Jun 16, 2022

"Dead End: Paranormal Park": LGBT and Neurodivergent Teens Fight Demons

Netflix has a good track record of including gay/lesbian characters in its animated series, so when Dead End: Paranormal Park popped into my recommendations, I reviewed the first episode.

Prologue: A woman in a red dress and high-heeled shoes runs toward an old mansion, chased by an invisible presence.  She runs inside, up some stairs, and into a hall of mirrors.  Where she is attacked by a zombie version of herself!

Scene 1: A pastel-colored suburban street.  A boy with a tuft of purple hair and a bulbous red nose (Zach Barack) gets dressed and looks at an flier: "Humans wanted for job at Dead End in Phoenix Park."

Meanwhile, three houses down, a girl is preening in front of a mirror in a room cluttered with pictures of the red-dress woman.  On tv, people are discussing how photographs capture your soul.

Scene 2: Mom tells the boy that his job interview --- "at sundown" -- conflicts with Grandma coming  to dinner tonight.  "Did you tell her Barney would be there?" he asks.  "She wouldn't understand," Mom counters. Is Barney, like, a boyfriend? And out into the pastel world, accompanied by a chubby dog named Pugsley.

Meanwhile, three doors down, the girl fights off her mom's excessive hugging and kissing and goes out into the pastel world herself.  She has a copy of the job flier.

Scene 3: 
They get on the bus together.  They're the same age and live close by, but she doesn't know him.  She gets all "stranger danger" frightened, and when he calls her by her name -- Norma -- she attacks.  "Wait -- we know each other.  We go to school together.  We're lab partners."  Turns out that Norma is neurodiverse, so when she sees someone she knows in an unusual environment, she doesn't recognize him.  

The boy's name turns out to be Barney. Maybe he's transgender, and Grandma insists on calling him by his deadname?   

The red-dress woman appears on tv: famous actress Pauline Phoenix, explaining that she built a theme park with five zones based upon her movies and tv shows.   "And if you see anything suspicious, keep it to yourself."  Gulp.

Scene 4: At Phoenix Park -- you enter through the mouth of a giant Pauline Phoenix head.  Gulp.  A parody of Disneyland, except instead of Cinderella's Castle, it's dominated by the Dead End, the haunted house that Pauline was attacked in earlier.  It's been closed, Norma tells us, since one of the park's Pauline impersonators vanished a year ago.  So the woman in the Prologue must have been a Pauline impersonator.

When they enter Dead End, a small orange demon with a tubular head appears: "Welcome, mortals.  You two must be the offerings.  I didn't realize that there'd be choices."  Wait -- aren't you the one who sent the fake fliers? Why did you send two, if you didn't expect two victims?

Various scary beings appear, I am particularly freaked out by a human figure with a sheet wrapped around its head and a pice of paper pinned to its face.  Barney catches on that this is not an ordinary job interview, but Norma, still oblivious, asks "Does this job come with benefits?"  "Blood made of fire," the orange demon tells her.  "Immortality."

Temeluchus the Demon King ascends from the underworld in an elevator.  Orange Demon tells him that she brought two humans.  "They'd both make excellent new bodies for you.  Which do you prefer?"  

The Demon King chooses Barney, but just as the green protusion streteches across to him, the dog Pugsley intervenes.  Now he is trapped in the dog's body!  Orange Demon argues that she provided bodies -- it's not her fault that Demon King chose the wrong one -- so can she be released from the curse and go home?  "No." Demon King/Pugsley flies off to find a throne, so he can rule this world.

Scene 5: Barney follows to save his dog.  Norma stays behind to interrogate the Orange Demon (named Courtney): the only way to get Temeluchus out of the dog is to trap him in a new vessel.  Fortunately, Norma remembers from earlier today that photographs capture your soul.

Barney and Norma find the Demon King/Pugsley sitting on a throne in the Medieval section of the park, Camelot Court.   They try to take photographs, but he crushes their cell phones. But Medieval section's log ride takes your picture automatically.  They just need to lure him onto the ride, and stay alive long enough....

Scene 6: The plan worked -- Demon King is trapped in a photograph.  They return to the Dead End house and give it to Orange Demon.  A lot of demons are going to be upset over the loss of their king, and come after her for revenge.  Would they like real jobs at the park, as demon busters?  Of course -- otherwise be lousy story.

