Nov 30, 2019

"Merry Happy Something": Watch it with the Family Bigot

Spending Christmas with The Relatives on the other side of the world is always stressful: stuck in a house for two weeks with no exercise unless it's nice enough to jog outside, forced to watch...ugh...sports and eat...ugh...meals prepared by people who think potato chips are vegetables, all the while deflecting conversations about religion, politics, Muslims, and homa-sekshuls (you don't want the Family Bigot to start screaming).

Spending Christmas with the boyfriend's relatives is even worse, since you have to switch instantly from boyfriend to "roommate" depending on which member of the extended family knows. And sometimes you aren't informed in advance.  I once spent an entire afternoon being "the roommate" for my boyfriend's aunt, only to hear "Oh, she's known since I was 12."

So when I saw that Netflix released Merry Happy Whatever, an entire eight-episode tv series about the horrors of meeting The Relatives at Christmas, I planned to watch.  No doubt it would be infinitely heterosexist.  So what?  It would still be a good cure for the Day After Thanksgiving malaise, with The Visit looming.

It's a traditional multi-camera sound-stage sitcom, with a couch downstage center facing what is supposed to be a tv set.  With a laugh-track yet.  How retro!

L.A. hipster and aspiring musician Matt (Brent Morin, below) agrees to fly cross country to small-town Bucks County, Pennsylvania, to spend a 10-day Christmas vacation visiting the Family of his girlfriend Emmy.

10 days?  That was his first mistake.

Family Patriarch Don Quinn (1980s hunk Dennis Quaid), a small-town Sheriff, seems to be channeling Tim Allen on Home Improvement, or maybe William Shatner on S* My Dad Says.  Sports, tools, cars, grunting, flee from anything feminine.

He's got ancient gender-based hangups on everything from women working to men wearing the wrong kind of shoes, plus a few that I never even heard of, like "only women should decorate the Christmas tree."

And he has three children (not counting Emmy) who are totally on board with his cave man machismo, and three in-laws who are trying hard to avoid his wrath by pretending to be:

1.Dimwitted jock son Sean (Hayes MacArthur, top photo) is generally a success: wife, house, job, kids, the litany of male accomplishments that I heard incessantly while growing up.  Then he loses his job, and is afraid to tell his wife, Joy (Elizabeth Ho), because a man who can't support his family is not a real man.

And their 12-year old son, Sean Jr. (Mason Davis), ha a heart-to-heart about "feelings" that he's been "trying to hide."  They brace themselves for a coming-out, but Sean Jr. means that he's an atheist.  Almost as bad for this conservative Catholic family!

2. Chirpy housewife Patsy is married, but has been unable to conceive a child.It must  be due to the less-than-manly sperm of her husband  Todd (Adam Rose). Also he's Jewish, but terrified of suggesting the most innocuous dreidel to augment the Birth of Baby Jesus.   

3. Aggressive, controlling Kayla (Ashley Tinsdale)  is married to mild-mannered Alan (Tyler Ritter, left). But when they arrive for the first of 10 traditional holiday gatherings with the Family, he announces that he wants a divorce. They're arguing all the time, and they haven't had sex in a year.

Kayla begins dropping broad hints that the reason they broke up is: she is not attracted to men. In fact, she likes women -- a lot.  She comes out as a lesbian to Matt, but is afraid to tell the Family. Wouldn't you be?

When Matt falls into this maelstrom, Dad immediately labels him "a woman" because he is a musician, doesn't like sports, faints at the sight of a needle, and is from California.  Aren't they all sort of iffy out there?   The rest of the Family, sensing that he' the weakest member of the pack, fall in line:

Matt: Where is everybody?
Patsy:  The men all went out to get a Christmas tree.
Matt:  Well, not all the men.
Patsy:  All the real men.

At first Matt tries to macho up and bond with Dad, but then he changes his tactics, pushing back against Dad's gender-role malarky.  Men can be sensitive, artistic, intellectual, non-sports enthusiasts.

Energized, the others start pushing back, too.  Todd gets the nerve to suggest adding some Jewish traditions to the household.

Sean gets the nerve to tell Dad that he lost his job, AND that his son is an atheist.

In the last episode, set on New Year's Eve, Kayla comes out.  The Family gathers for a group hug, and Dad gives her a rainbow-flag keychain.  Matt's intervention has worked wonders.

I think I'll watch this show again in a couple of weeks, when I'm back home visiting The Relatives. 

