of these shows do you want to see me take on first?

Don't worry about it, I still need to move onto actually reviewing Descendants 2 beyond just "there's nothing really indicating Harry swings either way until he just flat out macks out with another dude." Or, speaking of macking out I haven't even touched the S1 finale of Andi Mack. As a review, or even on my DVR.

And the first show on that list to be canceled certainly ain't gonna be School of Rock. That thing's proving to be a cockroach among KidComs.

-I don't know about the theme song. I like it and at the same time, I don't. It's weird. Obviously, it's not as memorable as the That's So Raven theme song but it's still pretty catchy. I think the opening sequence is what's keeping me from liking the song more. If there was one clip I could use to highlight the decline of Disney Channel and live-action kids television in general, it would be this one. Bright, in your face, and it reeks of wanting to be liked. That crazy blended family and their shenanigans!

-If there's one character I don't like so far, it's Tess. She annoyed me in the first episode and it hasn't changed since. You know how everyone was complaining about Farkle in season one of GMW and talking about how irritating he was? I get it now. Tess speaks in a stereotypical Brooklyn accent with all of her lines (despite the fact that the show's based in Chicago and as far as I know, she didn't move from New York), and so far, has contributed nothing to the show but just being a wacky next door neighbor. In the last episode, for no apparent reason, she hit Levi's drone with her baseball bat, and when asked why she did it, she said it's because she had a bat. I'm dreading the episode where she's going to reveal how terrible her home life is and we'll all have to feel sorry for her. Like, her mother can't afford Christmas presents this year or some shit like that.

-I feel like Booker and Levi are the kind of characters that are funny now, but as they get older, their shtick will become annoying because they'll get taller and their voices will change and we'll all feel a little more dead inside. I don't know. I was watching some of the Thundermans "Thunder in Paradise" special and when I heard Billy's voice change, I felt like I was in the fourth dimension of hell. When did that even happen? He has the same voice for three and a half years and all of a sudden, the shtick he was doing before is now automatically grating because of his voice change. It's like the actors mature, but the characters don't so once again, dead inside.

-I guess I'll just use the rest of my time to talk about other shows. I saw the Wizard of Oz episode of Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn this weekend. I finally realized that this show is all about Dawn and her brothers are just the sidekicks. I should have noticed this before, but the episode was treating Dawn like the leader and her brothers as collectively peabrained morons. Has it always been like this? Also, this episode had a rare instance of Dawn making me laugh when she tried to cover up her crappy audition by stating that she was doing an Australian accent. It's really easy to amuse me sometimes.

-I also watched some of School of Rock and I honestly don't know why Unknown hates it so much. I mean, if it had Dan Schneider-type writing, I could definitely understand it, but at worst, it just seems bland and robotic. I need to watch more though so I can fully embrace the hate like my partner.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Before we review Descendants 2, let's discuss the Harry Hook problem

So, in our last review (which as of the typing of this sentence was literally just minutes ago) I wrote an entire blog post in reply to a comment left on our Criminal Minds mini-review by Shipping Wars are Stupid, who happens to pretty much be MVP of our "readerati" (as some blogs like to call them). I follow Shipping Wars are Stupid on Twitter - out of respect for him I'm not going to link back to it and leave it up to him - but I will say his Twitter feed is a great source for sports news and LGBTQ+ topics (you'll also recall he wrote the entirety of our article commemorating "The Puppy Episode" of The Ellen Show where Ellen's character comes out as gay). 

So why am I mentioning him at all when talking about Harry Hook? Well, again, his Twitter feed is a great source for LGBTQ+ topical news, and I like to think I learned a lot from it. Which is why I feel qualified in saying this:

I have seen zero evidence suggesting that Harry Hook is a legitimate LGBTQ+ character. In fact I have seen zero evidence suggesting he is doing anything other than just ripping off Jack Sparrow, because since the first POTC movie Disney feels literally every pirate has to be Jack Sparrow now.

Now if Harry is actually making out with other guys that obviously changes, but there's nothing in his behavior that suggests he is an LGBTQ+ character.

Now in order to understand why I feel that, we really need to understand how LGBTQ+ people and gay men in particular act in real life. So, how do gay men act like in real life? Well...they act exactly the same as heterosexual men except that they date other gay men.

There is nothing inherent in Harry Hook's behavior or action that denotes an LGBTQ+ character.

Harry acts flamboyant, I'll give you that. Flamboyancy is not an indicator of a person being straight or gay. It's a neutral trait. A behavior he happens to have.

Behaviors are traits that people learn throughout their lives, whether by deliberate or unintentional outside influence. Being on the LGBTQ+ spectrum is not a learned trait, it is a trait that is developed from birth and cannot be "corrected." And just for the record, being on the LGBTQ+ spectrum is itself a neutral trait; it's not a neuroticy, it's not a disease. While being on the LGBTQ+ certainly contributes to the definition of a person, it remains a neutral trait nonetheless - like a person's skin color or genetic ethnicity.

Harry Hook exhibits behaviors. And until he actually seriously macks on, I dunno, say Jay or Carlos the amount of actual bearing on the LGBTQ+ spectrum he's exhibited is exactly zero. Hell, it's just as accurate to say that he's shown zero evidence of being heterosexual, for that matter.

But I feel that equating certain behaviors and mannerisms to homosexuality (or heterosexuaity) is highly offensive and calls back to the "dark days" of cinema before and during the McCarthy Blacklisting era when random behavioral traits were randomly (and insanely) attributed to other, more inherent traits and then having all of the above lumped together to define an "abnormality" that was also automatically equated with a greater tendency to commit crimes and other depravity, not to mention spiritual damnation. That's not something I'm very fond of, and I for one like to think that we as a society can move on from associating certain learned or even voluntary behavioral traits with neutral, innate traits like being on the LGBTQ+ spectrum (or for that matter, skin color or genetic ethnicity).