Norma goes home. Barney stays behind; he wants to stay overnight in the Dead End house.  To avoid his transphobic  Grandma?  The dog Pugsley has been changed by his encounter with Demon King -- he's sentient!  He can talk!  The end.

LGBT Characters:
If I hadn't done any research, I would not have caught the hint that Barney is transgender.  Maybe they are more overt in future episodes.

The series is based upon the Deadendia graphic novels by Hamish Steele, which also feature a trans boy protagonist and a neurodiverse sidekick (and bulbous noses and tufts of blue hair).  Several voice artists are LGBT, including Zack Barack (Barney) and Miss Coco Peru (Pauline Phoenix). 

Heterosexism:  Norma seems attracted to Barney.  She invites him to dinner with a red-faced embarrasment.  But apparently Barney gets a boyfriend later on.

Runanway: I don't understand why Barney doesn't want to go home.  Grandma may be transphobic, but Mom seems fine.  I didn't notice any hints of abuse.

Neurodivergent:  That should actually be explained. Otherwise it makes no sense for Norma to fail to recognize someone who she sees all the time.

The Hall of Mirrors: The opening, with Pauline or one of her impersonators being attacked in a hall of mirrors, seems unconnected to the plot about the Demon King.  Barney walks through the same hall with no mishaps, not even a scare.

My Grade: B+.

Jun 14, 2022

Going to Movies in 1986: Rob Lowe in a Jockstrap, Christian Slater Bares His Butt, and Crocodile Dundee Hates Gays

 Let's go back to 1986, my first full year in West Hollywood, when I was trying to be socialized into my new gay subculture by doing what was expected, like avoiding movie theaters.  Going to movies wasn't exactly a sin, as it had been for Nazarenes; it was perceived as stupid.  Hollywood movies were for horny heterosexuals, involving endless women's body parts and homophobic slurs.  Why would you want to see anything like that?  But I hadn't been fully socialized yet, so I went to 16 movies in the theater that year.  Several I regretted.  

January: Youngblood, to see Rob Lowe in a jock strap.  Well, this was the only photo of a semi-naked man that I was likely to see that entire month, unless I forked over a ridiculous sum for a copy of In Touch magazine. 

February: The Hitcher, to see C. Thomas Howell with his shirt off.  He doesn't take his shirt off, he gets a girlfriend, and there's a gross girl-being-torn-in-half scene that made me physically sick.

February (second movie of the month!): House, because at the time we thought that William Katt  of The Greatest American Hero (1981-86) was gay.  There's a bit of buddy-bonding in the premise, where troubled writer Roger (Katt) is haunted by the memory of a buddy killed in Vietnam.  Or was he?  Of course, heterosexism triumphs: Roger gets back together with the ex-wife who left him so they could get back together, a cliche almost as hoary as the "dead wife."  Even in 1986.

March: None

Band of the Hand, because it was directed by Paul Michael Glaser, whom at the time we thought was gay.  After all, he starred with David Soul in Starsky and Hutch (1975-79). about two cop partners obviously in love.  The Band gets a 13% approval rating on Rotton Tomatoes.  But it features five shirtless hunks, one gay-coded, trying to clear the drug dealers out of their neighborhood, and I don't remember any boy-girl romances.  What's not to like?  

April (second movie): A Room with a View, because it was based on a novel by E.M. Forster, whom, we had just discovered, was gay.  But Room is a period-piece romance set in Italy.  No gay texts or subtexts.

May: None

June: Invaders from Mars, an homage to the old 1950s sci-fi movies, with a 12-year old boy (Hunter Carson) trying to convince his family, neighbors, and finally the army that Martians have landed.  He gets a straight-subtext romance with the school nurse! 

June (second movie): Ferris Bueller's Day Off, because who wouldn't want to see Matthew Broderick in anything?

July: Aliens, because we saw the original.  Ripley (Sigourney Weaver), who fought an alien predator in deep space back in 1979, discovers that it wasn't alone.  She also fights mansplaining marines and saves a little girl.  No heterosexual romance, which was nice for a change.

