Jul 24, 2021

"The Mysterious Benedict Society": Four Orphans Fight Evil Television

Next up on the Disney Channel: The Mysterious Benedict Society, based on a series of books by Trenton Lee Stewart, who has a M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Iowa.  In 2019-2020, he was writer-in-residence at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, which scores 3.5 on the Campus Pride Index (3 LGBTQ organizations and a LGBTQ studies program).  Does that allow you to surmise whether there will be gay characters or subtexts?

I watched the first three episodes, fast-forwarding through the boring bits.

Sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, the world has been overtaken by something called The Emergency: everyone awakens every day feeling intense anxiety and fear, as if something terrible is about to happen (sounds like life during the Trump Administration, but the first book was published in 2007).  No one can concentrate on work or studies, so the economy is in shambles.  

A orphaned genius named Reynie Muldoon (13-year old Mystic Inscho, left) is suffering from the Emergency, plus the bullying and intellectual malaise of his orphanage, when his Tamil tutor tells him about a series of tests that will result in a scholarship to the prestigious Boatwright Academy.  I wonder why he is learning Tamil.  Not to disparage the 75 million Tamil speakers, but it wouldn't be my first choice.  Unless I was planning to go to South India.

First test: out of a huge roomful of hopefuls, Reynie is the only one to pass.

Second test: another huge roomful of hopefuls, and again Reynie is the only one to pass.  He meets three kids who were the only ones to pass their own first and second tests: Sticky (Seth Carr, above right)), who has a photographic memory; techno-savant Kate; and athletic Dewey (Josh Zaharia).

Final test: Dewey loses.  I guess you can't have three boys and one girl.  A fourth member is added to the remaining three, a little girl whose superpower seems to be rudeness.  Oddly, they are all orphans or runaways.

Then the mysterious Mr. Benedict (Tony Hale)  tells them that the scholarship test was a ruse; they were actually being evaluated for their special skills, to take down the Emergency.  Everyone is anxious all the time due to subliminal messages being conveyed through television sets (not fake news conveyed through social media?).  The signals are coming from a mysterious private school on a nearby island.

The four enroll incognito.  Their guides, Jackson (Ben Cockell) and Jillson, give them a tour, explain the strictly regimented schedule, and demonstrate the brainwashing lessons.  The only teacher who doesn't act like a zombie is Mr. Oshiro (Shannon Kook, top photo), who teaches a class in logic and problem solving.

The signals are coming from The Tower, but only Messagers are allowed near it, so they must try to become messengers.

Eventually they meet the headmaster's adopted son, S.Q. (Ricky Ortiz), a shy, retiring, gay-coded artist.   And the headmaster himself, Mr. Curtain.  Surprise!  He is Mr. Benedict's estranged twin brother!

Beefcake: No.

Gay Subtexts: S.Q. is gay-coded.  Reynie and Sticky spend most of their time together, without the other team members present. 

Heterosexism:  No.  In the books, some of the characters have heterosexual romances, but not here.  Mr. Benedict and Mr. Curtain both have adopted children, with no wives or girlfriends mentioned.

Derivative:  Teams of children have been solving mysteries since the days of the Famous Five.  Orphans are best, since there are no parents to get in the way.  Most schools in mass media are depicted as brainwashing, soul-crushing conformity factories.  TV is evil?  Odd to hear that on a tv show, but yep, it's a commonplace.  

My Grade: C

The Secrets of Sulphur Springs: Time Traveling Boyfriend and Girlfriend


Next up on the Disney Channel: The Secrets of Sulphur Springs, which premiered in January 2021.  A key word search on the title and "gay" yields: "this series is about two married gay men who get a divorce so they can marry other men."  I highly doubt that is the premise, but maybe there are some gay subtexts.