Ummm...I was expecting to write a lot more but...actually I think that just about covers it. Well, maybe someone like Shipping Wars are Stupid (or another reader) can help me fill in the gaps if I've left any.

In response to Criminal Minds: Yeah That Episode Title is Still Stupid

So I was going to break this up as a response to Shipping Wars Are Stupid (still our most valuable reader, by the way) but then I remembered this is my blog and I can do what I want (which is partially the point of the response in the first place):

Well ok, I see where you're coming from then. 

But with about three or four readers total over very close to two years (a year and 11 months in fact), many failed attempts to grow the blog and no advertisement commitments...I feel even less incentive to drastically change my writing style or opinions. Not that your opinion doesn't matter - it's certainly being taken into consideration - but if I feel a review is best expressed in a certain way, I'm going that way. I'm not going to result to racial slurs or slurs against minorities, women, or the LGBTQ+ community (well, not intentionally...a disparative bitch may slip out for example, which may be made better or worse by context) but I'm certainly not going to hold back from insulting the show itself or the show's audience, no matter who they may be. That's something I absolutely stuck to my guns with from the Last Man Standing fiasco, from which the biggest lesson learned was...shows with disgusting fanbases will get canceled because they deserve it.

And that's not even taking into account that I have legitimate problems with the episode or even the show concept, and I'm certainly not budging from those. I understand that Spencer evolved from a one-dimensional character you describe as "borderline autistic" (another problem I have since shows of this ilk tend to feel obligated to have such a character and portray them a certain way, but that's another rant) but that doesn't excuse this same episode's perpetuation of the dangerous deadly obsessive female stalker stereotype, an image I have serious problems with in the media because it portrays women as having no control over their sexual or obsessive impulses to the point where it's a trope for women to suddenly become murderers at the drop of a hat. In my view, that trumps any progressive character-building the show's had up to this point. Yes, I've actually watched the episode. No I didn't watch anything else. I explained the circumstances why I watched the episode, and quite frankly I felt both offended enough by this trope perpetuation and extremely unimpressed with everything else going on that I felt it warranted me expressing my opinions on this blog - the expression of which, by whatever means I feel like, is the sole reason why this blog exists.

You ask why I even bother putting up a review then? Because I thought the episode was awful enough that I wanted my opinion expressed in a public medium so people can understand why I feel it's shitty, or at least know that I simply feel it's shitty and then simply trust that enough alone as basis (particularly since at this point they should already know how I feel about these shows, especially since I linked back to a much more detailed review of CM's spin-off show where I extensively covered those problems in detail*). And that's why the mini-review format exists, so at least I can spend minimal time doing that.

I mean, I appreciate the evolution of character and using that to address mental illness - but it's been my experience that these type of procedural shows are still very poor at addressing those issues. Get away from the procedural formula, and especially the way See-BS likes doing it, and the results are more satisfying. House wasn't perfect in this either, but I still felt they did a more satisfactory, honest job addressing the issue especially with the title character himself. And again, that doesn't excuse the other sins of the episode - especially since obsessive behavior as displayed by Trachtenberg's character is itself also a form of mental illness. Does one form of mental illness invalidate another because one of the characters is a main and the other is the bitch-of-the-week the good guys must shoot and kill?

As for Survivor, and See-BS in general, I can't deny that Survivor changed the game of reality competition shows (hell it literally invented that genre in the first place). Yes, I've seen Survivor. I've actually seen entire seasons of Survivor, believe it or not. It doesn't change the fact that I feel that it changed the reality game *for the worse*, if not having a negative effect on the entirety of society. We can see this in the very title of X'ers vs. Millennials, which quite frankly I feel mostly just serves See-BS's blatant anti-Millennial agenda (oh, don't believe me on that? How about Man With a Plan? The Great Outdoors? Superior Donuts? These shows literally revolve around anti-Millennial jokes).

I'll put quality in my long-form reviews, and I try to make the reviews of the kids stuff long-form as much as I can. The mini-reviews...those are meant to be take-'em or leave-'em. I put enough of a lack of time and effort into them that quite frankly I don't mind if nobody comments or reads them. I appreciate people coming for the long-form reviews but if they feel the short-form reviews are offensive and refuses to treat them like adults, well that's why I label the short-form reviews as short-form reviews. Sometimes I try to write for humor (and yes I have a pretty sorry sense of humor), but sometimes I just write to vent frustration. This is very much a case of the latter. And it's absolutely no different than what Jalopnik, Deadspin or Jezebel - yes, blogs I actually follow - do. I know people have problems with those blogs - but 1.5 million readers *don't.* And quite honestly, I think the particular style of how I do things here has become part of the brand I've built for this blog. I feel I have a sense of integrity at stake by compromising it. Of course insulting the reader is counter-productive towards that, but I also feel compromising that brand is also counter-productive towards growing the blog and monetizing it.

Again, the feelings of the shows themselves and their fanbases are not spared here. Quite frankly, I think that was demonstrated quite clearly when we reviewed Last Man Standing (and Girl Meets World, for that matter).

But I *will* keep this in mind the next time I notice my reviews having a lot of fucks.

That review of Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders being here. But to summarize: I also had massive problems with that episode, not the least of which is the depiction of Muslims and how women are victimized (which I think is related to the Original Flavor-CM episode being discussed here). Again, just because an episode makes positive progress in the depiction of one condition people face, it doesn't excuse other sins.

Raven's Home: First Impressions

Something had to replace Girl Meets World, right? You might remember That's So Raven as one of the most popular and long-running series...