Mar 9, 2022

The "Better Nate Than Ever" Series: Gay Theater Kid from Pennsylvania


I have reconciled myself to the fact that the Better Nate Than Ever series by Tim Federle has nothing to do with the Big Nate series by Lincoln Peirce.  The characters just have the same name and age, the authors have both introduced coming-out story arcs, and googling on "Big Nate," "Lincoln Peirce," and "gay" brings you directly to a review of Better Nate than Ever.  

After you stop looking for connections, you find a very funny series of young adult novels about a gay theater kid.  Every book is written in the first person and present tense, which adds immediacy.  However, nothing can be included that Nate doesn't know at that moment, leading to some awkward attempts to position him in exactly the right spot to overhear vital information. 

In the first book of the trilogy, Better Nate Than Ever, 13-year old Nate sneaks from his small town of Janksville, Pennsylvania to audition for the part of Elliot, the boy who befriends a stranded alien visitor, in E.T.: The Musical.  Most of the story involves interesting real-life details of the extenuated audition process. 

Although Nate says that his sexual identity is "undecided," there are a few clues.  He sees two guys kiss through the open door of a bar, and no one beats them up; later he says that this was his favorite part of New York.  Plus he befriends Aunt Heidi's hot roommate, and watches him from the back as he walks down the street: "the pants fit very well," Nate comments. (The roommate will not appear in the 2022 movie version.)

In the second book, Five, Six, Seven, Nate, Nate is cast, but not as Elliot: as the back-up understudy for E.T,, which means he has to learn all the lines and dances, but will only go on if both the actor cast as E.T. and his understudy fail.  Most of the book involves the interesting details of prepping and rehearsal for a stage play.  Plus Nate starts dating Jordan, the practically perfect experienced child actor cast as Elliot (he doesn't appear in the 2022 movie version, either.)

In the third book, Nate Expectations, the musical has closed, and Nate, now 14, is back home, in high school.  He and his friends produce a musical version of Great Expectations for English class, but can't perform it because they can't get the rights to the songs.  

There are also asides about Nate's parents trying to signal that they're ok with his gay identity without actually saying anything.   Plus Jordan, now cast in a tv show, begins ghosting Nate, and a new boy, Ben, starts expressing interest, culminating with a gigantic song-and-dance number to ask him to the Homecoming Dance.  We don't actually see the dance: the book ends when the English teacher assigns Nate a thousand-word essay on how he became his "best self," and he decides to title it Better Nate than Ever.

Now, if only someone could figure out how this all is connected to Big Nate.

See also: Better Nate Than Ever.

Mar 7, 2022

Spin and Marty: Summer Camp Boys in Love

In the spring of 1955, William Beaudine began casting an adaptation of the novel Marty Markham, about a wealthy mollycoddle who learns to be a regular fella at summer camp.   When buzz-cut jock Tim Considine auditioned, he was deemed too macho to play Marty, but far too charismatic to pass on, so a minor character in the novel, Spin Evans, was expanded for him.

 Marty was cast with David Stollery, a fey redhead who starred with Tim in Her Twelve Men (1954).

The Adventures of Spin and Marty premiered in November 1955 as a serial segment of Disney’s late-afternoon kiddie show The Mickey Mouse Club.

Though the original novel contains no homoromance, the tough-sissy contrast seems tailor-made for a revival of Tom Brown’s School Days or Cadets on Parade, and the series wastes no time in meeting the beefcake quota, displaying both stars' muscles and the respectable physique of an older boy (Sammy Ogg).  (Kevin Corcoran starred as tagalong annoyance Moochie.)

However, there is no instant camaraderie, no moment of falling in love.  In the first twenty episodes, Spin and Marty despise each other.  They often stare at each other, but they come face-to-face only for pranks, insults, and fights.  Late in the season, as counselors break up their latest fight by holding them upside down, Spin and Marty seem to really see each other for the first time.  Their shield of rage vanishes; they grin, and then laugh, and suddenly, inevitably, they are “together.”

In the remaining episodes, their fellow campers and the adults behave as if they have always been inseparable companions.  Intimacy appears, and passion when each tries to sacrifice himself for the other.  They even achieve homoromantic permanence: in the last scene, as the other campers prepare to go home, they are invited to stay on as ranch hands.