No, it's a ghost story-time travel mystery.  Griffin,  his dad Ben (Josh Braaten, left), and his young siblings move from the Big City to the tourist trap...er, resort of Sulphur Springs, Lousiana, where Ben grew up.  They are going to re-open the creepy, haunted Tarant Inn.  Thirty years ago, a young girl named Savannah disappeared there, while on a date with the young Ben: he heard an odd noise and went off to investigate, and when he returned, she was gone!  He is trying to work through the trauma and guilt, and the suspicions of the townsfolk, who think that he...well, this is the Disney Channel, so let's just say "knows something about the disappearance."    So he decided to come back?

Griffin (15-year old Preston Oliver, who is apparently a lot stronger than he looks) immediately latches on to a mystery-obsessed girl named Harper (uh-oh, I smell hetero-romance).  He invites her to dinner at the inn (uh-oh), and afterwards, presumably looking for a place to smooch, they discover a secret room with a time portal that leads to the distant-past year of 1990.  There they meet Savannah, alive and well, but constantly being pestered/hit on by the young Ben.  

It's a soap opera all around, back then: Young Ben (Jake Melrose, left) has an abusive father (Jim Gleason) and a stalker, the rich-bitch Jess, who is constantly trying to sabotage his budding romance with Savannah so she can seduce him.  These are 13-14 year olds on the Disney Channel, so no sex acts will actually occur, but all the tropes are there.

Meanwhile Griffin's sibs, paranormal enthusiasts, try to contact the ghost of Savannah to find out how she...um...disappeared.

The grown-up Jess still lives in town: her young son Topher (Bryant Tardy) was Harper's sidekick before she dumped him for Griffin.  Could Jess be responsible for the girl's...um... disappearance?

Spoiler alert: We find out what happened to Savannah in Episode 8.  Surprise!  She's not dead!  She used the portal to go back in time to 1960, where she's grooving on Camelot with a hip foster family.  But there are plenty more mysteries to solve, and a lot of time traveling.   The portal works in 30-year increments, so how about 1930?  1890?  Or ahead to 2050?  

Beefcake: No.  The show is occupied almost exclusively by women and girls.  

Gay Characters: No.

Gay Subtexts:  Since Griffin spends all of his time surrounded by women, he has no change to buddy-bond with anyone except Topher (whom he barely talks to) and the Young Ben (whom he interacts with only through the girlfriend).  

Skip it or Stream It: What do you think?

Jul 23, 2021

Carl Sandburg's Two Gay References

Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) was from Galesburg, 60 miles south of Rock Island, so my teachers loved him.

I didn't.

Although he does look nice naked.

It seems that every English, language arts, writing, and history teacher from third grade through college foisted Sandburg upon us.

Chicago Poems!  Cornhuskers!  Smoke and Steel!  Slabs of the Sunburned West! The People, Yes! 

He was a two-bit Walt Whitman wannabe, with none of Whitman's homoeroticism.

When Sandburg mentions a man, it's only to pair him with a woman.

A Polish boy is out with his best girl; they marry next month; to-night they are throwing you kisses.

But mostly he's desperate to tell you how much he likes women.  Over and over and over and over.

Each morning as I move through this river of young-     woman life I feel a wonder about where it is all going, so many with a peach bloom of young years on them and laughter of red lips and memories in their eyes of dances the night before and plays and walks.

This wouldn't be so bad, except that he expects his intended audience to agree.  All beauty is feminine beauty, the Eternal Feminine is everybody's goal in life.

In high school we had to read Always the Young Strangers, maybe because it mentioned Rock Island and Augustana College.  But it's not, as you might suspect, about cruising for late-night pickups.

It's about Sandburg growing up in Galesburg,with no interest in male friendship, just devotion to family, the thrill of the feminine, and heterosexual sex.

He liked to imagine heterosexual sex.  Even when it was between his mother and father:

They were a couple and their coupling was both earthy and sacramental to them. There were at times smiles exchanged between them that at the moment I didn't understand but later read as having the secret meanings of lovers who had pleasured each other last night.

Do heterosexuals usually spend a lot of time imagining their parents having sex?