August: The Fly, because it was another homage to those 1950s sci-fi movies. Jeff Goldblum invents a teleportation device, but accidentally merges his DNA with that of a housefly.  You know how flies eat, right?  I was physically ill.  I couldn't even finish my popcorn.  But wehn he tries to reverse the error, things get even worse.  Plus he has a girlfriend.

August (movie #2 of the month): Caravaggio, about the gay painter of the Italian Baroque era.  It paints gay men (well, actually, everyone is bisexual) as murderous thugs.  But at least Caravaggio (Nigel Terry) kisses a boy (Sean Bean) amid all of the hetero-hijinks.

Blue Velvet, because we heard that it was "decadent," which is code for "gay."  Actually there are no gay people, but the heterosexuals don't come across as particularly benevolent, either.  There's drug addiction, S&M (not the fun kind), human trafficking, sexual violence, regular violence, and a severed ear (again, I couldn't even finish my popcorn).  On the other hand, Kyle MacLachlan,  the innocent college boy who is drawninto the belly of the beast, flashes an aroused penis in one scene. We left the theater asking "Did I see what I thought I saw?"

September (movie #2): The Name of the Rose, about murder in a Medieval Italian monastery, because in the novel by Umberto Eco (1980), there's a gay character (who commits suicide naturally).  None here, and there's incessant female nudity.  Who knew that monasteries had so many naked girls in them.  To be fair, sort of, Christian Slater gets a brief bare butt shot.

September (movie #3): Crocodile Dundee, because everyone saw it.  The croc hunter is horrifically sexist, homophobic, and transphobic -- there's actually a scene ridiculing a "man dressed as a sheila."  But in 1986, who cared?  Nearly every movie threw in some "fag" slurs, a gay panic scene, or a swishy stereotype.  It was just the price you paid for going to a movie.

October: Jumpin' Jack Flash, because it starred Whoopi Goldberg.  I had no idea at the time that the title was referencing a song by the Rolling Stones. I have since looked up the lyrics, but the images are opaque: a guy dies several times, including once at the Crucifixion, but it's ok because he's "Jumpin' Jack Flash."  What does that have to do with a plot about a mild-mannered bank employee who gets involved with spies?

November: Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, because we saw anything having to do with Star Trek.  This one has a stupid plot about a spaceship staffed by humpbank whales wondering where their comrades on Earth went.  But at least it featured one of my Weho friends in a tiny role.

December: None.  It's Christmas.  I spent half the month back home in Rock Island, and my parents, still Nazarenes, didn't permit me to go to movies.

"Malibu Country": Reba McIntyre Stars in the Most Startlingly Homophobic Piece This Side of "Chuck and Buck"


In the days before streaming, American tv shows had to run for at least 100 episodes (about four years), or they wouldn't go to syndication and you would never see them again.  Today the streaming services, hungry for new content, are grabbing up shows that were yanked after a year or two, or even after a few episodes, and selling them as masterpieces. And as new!

Today Hulu tried to sell me Malibu Country as a newly-aired masterpiece -- it actually ran for five months in 2012-2013.  Several years after Reba, country music legend Reba McEntire returned briefly to tv as a  country music legend who moves from the South to Malibu ("swimming pools...movie stars").  Let me guess -- homespun down-to-earth family-friendly wisdom will triumph over big city greed, yawn.  But it has a gay character, Jai Rodriguez as a record label executive, and in an interview with The Advocate, Reba assures us that other gay characters will appear: "I've got a huge gay following, and they've always been supportive," she explains.  So I'll review the first episode.

Scene 1: A gossip tv show fills us in on the premise: 15 years ago, country-western singer Reba dropped out of show business to be a stay-at-home mom.  But the media just discovered that her husband, country music legend Bobby (Jeffrey Nording. top photo), had an affair.  During a press conference, he apologizes "to God and his family," and forces Reba to say that she forgives him.  Instead she yells: "You're a moron, and I'm divorcing your lying, cheating butt!"  

Scene 2:
Reba in the car with her elderly mother, teenage daughter June, and teenage son Cash (Justin Prentice, left), fielding questions about why they're moving from the South (Nashville) to Malibu ("swimming pools...movie stars").  Cash is excited about getting a new, hot girlfriend to augment his girlfriend back home.  Hetero-horniness established in the first words out of his mouth!  Boo! 