Viewers – grade schoolers and no doubt not a few high schoolers – were mesmerized by this hostility melting into love, and they responded with an urgency unknown in the days of Tom Brown’s School Days.  Books, comics, sheet music, and 45-rpm records flew off the shelves, continuing to evoke the homoromantic Arcadia for two years after the series ended.  Today, when the other live-action segments of The Mickey Mouse Club have faded into obscurity, many Boomers recall Spin and Marty fondly, as icons of their childhood.  Many recall them, clearly and unequivocally, as a gay couple.

In November 1956, Tim Considine and David Stollery returned for The Further Adventures of Spin and Marty.  Now Spin has an impressively tight, hard-lined chest and stomach, while Marty is lean and lanky (and decidedly feminine).  They are on display often and earnestly, as are all of the boys, presented in swimsuit and underwear shots as often as in Toy Soldiers decades later. But their homoromantic idyll is threatened: a girl’s camp has just opened up across the lake, and after some initial hesitation, they spend the series posturing, competing, and arguing over who gets to date Annette Funicello.  Then, when Marty is drowning, Spin rushes to the rescue.  The crisis makes them realize how much they care for each other and they renew their commitment, swearing off trivial distractions like girls.  Homoromance has triumphed.

But not for long.  In The New Adventures of Spin and Marty (November 1958), seventeen-year old Spin is dating Annette, and Marty is dating her fellow Mousketeer Darlene Gillespie.  Whatever passion they once felt for each other has been forgotten; they are not now, nor ever have been, more than buddies.

A fourth season of Spin and Marty was scripted, but never filmed.  Instead Tim Considine went on to star as in a Hardy Boys adaption with Tommy Kirk and Kevin Corcorran. and as the eldest of My Three Sons on television before retiring, and David Stollery left Disneyland to become an automobile designer, and marry once. They still run into each other from time to time, at fan conventions, but they have not stayed in touch.

"Back to Fifteen": No Adult or Teen Beefcake, But a Trans Best Friend in this Brazilian Comedy-Drama

 Researching Back to 15, the new Netflix Brazilian comedy-drama about a 30 year old who travels back in time to relive her teenage years, resulted in superlatives: "the most anticipated Netflix show of the year!", "a stellar cast!", "an intriguing premise."  

Intriguing?  I've seen Back to the Future.  But I'll take a look.

Scene 1:
Establishing shot of a beautiful red-roofed town in the mountains of Brazil, 2006.  Anita, in her pastel-colored girly-girl room, is overjoyed because she has successfully created her own video blog.  She puts on her pink girly-girl shoes, and flashes her multi-spangled girly-girl fingers over the keys, writing that she likes kittens, rainbows, Paris, perfume, and the movie Amelie.  

"When will I be an adult, so I move out of this horrible small town and can start living my life?" she moans.  Like buy more pink accessories?

Too... much... girlness.... getting...faint...quick, somebody show me a bicep! Or a penis.  Or a football.

Whew, that's better.

Scene 2:  2021.  The 30-year old Anita, still in girly-girl pink sneakers, awakens in a horrible apartment with the same decor as her old room.  She's in the big city of Sao Paulo, but nothing has changed: she has no job, no boyfriend, no friends.  Mom calls: It's sister Luiza's wedding day, and she can't be late.  Plot dump: her Dad is dead, and Anita hates her sister for having a perfect life, while she's a flop at adulting.

Scene 3:
Anita at the pre-wedding reception, being all floozy, boozy, and sarcastic.  (Gay couple sighting: two guys alone at a table).  All the people she hated in high school are there, including the Groom, Douglas; the Three Bullies; and the sleazy Fabrizio (Bruno Montaleone, left), who says "Face it, your life is pretty shitty. Mine is, too."

Former best friend Henrique is now "surprisingly hot," although his adult life is horrible, too: he had to give up on his dream of becoming a musician.  Ten to one Anita hooks up with him when she goes back to the past. 

More desperate lives: Cousin Carol had to give up her dream of coaching handball when her (abusive?) husband Eduardo disapproved; meanwhile Eduardo hits on every women in sight, including Anita.  But no one in town says anything.

Finally Anita's hatred boils over, and she yells at all the wedding guests, while they stare in shock and film her on their cell phones.  Then she runs up to her old room, which has has not changed at all, lies on the bed, and asks "Where did things go wrong? I was happy once..."  All alone in the moonlight, I can smile at the old days -- I was beautiful then.  Once I knew what happiness was....Sorry, wrong show.  "If only I could undo the last 15 years and start over..."