But the very worst was Rootabaga Stories, American fairy tales with an Edward Lear twist that were foisted on us in 3rd grade.

The titles didn't make sense:
"The Story of Blixie Bimber and the Power of the Gold Buckskin Whincher"
"How the Hat Ashes Shovel Helped Snoo Foo"
"Only the Fire-Born Understand Blue."

And once you got past the title, you got endless hetero-romance between men and women, boys and girls, and gender-polarized inanimate objects.

Except for one weird story about two skyscrapers who decide to have a child together.  Their genders aren't specified, but since they're phallic symbols, I'm going to assume both male.  Sandburg doesn't explain how their child comes about.  Maybe they adopt.

The only gay potential anywhere in Sandburg's work is in his 4-volume biography of Abraham Lincoln.  In The War Years (1926), he writes that Lincoln's relationship with Joshua Speed had "a streak of lavender, and spots soft as May violets."

And maybe in the poem "Planked Whitefish," in which a "demon driver" named Horace Wild tells Sandburg about an experience in World War I in Ypres (site of a major battle): a Canadian soldier nailed to a wall with bayonets, his sex organs cut off and shoved into his mouth.  The sight made him a pacifist.

Not exactly a gay-positive image.

See also: Gather the Faces of Men

Jul 22, 2021

"Gabby Duran and the Unsittables": Gay Stereotype Principal Teaches the Art of Thrusting

 I used to review every new show on the Disney Channel, looking for gay subtexts.  Then I got rid of my broadcast television service and went with streaming (do you know how hard it is to cancel a service?  First they stall, then they beg, then they act like you're breaking up with them: "please don't leave me!  I don't know what I would do without you!").  Now we have Disney Plus, which streams every Disney Channel series that ever existed, so I can catch up.  First on the list: Gabby Duran & the Unsittables.

Scene 1: Gabby (Kylie Cantrell) is a teen operator who gets what she wants even if she has to work behind the scenes, doing things that are dangerous or unethical.  For instance, while babysitting her genius younger sister, she spends the "emergency money" on sugary cereal.  She has just moved from Miami to the small town of Havensburg, Colorado, where her single Mom is a successful tv journalist (in a small town?).   But she hates it there, so she tries to get expelled from the school so Mom will have no choice but to move back home (did she think this through?).

Scene 2: 
At school, Gabby runs into Wesley (Maxwell Acee Donovan), the goofy "platonic best friend" type who appears in many Disney teencoms.  He asks Gabby to join his paranormal investigation society, but she refuses, as she won't be around much longer.  Suddenly she is called to the principal's office.

Scene 3:
 Whoa, Principal Swift is a fruitalicious gay stereotype: limp wrist, gigantic yellow bow tie, trilling over-enunciaton!  If Australian actor Nathan Lovejoy isn't gay in real life, this performance is borderline homophobic.

Gabby has tried to be expelled by duct-taping the Principal's car, but he's pleased: it will provide protection against bird droppings.  He hates birds, with their "disgusting lifestyle," doing it anywhere they want. (An allusion to homophobes disapproving of "the gay lifestyle"?).

Since her plan didn't work, Gabby tries something else: she goes wild and trashes the Principal's office.

Scene 4:
  Mom insists that Gabby go to Principal Swift's house to apologize.  He lives in a gigantic tan-colored Victorian worth several million dollars even in small-town Colorado.  No one answers the door, so Gabby goes around to the back, and stumbles across a giant blue blob with lots of teeth.  When she attacks, it turns into a little boy  (Callan Farris, the tiny person at the bottom left of the cast photo; Gabby is far right, wearing a scarf).  Zap!  Principal Swift uses a ray gun to knock her out. 

Scene 5:
Gabby awakens in an alien vortex. Principal Swift materializes out of an orange blob and explains: he and and his nephew Jeremy are alien shapeshifters from the planet Gor-Mon: they can adopt the shape of anything they eat (to get its DNA).  Jeremy is heir to the Gor-Monite throne, a target for assassins, so they have come to Earth to hide until he is of age.  Of course, humans can't know about them, either.  