This is obviously a Beverly Hillbillies homage, with Reba as Jed, Cash as Jethro, June as Elly Mae, and Mom as Granny.

Scene 3:  They are shocked by the elegance of their new house.  As the family of a country music legend, they must have had a nice house back home, but they act as if they were living in a cabin in the hills, like the Beverly Hillbillies.  Cash's second line: "Hey, we're right on the beach,  I can't wait to see some girls in bikinis, because they put boobs in bikinis and I'm heterosexual and obsessed with boobs."  

Next door neighbor Kim introduces herself.  Reba is a hero to all of the wives in Malibu because of her bravery in broadcasting her husband's wrongdoing.  She would like to hold a press conference and announce "My husband likes to wear my panties!"  Her second line is a transphobic joke. She's standing right next to Mom, played by Lily Tomlin, a lesbian who has been out in Hollywood for 40 years. 

Her third line is a suggestion that Reba get a plastic surgeon to augment her boobs, so she'll fit in with the other wives in Malibu.  Mom asks "Did you used to be a man?"  Trans women didn't "used to be men," you transphobe. They were always women.  They get gender affirmation surgery to make their bodies correspond more closely to their actual gender.

Scene 4:  Afternoon.  Reba comes in with groceries and asks Cash how his first day of school went.  Not good -- his girlfriend back home dumped him, and not many Malibu girls want to show him their boobs.  But shy, friendless wallflower daughter June likes it here because she made a friend!

Reba is shocked when the friend turns out to be a boy, Sage (Hudson Thames), the son of Kim next door.  It's ok for teenage boys to have sex with girls, but teenage girls must never look at boys,  talk to boys or interact with them in any way, ever! 

Daughter June reassures her: "It's ok -- he's gay."  Reba is shocked again: "But you don't seem gay -- you seem normal." She means that he's not swishy.  She thought all gay men were hairdressers who said "fabulous" a lot. 

Scene 5: Reba has an appointment with record producer Mr. Bata to talk about re-launching her country music career, but she runs afoul of his swishy, limp-wristed assistant, Geoffrey (Jai Rodriguez).  See, all real gay men swish!  He tells her that Mr. Bata is planning to set up appointments because her ex-husband is very important, and then cancel them because he isn't interested in helping her.  She's not young and sexy, and she has no "hook."  Couldn't she sing in live venues instead of cutting a new record?

Scene 6: Back home, Reba discovers that Mom has a new prescription for marijuana edibles.  "No drugs" she shrieks.  

Discovering that her teenage daughter is at Sage's house, Reba shrieks "We don't even know him!" and runs over to stop her daughter from having male friends.  They're kissing!  Apparently Sage just tells girls that he's gay so they will say "I'm so good in bed, I'm sure I can change you back to normal again."  How would that work?  Maybe girls in Nashville still think that you can change from gay to straight, but surely girls in California know that you can't.

Reba calls out Kim, the mother, to tell on Sage: "He's telling girls he's gay to get them into bed!"  Kim is oblivious: "You have a problem with homosexuals!" How would she be still using that outdated, offensive term, in California, while thinking that her son is gay?  She offers to teach Reba how to be more tolerant, but Reba is having none of it.  She rushes out in disgust.

Scene 7:
Everyone is gathered in the kitchen.  Reba rushes in.  She hates Malibu, with the fake homos and the real homos, and the girls making friends with boys.  They're moving back to the South, where no one is gay or fake gay, boys have sex with girls, and no girl ever talks to a boy.  Hey, Reba, they've been celebrating Nashville Pride every year since 1988.

Son Cash is thrilled: "I'll be able to have sex with girls again!"  Mom, not so much. "You can get your country-music career back out here.  Not in Nashville."  Not in the country music capital of the world, where she must have dozens of contacts in the industry from her famous husband?  Reba decides to try to make it work.

Scene 8: Reba working on a song: "Getting out of the saddle in my pickup truck." Do pickup trucks really have saddles?  "I love everything about my new life, especially the part where I'm not your wife."

