Oct 14, 2022

"The Watcher": Ryan Murphy Produces a Way, Way, Way Non-Gay Haunted House Story


The Watcher, on Netflix, sounds like a standard nuclear-family haunted house story.  But it's written and produced by Ryan Murphy, who specializes in gay-themed projects (Hollywood, Halston, Circus of Books, the remake of Boys in the Band), so it doubtless has some gay characters.  I reviewed Episode 1,  "Welcome, Friends."

Scene 1:  The nuclear family (Dad Dean, Mom Nora, Teenage Daughter, Preteen Son (why is it never the other way around?) are driving through an elegant suburb, gawking at the mansions, discussing their gorgeousness ad nauseam.  They're here to view a mansion that they might buy: a gorgeous, incredibly gorgeous, fantastically gorgeous mansion with lake access.  They are riveted by its gorgeousness. Dean and Nora kiss.  I'm guessing that these people are noveau-riche.  Maybe Dad is a retired sports star.

Dean is played by Bobby Cannivale, Will's boyfriend on Will and Grace 20 years ago.  Now in his 50s, he's a bit craggier, and averse to taking his shirt off.

Ulp: Son Carter approaches the mansion, and a sinister man stares down from a second-floor window. Dean explains that he's not a ghost, he's another prospective buyer.

Scene 2: Inside, they are less riveted: the house needs some work.  Dean and Nora kiss.  

They meet a 200 year old woman in Pippi Longstocking pigtails, and her mentally challenged boyfriend/husband/son, who looks like he jumped out of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.   Pippi is the head of the local historic preservation society, here to make sure that the new owner doesn't touch the priceless dumbwaiter: "it's a national treasure."  But the mansion itself isn't?

In the kitchen, they meet the realtor -- whom Nora knew at RISD (dunno what that is -- oh, google says Rhode Island School of Design).  They discuss Nora's art career -- an opening at a gallery in Tribeca (I know what that is, but I'll bet most viewers don't.  Could we not assume that everyone in the world lives near New York City?)

Meanwhile, Son Carter  tries out the famous dumbwaiter, and Daughter, still nameless,  complains that she doesn't want to move to a new gorgeous mansion.  Dean hugs her.  His excessive affection is making me uncomfortable.  I wonder if there's something inappropriate going on, or is it just because I'm from the Midwest, where your Dad just shakes your hand -- on your birthday.

They all gather in one of the living rooms and discuss how unusual it is to see a tv mounted on the wall (huh?). The Sinister Old Guy from upstairs wants to know if indentured servants built the house, which disturbs everyone.  

Out in the back yard, Realtor flirts inappropriately with Dean, Nora is disturbed by the sight of 19th Century Pippi Longstockings standing by herself, motionless, and an elderly couple in the next yard over is glaring at them.  Still, they want the house.

Scene 3: Dean in a ritzy office, talking to his financial manager.  He can't afford the house, and the bankruptcy ten years ago limits his chances of getting a loan.  "Well, make it happen.  Cash in my IRA, drain my saving account, whatever it takes. I want my kids to have their own room, and a back yard to play in."  Um, Dean, yon't have to buy a mansion to get three bedrooms and a back yard. Most houses have those things.  

And why isn't Nora in on this meeting?  Did they forget that she's a famous artist with an income of her own?

  Scene 4: Dean getting into a tax after the meeting.  Whoops, no, he heads to the mansion to find the movers already there -- must be a time jump.

Dean enters the mansion and yells the sitcom cliche "Honey, I'm home."  Can't tell if he's being ironic.  

As the grand piano is delivered, the elderly couple next door grimaces: "We got a problem."  Surely they won't be able to hear it from inside the mansion!

Nora has bought a fancy chair on Ebay-ish, which riles Dean.  They've spent every penny of his money on the house, so there's nothing left for anything else.  Except a grand piano, of course, and the new fancy countertops in the kitchen: "Carara marble is so 2009."   Are these people elitist, posers, or what?  I can't figure them out.  

But he calms down, and they kiss 55 times (sorry, 58 times) and discuss how deliriously happy they are to be white, upper class, and heterosexual (sorry, 65 times..,I'll just fast-forward past the kissing).

Scene 5:  Another time jump.  Now it's the middle of the night.  Nora and Dean are having anal sex, when Daughter knocks: "Come upstairs for a moment."  "Mommy's coming, honey!"  

What's with this woman?  No one would use the third person -- and call herself "Mommy" -- when talking to her 16-year old daughter.  Both Nora and Dean are inappropriately infantalizing the girl.   

Scene 6: Daughter heard music coming from the attic, but there's nothing there.  She's also wearing lipstick, which disturbs Dean: "We brought you out her to protect you from things like makeup.  Be a little girl as long as you can,"  He kisses her a billion times.  Geez, Dean, are you still horny after 6 hours of sex with your wife?  Give it a rest!  