Gabby is not at all surprised by this information.  But why not just memory wipe her and send her home?  Apparently the Principal was impressed by her courage in defending herself against what she thought was a giant blob monster, so he wants to hire her as Jeremy's babysitter.   But...but...just go with it.  They have to set  up the premise some way.

Scene 6:  The Principal is off to teach a safety seminar for teachers at the school, so it's time for Gabby's first job.  She ignores the large folders of instructions and the Principal's special warning that Jeremy is never to have soda, or any carbonated beverage: she gives him several liters.  Suddenly his stomach starts gurgling.  Researching, Gaby discovers that carbonation has a disastrous effect on Gor-Monite metabolism.  In about an hour, Jeremy will explode, destroying everything in a block radius. Couldn't the Principal have been a bit more specific: "If Jeremy drinks soda, he and everyone around him will be killed."

Scene 7:  In an emergency of this magnitude,  I would be calling his uncle, but Gabby wants to demonstrate that she is responsible by taking care of it herself. You can cure carbonation poisoning with the "just regular mints" that the Principal is always eating, so Gabby and Jeremy go to the school and break into his office.  The container is empty.

Scene 8: Maybe he has some on him?  They go to the auditorium, where the Principal is demonstrating the Heimlich Maneuver on a male dummy.  It looks very much like he is demonstrating anal sex: "And thrust and thrust and thrust...and another thrust...you're almost there...now one more."  The teachers look aghast.  Geez, this is a kid's show.  Just say that he is gay, don't show what he does in bed.

Jeremy eats a feather from a hawk in a display case in order to turn into a hawk and distract the Principal, so the mint he is about to eat flies out his mouth and into Jeremy's.  Or you could just ask him for one.  Crisis averted.

Scene 9:  The Principal meets with Gabby and Jeremy.  Does he say "Your reckless behavior almost got my nephew killed!  You're fired!"  No, he says "I have never seen such resourcefuless and courage."  Gabby become Jeremy's permanent babysitter.  Future episodes will no doubt involve other alien children.  And of course Wesley will discover the secret.

No.  Cardi Wong (top photo, with boyfriend) appears in three episodes, but as someone named Blurbles, so I doubt he is presented as a "dreamy boy."  Bodybuilder Tommy Europe appears in one episode as an android.

Heterosexism:  Not in this episode, but Gabby gets a crush on a boy later on, and Wesley gets a girlfriend.

Gay Characters: The Principal, obviously.  But search under "Gabby Duran" and "gay" yielded nothing, so apparently no one ever uses the g-word or gets a same-sex crush.

Gay Symbolism: The "my secret" motif is usually gay-coded.


Scene 5:  Gabby joins Wesley's paranormal club.

Switch to  Gabby starting her babysitting job.  Rule #1: Absolutely no soda.  She gives him soda, which, Swift explains, will turn him into a time bomb that will destroy him and everything in a one-block radius.  THe antidote is the special mints that that the principle keeps in his desk.  They sneak to the school and steal the box, but it's empty.

Jul 20, 2021

"Moone Boy": "The Goldbergs" with Hormone Monsters


The icon for the Irish sitcom Moone Boy certainly drew my attention, depicting a dour-looking man and a screaming boy joined at the head. How is it even possible to have conjoined twins of different ages?  And how would they avoid trivializing the problems of real conjoined twins?

Turns out that the icon is deliberately misleading -- the series is about imaginary friends.  Apparently nearly everyone has an imaginary friend to guide them through life.  The dour-looking man, Sean (Chris O'Dowd) is unhappy because he has been assigned to the screaming boy, Martin Moone (David Rawle), who is growing up in rural Ireland in the late 1980s and early 1990s.  Sounds like The Goldbergs, with the addition of the hormone monsters on Big Mouth, but this rather odd premise has resulted in three seasons with excellent reviews: "a coming of age charmer": "a hidden gem": a Rotten Tomatoes score of 83%.