Nov 29, 2019

Riverdale, Season 4: More Over-the-Top, More Hunks

I didn't think there were any more sharks for Riverdale to jump over, after 3 seasons of serial killers, gangs, drugs, cults, organized crime, and weird mash-ups of all of the above.  But in Season 4, we go off even more deep ends. Most of the recognizable characters -- Moose, Dilton, Ethel, Reggie, Mr. Weatherbee  -- are gone or only appear once in a blue moon, while each member of the Gang (Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, Cheryl) has two or three crazy plotlines to negotiate.

But at least there are a dozen new hunks to gawk at.


1. The aspiring Kerouac (I still think the whole series is his purple-prose novel) enrolls at snooty Stonewall Prep, where he butts head with rich kid Brett Weston Wallis (Sean Depner,top photo.)   That's Riverdale-world Brett Easton Ellis, by the way.  Brett snubs his work and plays fun pranks like locking Jughead in a coffin all night.

2. Meanwhile Jughead stumbles onto a mystery involving the authorship of the Baxter Brothers series (Riverdale-ese for the Hardy Boys).  And an associated secret so terrible that teacher Mr. Chipping (Sam Witwer) commits suicide rather than reveal it.

3. Jonathan (Alex Barima) is  relatively indifferent to Jughead.  I think he's mostly there to be black and pretty.


Other than making out with Jughead, Betty's job is to find out who is sending videotapes of her house and calling and claiming to be her dead serial-killer father.  She also worries that she has a "serial killer gene." She is assisted by:

4. Charles Smith (Wyatt Nash), her older half-brother, who claims to be an FBI agent investigating serial killers (lots of them in Riverdale), but has his own secret agenda.  He's in a relationship with Chick, who pretended to be Betty's half-brother ages ago.  So maybe Kevin will get someone to date after his previous boyfriends have vanished.


The allergic-to-shirts redhead and his bff Mad Dog turn their boxing gym into an all-around community center for homeless and at-risk kids, which draws the ire of:

5. Dodger (Juan Riedeger), a small-time drug dealer.  He gets mad when Archie tries to draw his boys into the straight-and-narrow.  Hint:  It was Fagin who had a stable of boys, including the Artful Dodger.

Turns out that Dodger is a younger son of a crime empire (another).  When he is beat up, some relatives arrive to shoot up the community center, including:

6. Ta-da! A Fagin, except it's spelled Fagan (Adam Klassen),


Other than pouring money into whatever crazy scheme Archie proposes and running her nightclub in the basement of Pop Tate's, Ronnie's main job this season is to yell at her parents, who are variously on trial, running for mayor, and introducing previously unmentioned siblings with agendas of their own.

7. Oh, she also kills a serial killer known as the Family Man (Ben Cotton), who attacks her in the diner.  I would be talking about that for the rest of my life,but Veronica never mentions it again.  I guess there are so many serial killers in Riverdale that one more doesn't even rate a mention when friends ask "So, what's new?"


Cheryl Blossom (of the maple syrup empire) and girlfriend Toni spend most of their time in their mansion, doing creepy things like talking to dead people, having premonitions, and keeping the corpse of her dead brother in a secret room downstairs.  Three relatives show up, trying to get Cheryl to sign over her fortune, including:

8. Alexander Lowe as Cousin Fester (It's not a nickname: about 30 years ago, someone named their kid after the Addams Family character)

So Cheryl kills him and serves him to the other relatives to get them to back off.  Or not really?

Toni also hires:

9.  The uber-muscular Darius (Austin Miklausch) to take care of things, but Cheryl can't stand the idea of a stranger in the house, so she sends him packing

Whew.  They own businesses, sign contracts, witness in court, kill people, scheme, sleuth, and otherwise forget that they are children.  Does anyone even think about attending class at Riverdale High anymore?

10. Someone must, because there's a new Principal, with unlikely name Mr, Honey (Kerr Smith), who has his own secret agenda...well, never mind.

Nov 27, 2019

Moonlight: Gay Autistic Kid and Gay-Friendly Drug Dealer

I've seen Moonlight, the 2016 multiple Oscar winner about a gay black man.  I didn't like it.  It mostly involved Chiron, the main character, staring at people who are talking to him.  A little action would be nice.  Plus it strained incredulity every step of the way.

There are three parts, with the main character as a boy, teenager, and man.

1. Little

Chiron, called "Little," is about 8 years old, living with his crackhead mother in a drug-infested Miami neighborhood.  Juan (Mahershala Ali), Mom's drug dealer, finds him hiding in a crackhouse and brings him home to his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monae).

There is obviously something wrong with Chiron, maybe autism.  He displays no emotion, and he rarely speaks.