Scene 7: The morning alarm goes off.  Dean climbs out of bed (no beefcake), goes downstairs to make coffee, and is shocked by Texas Chainsaw from Scene 2, who brought in his newspaper. 

At breakfast, they receive a letter from "The Watcher" complementing their children's bodies, and suggesting that they make more -- "you need to fill the house with young blood -- better for me." 

Scene 8: Dean and Nora take the letter to the police, who scoff: "Westfield is the safest town in America.  We've had no violent crimes for many years, just a few mysterious disappearances that we're not supposed to talk about...um...I mean, it was just a prank,"  

Scene 9: Grimacing Neighbors are pruning arugula in Dean's side yard.  He asks them to stay off his property, and they explode in rage.  Plus they demand that Dean tone down the loud piano playing -- except no one has been playing the piano!  "You could have been polite," they yell, "But now we're enemies, and we'll be watching you!"  Obvious red herring.

Scene 10:  Nora playing tennis with the Realtor. At lunch, Nora complains her son Carter's pet ferret, and about their financial struggles (then don't buy a mansion?).  Realtor counters: her husband was a "pussy" who couldn't get it up.  At least Dean doesn't have that problem, right?

Scene 11:  On the dock, Nora tells Realtor about the Watcher.  She thinks it's someone they outbid on the house.  Realtor offers to get a list of names.

Scene 12:
Dinner.  Mom complains about Carter's pet ferret again.  Dad complains about Daughter's bra strap being visible. Geez, enough with the criticism.  Do you interact with your kids in any other way?  Oh, right, you try to seduce them. 

I'm getting tired of the utter lack of beefcake in this show.  Luke David Blumm (Carter) is only 13, but here he is shirtless, in dirt-makeup.  

Scene 13:  Carter decides to give his pet ferret a ride on the famous dumbwaiter.  But it's already occupied -- by Texas Chainsaw!

Scene 14: Dean yells at Texas Chainsaw: "If I find you in my house again, I'm going to fuck you up!"  Pippi Longstockings, his 19th century wife/girlfriend/ mother, is outraged: "He's harmless!  Every owner for the past 60 years has been fine with him wandering in the house!  I'm watching you!"  Another red herring. 

When is the paranormal going to start?  Other than the 200-year old woman, that is.

Scene 14:
Nora is making pottery, when the doorbell rings.  A hot guy, finally!  Dakota, with Vanguard Security, played by Henry Hunter Hall.  Here he poses with Naomi Watts (Nora), so maye he'll be a regular.

They order a bunch of cameras and sensors, for $7000, even though Dakota advises that it's "overkill."   "By the way, I just started this company.  I'm 19."  Back story.  More hope that he'll be a regular.

The adults leave.  Dakota starts working on the installation, starting with the back yard, where Daughter -- Isabel, finally named -- is swimming in a skimpy bikini.  After the audience gets a good look at her half-naked body, she advises: "Don't get any ideas.  I'm jailbait." But they continue to grin at each other.

Whoops, Dad Dean saw the whole interaction!  He roils in jealousy.

Scene 14: Night.  While everyone is asleep, someone sneaks in and kills Carter's ferret (we don't see the murder, but we see the bloody body).  

In the morning, two police cars and a detective arrive at the mansion (quite a lot for a dead pet).  All of the doors were locked; no sign of forced entry. The detective is not impressed:  "Maybe the ferret committed suicide."  

Daughter Isabel comes downstairs to report on Carter's condition, and Dean criticizes her for wearing lipstick.  Now?  Really? What's with this guy?  

Upstairs, Isabel encounters Dakota installing more alarms.  They flirt.

Scene 15:  Dean gets home from work and checks on his son.  "What's the matter?"  Um...I'm  upset about my pet's murder?  Dean hugs and kisses him a few times, and then heads to his daughter's room. I knew there was something inappropriate going on! Whew -- he just knocks and says "goodnight."

Scene 16: Isabel playing the piano.  Grimacing Neighbors grimace. 

Later, Dakota is installing more alarms ontside the house.  He peers in at the family sitting down to dinner, and grimaces.  Then Realtor drives past the house and grimaces.  So we have five suspects,  

Scene 17: While Nora joins the country club, Dean checks the mail, and finds another letter from the Watcher, with more threatening, sinister stuff, like "don't let the young blood play in the basement, or you won't be able to hear their screams." The end.

Beefcake: None here.  Dakota takes his clothes off in Episode 2.  

Other Sights: A lot of Westport, New Jersey.