Ok, I'm game.  The only episode synopsis with the key word "gay" is #4, "Another Prick in the Wall."  (Does "prick" mean the same thing in Ireland as it does in America?).

Scene 1:
Imaginary Friend Sean narrates that Martin, age 12 or 13, is "learning the mysterious ways of women."  Heteronormative dreck!  Why do hetero men think women are so mysterious?  

Martin's sister put makeup on him while he is sleeping.  He's late for school, so he rushes out without looking in a mirror.  A group of girls laughs at him, but he thinks it's because he is eating cereal on the run.  

Boys variously wolf-whistle at him, call him "beautiful," and sing "Do you really want to hurt me," by androgynous singer Boy George.  Still clueless.

He asks his best friend Padriac (Ian O'Reilly) why everyone is acting so weird. "Probably because you're wearing makeup." Martin is shocked and horrified, but Padriac says "I kind of like it."

Scene 2: Mom amd Dad (Peter McDonald, below) having breakfast and watching the fall of the Berlin Wall (November 9, 1989).  Mom announces that she's going to become an instructor at Weight Wishers (like Weight Watchers, but not trademarked).

Scene 3: Martin tries desperately to scrub the makeup off.  Another boy approaches: "I know everyone is giving you a hard time, but I want to wish you the best of luck at being gay."  "No, this is all just a big misunderstanding!"  

Scene 4: Dad at his shop, trying to get the printers to remove the apostrophe from his sign "Moone's Bed's." 

Cut to Martin tattling on his sister for applying the makeup. Mom: "She was probably trying to spruce you up a bit."  Martin: "No, she was being mean! She's pure evil, like...like...um..."  He looks around for an example, sees Hitler on tv, and decides on Skeletor from Masters of the Universe.  Mom suggests that he just get up earlier, but another lady tells her that he needs time to "play with himself."

Martin is horrified that the adults know he does that.  Flashback to him playing with a soccer game under the covers.

Scene 5: Martin tries to find a way to shorten the walk to school, so he'll have time to both "play with himself" and check for make-up.  The direct route requires him to climb a giant wall and then jump down.  He conjures Imaginary Friend Sean for advice.  

Sean: "You don't have the balls to make this jump."  

Martin: "What's wrong with me balls?"  

Sean: "No, I meant your attitude.  You're the cautious type.  Play it safe."   To demonstrate, he points out that Martin has conjured him wearing ladies' high-heel shoes.  I'm not sure how that demonstrates caution.   Why not knock a hole in the wall?

Cut to Padriac watching the Berlin Wall fall with his Imaginary Friend, wrestler Crunchie Haystacks (Johnny Vegas), who says of Ronald Reagan, "I'd let him tag me anytime."  What does that mean? Does he think Reagan is hot?

 Scene 6:
The plan is to remove small chunks of the wall every night, so no one notices until it's too late. Dad notices right away, but he doesn't care; watching news about the fall of the Berlin Wall has made him horny, but Mom refuses sex.  She's busy working on her Weight Wishers spiel.

Montage of a gradually increasing hole in the school wall.  Martin and Sean dance in celebration; Sister looks out the window, sees Martin dancing by himself, and calls him a "knob-bucket."

Scene 7: Finally the hole in the wall is ready.  Martin wakes up wearing makeup (has this been a daily occurence?), quickly washes it off, and heads through the hole, arriving at school on time.  Only today Padriac is wearing makeup!  

Scene 8: Many kids are using the hole as a shortcut to school with "gay abandon," and back home "with even gayer abandon."  Padriac rushes through the hole, trying to hide his makeup.  Being gay and wearing make-up are two different things, you knob-bucket!

"Cross-traffic soared," Imaginary Friend Sean tells us, "and Martin's popularity with it."  Now the boys are calling him Wrecking-Ball and singing "I want to be your sledge hammer" (a song by Peter Gabriel).  