The other kids call him a "faggot" because of the way he walks (I didn't notice anything).  The extremely gay-positive Juan explains that "faggot" is what kids call gay people to make them feel bad about themselves.

"How do you know if you're gay?" Chiron asks.

"You just do."

Chiron has only one friend his own age -- well, not really a friend, someone who tries to talk to him:  Kevin (Jaden Piner), who teaches him how to fight so he won't get picked on.

2. Chiron

I thought there was going to be a romance between Juan and the grown-up Chiron, but no, in Part 2, Juan is absent, casually referenced as dead (no grief, no "I still miss him," just dead.  Chiron doesn't really feel emotions).

The teenage Chiron (now played by Ashton Sanders, left), still hangs out with Teresa.  He still displays no emotion and rarely speaks.  I can hear the director: "Above all, you must never smile.")

Kevin (now played by Jharrel Jerome)  still tries to talk to him, and doesn't mind that he doesn't talk back.  One night on the beach they kiss and masturbate each other. It's no big deal for Kevin; he has sex all the time, with boys and girls both. But Chiron has never done it before.

The school bully, Terel (Patrick Decille), still thinks that Chiron is gay because he wears tight pants and doesn't speak (although if I was judging gayness by feminine features, Terel would definitely win).

One day Terel talks Kevin into beating Chiron up.  In retaliation, Chiron attacks Terel, and is sent to a juvenile reformatory.

3. Black

About ten years later, the adult Chiron (now played by Trevante Rhodes) is a drug dealer living in Atlanta (don't you have to speak to sell drugs?).

Kevin (now played by Andre Holland) calls him out of nowhere and invites him down to Miami for a visit. They haven't seen each other since that day in school.

He's been in prison, too, but he has turned his life around.  He has a job in a restaurant, an apartment, and a five-year old son (who lives with his mama).

Chiron tells Kevin that he hasn't been intimate with anyone since the night they kissed and masturbated on the beach.

Ok, I don't believe that for a second.  Did you see the guy's physique?  He must get dozens of offers, in spite of never speaking or smiling. Unless his autism makes it impossible for him to make human connections. But professional drug dealers are constantly interacting with people. How could he...

And if he's gay, why doesn't he just come out?

Kevin has had a lot of partners, but he's always had a crush on Chriron.  They hug.  Apparently they are about to begin a romantic relationship. Fade out.

Stray observations:

1. There are no white people in the film.  And no reference to gay culture, gay organizations, gay anything. Did the director believe that there is no black gay community?

2. No way I believe that the super-skinny Ashton Sanders morphed into the super buffed Trevante Rhodes, I don't care how many push-ups he did in prison.

3. The title Moonlight has nothing to do with the story. It refers to black bodies looking blue in the moonlight, sort of like revealing your true self.  What's wrong with black bodies looking black?

Nov 26, 2019

The 3 1/2 Gay Couples of "Jaws 2"

The summer of 1978: I was 17 years old, a new high school graduate working at the Carousel Snack Bar at the mall and getting ready for college.  I had just figured "it" out, but I hadn't yet met any gay people.  I went to a lot of movies: Big Wednesday, Corvette Summer, The Cheap Detective, Foul Play, The Revenge of the Pink Panther, Hooper, Animal House.  But I didn't see Jaws 2, in spite of its iconic tagline: "Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water."

I figured it was just another 1970s disaster movie like The Towering Inferno, and probably infused with the heterosexual male gaze. Who wants to watch a bunch of bikini babes getting chomped?

Turns out that the original is a masterpiece of gay subtext, While tracking a rogue shark, Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) and impish grad student Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) sizzle with "will they or won't they?" erotic intensity. They don't actually kiss in the final scene, but close enough.

I recently watched the sequel to see if the homoeroticism continues.  Steven Spielberg chose not to direct, so Jeannot Szwarc stepped in.  He did mostly tv dramas and horror, like A Summer Without Boys (well, that sounds like horror to me).

 Hooper is absent, off doing research in Antartica (aw, does he send love letters back to Brody?), and Chief Brody is more heterosexual, actively involved with his wife.  But he has little to do besides yell "You kids get off the beach!"  The star is his teenage son, Mike (Mike Gruner), who goes sailing  in spite of the admonitions, and has to rescue his friends from getting chomped.

As several reviewers note, it's like the prototype of a 1980s teenkill, with ineffectual adults, horny teenagers off by themselves, and a psycho-slasher shark.

But let's take a closer look at those kids. 10 boys and 3 girls in four boats.  One boat contains a boy-girl pair, and another Mike's so-called "love interest" and his little brother.  The others are mixed among the boys without any male-female pairings.

