Cleansing the doors of cinematic perception since 1987

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

She Spies, I Get Sad



There are a million ways to perceive the world, a million shades

The saddest thing about the sexy spy comedy starring Natasha Henstridge, SHE SPIES, this canceled old network late night TV show now available on DVD, is that it’s so self aware that it becomes lost in itself and still is what it is. For me as its target audience it's devastating to see how refined banality can be. There’s nothing “wrong” with the show per se, but it just leaves itself nowhere to go in its post-modern archness. It also splits viewers between those in and those not in show business. If you are in show business, advertising, television or have ever freelanced in these areas, then you know the bizarre depressing nature of watching TV shows while at work, the steady digital editing and toying, images repeating over and over, facile banter straining for wittiness amongst your trend-hogging colleagues. In this show it seems as if the editors are editing as it goes along, live, and bored.

What saves it is Natasha Henstridge, who has a genuine gift for comedy. She plays it in this loose, fun way like she's a big Groucho Marx fan. She transcends the need for perfect comic timing by sheer not caring. As the star of this show and aware obviously of its zero budget. Actually, the show makes fun of its zero budget in its post-ironic way, but the third time you see a show become hip to its disposability, even that becomes disposable. Then you are in trouble, because fourth wall winks aint been new, modern or relevant since the Weimar era. If the spies were to perform some Brecht, then as Chico Marx would say, you a gotta something.

We all think there is a common reality in which there is no god or there is a god or black people suck or black people are groovy or there is no difference but in fact our own minds can be changed and opened incredibly… if we all followed our own path towards bliss, if we all dropped our guards at once and embraced each other in unconditional love then the world would change instantly for the better.

Great feats should be done because one is thrilled to be discovering their inner potential, the way a kid opens presents at Xmas, or someone discovers there’s a whole other floor to their house they never knew about. That would be a good story, the one where they discover the extra floor in the house for real and someone’s living in it, like Anne Frank.

We all have an Anne Frank in our heads, squirreled away,.

But instead we do our great deeds to… what? win an award? get ourselves noticed by the hot chick or dad? Why do want to get the hot chick? What will she bring us? Will she bring us the admiration of our friends? Will they love us more? Will we explode in ecstasy copulating with such excellent alien DNA? What about dad? Will he ever really think we're adults as long as we keep expecting him to tell us so? Is it for this admiration, or is it that we like the chemicals the brain sends us when we get noticed. Our excellence is its own reward, the system works, admiration begets confidence which begets stronger workers.

I mention this in regards to SHE SPIES for a very simple reason. The show is afraid of excellence, afraid of pushing for relevance and in doing so it collapses under its own irony and disaffection. The only way to succeed in a show like this is to play it absolutely straight... like BATMAN with Adam West, or STAR TREK with William Shatner. Camp can't be made, folks. Camp has to be earned... through earnestness not self-awareness. Sort of like how the French are funny... except when they do comedy. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Xena and Gabrielle: The Post-Modern Love Story of Our Age


I've been watching the final season of Xena on DVD. By this time the girls were so out of the closet that they were doing everything but kissing or declaring themselves sexual partners. You would have to be the most conservative southerner in the world to not read the writing on the wall. What makes this weird in/out thing so enjoyable is how it solves the dilemma faced by most TV shows that linger over their romantic leads "will they or wont they" status, as in Cheers, X-files, etc. where you have a male and female lead pair bond who you keep waiting to fall in love and into bed. Of course, once the lovers do fall into bed and start kissing on the show, it's repulsive and time for it to end.

This is the nature of our position as infantile viewers that we are grossed out by seeing our onscreen lovers kiss unless it's the end of the film, or disaster and separation is looming right afterwards. With Xena and Gabrielle the lesbian love pair bond is actually strengthened by the lack of exposure. In maintaining their privacy, the girls maintain our interest.

It also forces them to continually find excuses to give each other mouth to mouth resuscitation and employ other nifty gimmicks. A particular favorite is what I call the reverse-double-entendre, wherein declarations of earthly love are then reversed and put in a vague fog so that what you thought they just said and was a moment ago completely and unmistakably a lesbian declaration is now again, obfusciated. In a way it recalls, for me at least, the thrill of realizing your parents are talking about sexual matters in a way you barely comprehend, as they code everything above your ears while you are, say, in the 5th grade. It's a level of adulthood that contrasts wondrously with the less mature elements of the show to create entertainment for the "person who is, in themselves, all ages."

Check my in-depth analysis of Xena Season 3 on popmatters here