Scene 9:  Mom and Dad finally get around to yelling at Martin about the hole, with kids coming through it all the time, and the kid in a wheelchair wanting an accessibility ramp.  "You need to fix the wall!"  

Martin fixes it, but does a shoddy job, hoping it will fall down on its own.  Imaginary Friend Sean complains that this is boring; no doubt Padriac and his Imaginary Friend are doing something exciting.  Switch to them watching David Hasselhoff at the Berlin Wall, discussing his extraordinary hotness.  Padriac is still wearing makeup. 

No. Ronan Raftery (left) appears in 10 episodes as Dessie Dolan, the boyfriend of Martin's sister. 

Gay Characters: Padriac, probably, but he gets a girlfriend in a later season.

Heterosexism:  Martin doesn't express any interest in girls in this episode, but he "discovers the opposite sex" later on.

Homophobia: Some of the jokes teeter toward homophobia, mainly by equating gay identity with feminine-coded behavior.  But it's rural Ireland in 1989; what do you expect?

My Grade:  B

Jul 19, 2021

"Virgin River": The River is the Only Virgin in Town

 The #1 seies on Netflix this week is Virgin River, about a nurse named Mel who, after the death of her husband (there's always a dead spouse), wants to find a sanctuary where "there's never any trouble," like Dorothy in Oz, so she moves from L.A. to small-town northern California, somewhere near Eureka.    Wait -- did I get that backwards?  Doesn't everyone move from oppressive small towns to big-city sanctuaries?

No.Mel moves to a small town.  But it's not like a Christmas romcom: Virgin River is overbrimming with soap opera scandals, hidden agendas, abandoned babies, long-lost black-sheep relatives, and tragic diseases.   I doubt that there are any gay people, but just to be sure, I watched Episode 6, where everybody mingles at the big town dance. Meanwhile I'll keep a tally of tragedies.

Scene 1: Establishing shots of barren mountains 300 miles from the nearest gay bar.  Mel approaches Hot Guy Jack (Martin Henderson) as he is chopping wood (fully clothed). They catch up: he's doing ok in spite of the latest horrible thing that happened to him (no, he doesn't want to talk about it), and she's taking a few days off to forget the horrible thing that happened to her ("It's best to repress your feelings.")  Tragedy Count: 2

Elderly busybody Hope stops in, upset: Preacher has insanely decided to roast a pig for the upcoming Mingle.  It will never be ready in time! "I take a few days off to recuperate from the horrible thing that happened to me, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket!"  Tragedy Count: 3.

Mel and the audience don't know what Mingle is, so Hope explains: The whole town gathers at a farm for dinner and dancing. When you least expect it, the DJ shouts "Mingle!", and you have to change partners.  Attendance is mandatory: if Mel doesn't go, everyone will hate her forever.  Wow, a town full of bullies.  

Suddenly Mel's sister Joey arrives for an unexpected visit (what's with their parents, giving girls boys names?).   Mel gives her a sour look; because they hate each other, or because now she has to go to the Mingle too?  Talk about pressure!  West Hollywood was never like this!  

Scene 2: 
Hot Guy Jack, Mel, and Big Sister Joey descend upon the town bar,  all wood veneer and animal heads.  The Bartender glares at them suspiciously, but Ricky the Busboy (Grayson Maxwell Gurnsey) stammers all over himself, awestricken by the sight of a glamorous big-city lady.  Jack, apparently the owner, orders the Bartender to take Big Sister Joey's luggage to her room.  He  grudgingly complies.

Mel takes Joey on a tour of the town (that will take about five minutes) so she can ask "What the hell are you doing here?  We hate each other, remember?"  

Joey: "I heard about the latest horrible thing that happened to you, and thought you might need a big sister."  

Mel: "I'm fine with repressing the memory, and what about your husband and kids?  And tomorrow is your birthday?  You should be with them!" 

Joey: "I'm not leaving until  I finish seducing Ricky the Busboy. He's over 18, isn't he?"