She turns on her old desktop computer and tries to log into her old video blog. Zap!  She's 15 again!

Scene 4:  While Anita is freaking out, her 15-years-younger sister Luiza comes in: time for school!  Assuming that this is a weird lucid dream, she dresses and follows Luiza out the door.  She marvels at the ancient world of her childhood: the cars!  The clothes!  Bubblegum ice cream!  The naked performance artist!  What's wrong with this small town?  It looks like a nonstop Carnival.  

It's the first day of high school, traditionally "hazing day," where the older kids laugh, point, and yell at selected new students, thus scarring them for life.  Ana cringes, remembering the insults: "You're a freak!  A monster!  So hideous!  You should wear a bag on your head!  No one will ever love you!"  

Scene 5:  They reach the high school. Anita's best friend Henrique and cousin Carol join her, all upset over the hazing they will receive today: "We're going to die!  They'll rip us apart!"  But the adult Anita has a plan: hide.

Henrique and Anita decide to hide in the video library, where no one ever goes, but Cousin Carol opts for the courtyard.  As she runs past, Eduardo her future husband claims her: "That one's mine."   He then ridicules his friend Joel for being a virgin.  

Scene 6:  Henrique and Anita wander the stacks in the deserted library.  They see a boy-girl couple making out.  "How stupid!" Anita sneers.  Henrique reluctantly agrees: "Who'd want to kiss anyone?  It's gross!"  

They sit in the stacks, where Henrique gets all goofy-eyed with absurdly over-acted hetero-horniness.  Anita, ignoring his absurdly obvious obsession, gets all goofy-eyed over the memory of VHS tapes, which apparently they still used in Brazil in 2006.  They make a date to watch actual VHS movies that night.   Her body is 15, but her mind and experiences are 30.  Hooking up doesn't sound ethical.  

I get bored and fast forward through Henrique's interminable bad flirting.

They are interrupted by another student hiding, Cesar (Pedro Vinicius), a boy with a girl's hairstyle.  He points out that for him, every day is hazing day.  Even his brother, Sleazy Fabrizio,  bullies him (the plot thickens!).  Plus he has a boyfriend online who lives in town, but uses a fake profile and won't give his real name.  I'll bet it's Joel the Virgin.

Scene 7: Cousin Carol is hiding in the courtyard (next to the snack counter? not smart).  The three bullies approach and offer protection, but her three "nerdy friends" (Anita, bff Henrique, and Cesar) are grabbed for hazing.

The students gather in a circle to watch, laugh, and point while the three bullies hurl insults.  But the 30-year old Anita turns the tables and insults the bullies instead.  Although she includes some references to their future lives that they don't understand, they are crushed.  She gets an ovation from the students who had gathered around to laugh and point; apparently they just wanted to see someone insulted.  

Scene 8:  After school.  Cousin Carol and BFF Henrique go off, leaving Anita and Cesar, who offers to give her a makeover.  They get their ears pierced and take a selfie -- 2006 style, with a camera (remember those?).  

Scene 9: Back home, Anita posts the selfie on her video blog.  And Zap!  She's back to the future, in her old room on the day of her sister's pre-wedding reception!  Cesar comes in -- now Camilla  -- and congratulates Anita on her lovely speech.  She still has pierced ears -- it wasn't a dream!  Now everyone loves her,  and Camilla is her best friend, just because she made some minor changes to the events of a day 15 years ago.  Whew, butterfly effect!  The End.

None.  I checked the adult and teenage versions of Fabrizio, Henrique, Joel, and Eduardo, and found only one beefcake photo.  Two, if you count this photo from Paulo Muccheroni's instagram. (I don't know who he plays)

LGBTQ Characters: Cesar is transgender.  Maybe Joel is gay.  

Heterosexism:  Hey, Henrique, Anita is your best friend.  That means you are comfortable with her.  Why the jaw-dropping hetero-horny longing, as if you have just now seen the Girl of Your Dreams  waking in slow motion across the yard?

Will I Keep Watching: I definitely want to know how each zap into the past will change Anita's world in the present.  And if Cesar finally meets his internet boyfriend.

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