Hardly a heterosexual outing.

And the boys (excluding Little Brother) are divided into bff dyads, guys who put their hands on each other a lot, grab each other a lot, and don't necessarily express any hetero-horniness.  They can easily be read as gay couples.

Couple #1: Juvenile delinquent in training Mike and wisecracking sidekick Andy (Gary Springer)

Couple #2: Nerds Timmy (G. Thomas Dunlap) and Doug (Keith Gordon)

Couple #3: Teen operator Eddie (Gary Dugan) and spoiled rich kid Polo (John Dukakis).

Only Eddie , who leaves his bff to go off with a girl , gets chomped .  I guess having a girlfriend is a major transgression in a homoerotic world

Couple 3.5: Although the Chief is more heterosexual this time around, he does take the time to put his hand on the shoulder of Larry (David Elliott).  Feeling lonely for Hooper, Chief?

There is surprisingly little beefcake ; this beach has no shirtless studs walking around . But no bikini babes either , which only adds to the homoerotic vibe.

See also: Jaws and Gay Romance

Nov 24, 2019

"A Knight before Christmas": Time-Traveling Christmas Rom-Com

I'm not in the habit of watching Christmas movies, especially those with dumb pun titles like A Knight Before Christmas (2019).  But I couldn't resist nitpicking. A knight is zapped from 14th century Britain to Small Town Ohio in the present day.  Sort of Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court in reverse.

But there were no knights in the 14th century  (except as ceremonial titles), and the Middle English of the era would be nearly incomprehensible:

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote,
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,
And bathed every veyne in swich licóur
Of which vertú engendred is the flour;

Sir Cole (Josh Whitehouse)  is upset because he hasn't proved himself a "true knight" yet (but that's what the title "sir" means).  His younger brother, Sir Geoffrey, is having a knighting ceremony in a few days, so he feels left out.

Harry Jarvis is buffed, but I can't figure out a way to copy his instagram post.

In the woods on a snowy day, Sir Cole is nice to an Old Crone (who actually looks like a middle-aged faded beauty).  She promises to guide him to where he can prove himself.  She zaps him into a 21st century Small Town.

Meanwhile, Small Town resident Brooke (Vanessa Hudgens) is not one of these liberated Disney princesses who fight alongside the prince.  She's longing for a "knight in shining armor," a "happily ever after" Camelot.  Instead of the  black best friend traditional in rom-coms, she has a single-mom sister and niece (not to worry, Officer Stevens, the only cop on the Small Town police force, is black, so the producers could check off the "racial diversity" box).

Cole and Brooke have a meet cute when she hits him with her car.  Feeling guilty, she takes him in, and humors his contention that he is a time traveler.  His wonderment over 21st century marvels like TV and coffee ensues, and plot complications...

Well, no real plot complications.   Sir Cole does challenge her ex-boyfriend (Neil Babcock) to a duel because he's not as chivalrous as he should be, there's a girl stuck on thin ice who needs rescuing, and a teenage pickpocket to be subdued (the latter gets Cole a job offer.  Apparently you don't need to go to the police academy in Small Town Ohio.  Just show up, and they strap on a gun).

Oh, and a Christmas party to prepare for.  Did I mention that it's Christmastime?

Some indecision on Cole's part, but Vanessa tells him: You can be anything you want in life, if you try hard enough.

The main "tension": Will Cole go back to the past after he learns to "believe in himself", or stay in Small Town Ohio with Brooke?

What do you think?

Well, he does go back, for a few minutes, to see Sir Geoffrey, and give him some advice on how to become a true knight: "Be kind to all you meet."

Wait -- how does he go back and forth in time at will?

Beefcake:  Almost everybody in town is female, and the men keep their clothes on.  But check out stuntman Alex Armbruster, who played "Young Husband at Tree Farm."

Buddy bonding: Almost everyone in town is female.

Gay characters: Evan, whose daughter Cole saves from the thin ice, hugs him.  But Cole is mystified by the gesture: "Is this some sort of Christmas wrestling match?).  He's unfamiliar with the concept of men hugging.  (Evan has a wife)

There's also a single dad (Jean-Michel Le Gal) who is struggling financially, so Vanessa give him money to buy his kids presents.  He has a slew of kids, so I'm thinking dead wife rather than gay.

I guess rom-coms are the final frontier for queerness.  I imagine that Netflix bigwigs feel thatt the rom-com audience is "not ready" for gay characters hanging around and being gay at Christmas time.  Everybody knows that gay people flash out of existence just after Halloween and don't return until Oscar Night.
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