Scene 3:
Town Doctor Doc  (Tim Matheson, photo from a couple of years ago) tells his soon-to-be-ex-wife, Town Bully Hope, that the divorce lawyer can only meet with them today, and then not for a month.
Hope: "But I'm too busy bullying people into attending the Mingle to meet with a lawyer!"
Doctor Doc: "This divorce was your idea, so you're going.  And bring your checkbook."
Hope: "But we're getting divorced because of the horrible thing you did!  You should pay.  Tragedy count: 5.

Scene 4:  The inn is full, so Big Sister Joey will have to sleep on a rollaway bed in Mel's room.  Joey: "We can share your bed, unless, of course, I sleep over with Ricky the Busboy tonight.  He has his own room in his parents' house, right?"  They discuss Joey's marital problems and the horrible thing that happened in Episode 2.  

Finally Joey reveals her real reason for coming to Virgin River: "Moving here was a mistake.  You should come home to L.A."

Mel: "I like it here.  A small town where nothing bad ever happens."  Um...

Joey: "But you're running away from the horrible thing that happened to you back home.  You have to deal with it."

Mel: "You always try to control my life!  You're not my mother (whom something horrible happened to).  I hate you!"  She storms out.  Tragedy count: 8, counting marital problems.

Scene 5: Mel goes to the diner to ask Hot Guy Jack if she should stay in Virgin River or move back to L.A. "Well, maybe you should go home. Family is everything.   On the other hand, maybe you should stay. Being independent is everything.  I hope this advice was helpful."

Scene 6
: Preacher (Colin Lawrence), who is not really a preacher, and a girl named Paige are loading up pecan pies for the Mingle (I thought he was roasting a pig?).  He notes some inconsistencies in her back story, which she scrambles to smooth out, while her young son glares at her.  Then Preacher asks her to the Mingle.  Uh-oh, the dreaded date request from a loser!  "Oh...um...um... I would, but...I have to, um...wash my hair."  

When Preacher leaves, Son calls her out on her lies:  "Geez, kid, it was just an excuse to get out of a date with a creepy old dude. You'll be doing it too, when you get older.  Get used to it."

Scene 7:  
Hot Guy Jack has ordered Bartender (Benjamin Hollingsworth) and Ricky the Busboy to help him clean out an old cabin.  Suddenly sultry, slinky Veronica to Mel's Betty drives up to ask whether they should eat before or after the Mingle (there will be food at the Mingle, duh!).   Apparently she has really come to smooch with Hot Guy Jack and enjoy Bartender's jealous glare.  

When Veronica leaves, Bartender grimaces: "Don't you get tired, screwing two women at the same time?"  "It wasn't at the same time," Hot Guy Jack replies, "But thanks for the idea!"  

Scene 8: The Mingle, which is held in a big barn, naturally.  Not enough people to justify 20 pecan pies.  The town is racially diverse, but I see only see boy-girl dancers except for a boy-boy-girl teenage trio.  As Town Bully Hope and the biddies gossip, soon-to-be-ex husband Doc rushes in to yell: "Why didn't you show up at the divorce lawyer's meeting?"  "I was busy!  People don't bully themselves, you know, and I had to talk Preacher into bringing pecan pies instead of a pig.  It always has to be a p-word with that guy!" 

Mel and Big Sister Joey make an entrance.  Preacher rushes over to be introduced, but Joey sees someone she likes better and scrams (rejected twice in a couple of hours!  Harsh!).  So when the slow dance begins (all boy-girl couples), it's Preacher and Mel.  They discuss the horrible thing that happened to Hot Guy Jack back in Iraq. Tragedy count: 9.

Scene 9: Time to change partners!  Still all boy-girl.  This round, Mel gets Ricky the Busboy,.  Hot Guy Jack and scary sultry Veronica arrive; she immediately vanishes, and Hot Guy Jack notices, in ashen-faced horror, that Big Sister Joey is talking to Bartender!  Why is he so upset? Did he want Joey for himself, or is Bartender a serial killer?