Scene 9:
Back to the music producer's office to encounter swishy assistant Gregory.  She announces that she now has a hook.  She doesn't say what it is, but I'm guessing Malibu Country?

Scene 10: Everyone in the kitchen again.  As Reba struggles to make things work, Cash talks about football (not girls?), and June announces that she has made another new friend, Charlie.  Reba starts to yell, but June reassures her: Charlie is a girl -- and she's a lesbian.  "That's ok, right?"  Reba grits her teeth.  "We got some rough sledding ahead, Mama." The end.

 I am astonished at the overt homophobia of this character, and the series in general.  Surely with two gay actors in the cast, someone said something?  Surely Reba said something.  She's got a "huge gay following,' after all.

My Grade: Chuck and Buck level.

See also: Chuck and Buck, the Most Homophobic Move Since Cruising/

Jun 12, 2022

Going to Movies in 1993: Sylvester Stallone Hangs from a Cliff, Harrison Ford Gets a Buddy, and There are Witches


I had fun going through the list of wide-release movies from 30 years ago to find out what I watched in the theater back in West Hollywood.  I'm not sure how much fun it was to read about it, but it was fun to research. Next up: 1993, where I saw 13 movies in the theater.

Matinee, because it featured a buddy-bond between monster-movie fan high schoolers Simon Fenton and Omri Katz (whom we knew from The Marshall Chronicles and Eerie, Indiana).  They both get girlfriends while fighting off a movie-monster killer, but a trivial obstacle like a boy-girl fade-out kiss never stood in the way of true romance..  

February; Groundhog Day.  I don't remember why we saw it, since we weren't fans of Bill Murray (or any of the Saturday Night Live crew, whom we considered homophobic). Maybe the time-loop plot was sufficiently close to science fiction.

March: Swing Kids.  Two guys (Christian Bale, top photo, Robert Sean Leonard) buddy-bond in a "decadent" swing club in Nazi Germany, until one is fully indoctrinated.

April: None

: Cliffhanger.  Actually a drama about mountain-climbing cops, with a dead girlfriend and a hetero-romance, but who cared?  It featured Sylvester Stallone hanging from cliffs in a muscle-displaying outfit.

May (second movie of the month!): Super Mario Brothers.  I never played the original video game, but who wouldn't want to see John Leguizamo with his shirt off (back when he was cute, before he got all bohemian and weird and started wearing gross rings).

June: Orlando, an adaption of the Virginia Woolf novel about a young man in the Elizabethan era who lives forever and eventually turns into a woman.  It didn't make a lot of sense, but at least there was some queer symbolism.

June: Jurassic Park, because everyone saw it.

July: Hocus Pocus, because it starred the totally cute Omri Katz (see Matinee, above) fighting three reincarnated witches --played by the gay positive Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Kathy Najimy).  No actual gay content unless you include the witches' familiar, a sassy, feminine boy transformed into a black cat.

August: The Fugitive, because my boyfriend watched the original 1960s tv series about a man on the run because the cops think he killed his wife.  In the movie version, Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) walks off into the sunset with Sam Gerard (Tommy Lee Jones), the federal marshall previously obsessed with his capture, and now his best friend.

August (second movie!):
Surf Ninjas.  Surfing and martial arts, two sure-fire ways to see beefcake.  Turns out that the surf ninjas were rather young, but the oldest, Ernie Reyes Jr., was quite a hunk.  Plus they have a gay -vague assistant.

August (third movie!): The Wedding Banquet, from Taiwainabout a man planning his wedding (to a woman) even though he has a boyfriend on the side.  A gay theme!  I think that 100% of the audience consisted of gay men.

September: None

October: The Beverly Hillbillies, because we watched the original show as kids (about noveau-riche hillbillies trying unsuccessfully to adjust to life in glamorous Beverly Hills).  And because we wanted to see if the actor who plays Jethro (Diedrich Bader) takes his shirt off.  He doesn't. 

November: Addams Family Values, the second movie based on the macabre family that first appeared in single-panel comic strips by Charles Addams.  Writer Paul Rudnick was gay, but it would mean box-office death to include anything specifically gay in the film.  Nevertheless, the satire on Bush-era "family values" gave it a queer sensibility.  

December: None.  It's the dreaded Christmas season.  Who has time?

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