Time to change partners!  This round, Mel gets Town Doctor Doc, who happens to be her boss.  He's surprisingly good; he explains that he took ballroom dancing in high school in order to meet "pretty girls."  Yuck!  

Scene 10: Time to change partners!  Mel sits this one out so she can call home and get some intel on Big Sister Joey.  Preacher gazes in jaw-dropping "Girl of His Dreams" awe at Paige.  She already shot him down for a date, but surely she'll accept a dance!You choose partners; it's not random, and they can refuse.  How is this different from a regular dance?  

Meanwhile, Town Bully Hope sees her soon-to-be-ex husband Doc dancing with Big Sister Joey!  Her mouth contorts into a beautfully over-acted snarl 

Sultry Girlfriend Veronica returns from 45 minutes in the ladies' room and latches onto Hot Guy Jack, who looks horrified.  He exchanges glances with Bartender, across the room.  Obviously Jack hates his girlfriend, but is afraid to dump her, or she'll tear off his head and eat his insides.

Scene 11: Time to change partners, and this time the DJ announces:  "no wallflowers!  Everybody has to get out onto the dance floor in boy-girl couples, or everyone in town will hate them forever!"  It's an empty threat -- plenty of people remain on the sidelines and at the little tables.

This time Big Sister Joey is dancing with Bartender (finally named: Brady).  Mel wants to leave, but she's not ready: "I'm sure Brady will offer me a ride home.  To one of our homes, anyway.  Ciao!"

Scene 12: 
Time to change partners!  This time we hear about Doc's problems, and Preacher finally gets the nerve to ask Paige to dance (have you ever seen a 40-year old so shy about romantic gestures?)  

But halfway through the dance, Paige sees Wes (Michael Shanks) come in: "Oh my God, what is he doing here?"  She grabs her son and rushes out.  She passes two women dancing together.  Heterosexual women do that sometimes, but they look like they are into each other, so maybe it's a blink-and-you-miss-it background lesbian couple.  

Time to switch partners!  Hot Guy Jack gets an elderly lady,  who thanks him for mentoring Ricky the Busboy, her grandson.  They discuss the horrible thing that happened to him. Tragedy count: 10. 

Scene 13: Time to switch partners!  I feel like I've been scanning this room for same-sex couples on the dance floor or at the little tables for hours.  Hot Guy Jack gets his girlfriend back.  After they discuss the horrible thing that happpened to the elderly lady in Scene 12 (Tragedy count: 11),  Jack decides to dump Veronica on the spot.  "It's like, we were just having some fun, and now you're trying to make it all real.  I'm not into a relationship!"   "But we've been together for two years!"  Sob, sob, drama, run out.

Jack immediately moves on to Betty...um, I mean Mel, who is all depressed over her big sister's marital problems.  Out of the 11 horrible things mentioned in this episode, you're upset over that one?  "Well, let's hook up.  That will take your mind off it.  I have a really big penis, remember?" 

The DJ yells out another "no wallflowers" number, so Mel and Jack hit the dance floor.  He sees Big Sister Joey giggling with Bartender, and roils with jealousy.  Which are you jealous of, dude?  Do you have a thing for Bartender? Or is that sour look your only facial expression?

They rush over to break up the couple.  Jack: "I order you to not have sex with Joey.  She's married."  Bartender: "I'm off duty.  You can't tell me who to have sex with, like you do at the bar.  I'm not your boy toy!"  Jack punches him; he falls to the ground.  Mel grabs Joey and ushers her out.  The end.

Beefcake: No.  Some cute guys.

Gay characters: Are you kidding?

Gay subtexts: Doubful.

About every tragedy trope from a year's worth of soap operas.  I read ahead in the episode synopsis: everybody has a ridiculous number of horrible things happen to them. Even Ricky the Busboy.

My Grade: A.  This show is unintentionally hilarious.  I just wish I had Joel and the Bots from MST3K to riff with.

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