Gay Characters: Absolutely none.  Two new characters are introduced in Episode 2, and they both discuss their husband/wife and kids within two seconds of "hello."   In Episode 3, they interrogate the Sinister Old Guy -- wife and kids, and there's a flashback to a previous owner of the house -- wife and kids.  What's up with Ryan Murphy: "I've finished with the gay stuff.  Time to move on to heterosexuals."

Based on a True Story: A couple in New Jersey bought the house, got threatening letters from The Watcher, and never moved in.

Paranormal: Pippi Longstockings and her mentally challenged husband/ boyfriend/ son look and act like they're from the 19th century, so probably ghosts. Whoever wrote the letters has detailed information that you couldn't get from peering into the house through a window; also probably a ghost.  (Spoiler alert: not a ghost.)

My Grade: Deliberately refusing any gay representation?  And almost all beefcake?  F

Oct 10, 2022

"Bastard": Heavy-Metal Anime with Ridiculous Dialogue but Nonstop Beefcake


It's fall, so the ongoing tv series that we watch have returned with new seasons.  Mostly adult animation: The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers, The Great North, American Dad, Rick & Morty.  But otherwise the streaming services are a vast wasteland.  There's been nothing to review on Netflix for a long time, so I just clicked on the first recommendation, a Japanese anime called Bastard.

Scene 1: People playing and lounging in a big city park while the narrator repeatedly insults humanity. "You're arrogant!  You're deceitful!  You fight each other!  You ruined the planet!"  And so on and so on. We're evil, I get it.  Then Darkness appears, in the form of a giant woman wearing a horn-helmet.  

While tanks and airplanes attack, she tells humanity: "I must free the world from the darkness that you have created.  The darkness that is your fault.  The darkness that you brough on yourself with your greed and deceit.  Did I mention that it's your fault?  That you have no one to blame but yourself?  That it's your fault?"  Get on with the punishment already!  

Scene 2:
400 years later, The Kingdom of Metal-llicana on the Metallon Continent.  A cackling person in Middle Eastern garb has unleased an army of muscular, shirtless Orcs onto the city (do you want me to fight or daydream?).  They break through the castle gates.  "Head for the Cathedral!" the head guard yells.  "We must protect Princess Sheila at all costs."  Princess Sheila?

The Princess's boobs don't want to leave the castle.  "Who is this attacker?" they ask.  "It's the Orcs created by the deceased evil wizard, Dark Schneider."  Schneider?  These must be lame translations of Japanese names.  

Meanwhile, a boy named Lucien is grabbing the leg of a muscular giant and crying.  His older sister Yoko's boobs criticize him for being unmanly.  He "efforts" (according to the subtitle) and manages a laugh.

Scene 3: In a massive white castle, a flabby wizard is teaching Yoko's boobs a "secret spell with the power to release a certain entity that has been sealed by a sacred power."  Who writes this stuff?   

He explains: "I sealed the wizard Dark Schneider inside your brother Lucien. He will awaken and save the kingdom if Lucien gets a kiss from a virgin maiden."  Guys don't count?  Darn! 

Sister Yoko is now named Tia.  She has to be the one who kisses Lucien, and her lips have to be virginal, so she can't ever date anyone.  Kiss her brother?  Gross!

Scene 4: Back in the present, Lucien rushes up and grabs the muscular giant's leg again.  Turned on by muscle, boy?  The giant growls at him, but Yoko/Tia's breasts defend him: "I am the breasts of Yoko Tia, daugther of the High Priest, and his guardian."  So not his sister?  Whew!

The Orcs are breaking down the door.  Lucien reverts to being scared, and Yoko/Tia's breasts revert to criticizing: "Why are you such a sissy?  Why can't you be a man?"  

Princess Sheila's breasts approach and ask Yoko/Tia's breasts to release the power that can save them.  She refuses.  But the Orcs burst in and start killing everyone, so she relents.  After a long close-up of her breasts yet again, she leans over and kisses Lucien.

Zap!  While we hear the entire story over again, Lucien morphs into the wizard Dark Schneider, a super-muscular guy with a 10-pack abs, a feminine face, and long white hair.  Wait-- Dark Schneider created this army, so why would he destroy it?  Is it a good idea to ask a dark lord, who almost destroyed the world, to help you defeat his disciple?

The castle folk flash back to his previous incarnation: In ancient times, Dark Schneider splattered the whole kingdom, until Prince Lars of the Five Knights fought him to the death.  "My brother," Yoko/Tia's boobs tell us.  Wait -- she can't be more than twenty years old, so this couldn't be in ancient times. 

Scene 5: 
 Back in the present, Dark Schneider reminds everyone that he is the sworn enemy of the kingdom, so now that he's reincarnated, he's going to kill them all (except Yoko/Tia, because Lucien is still inside him, and likes her).  I repeat: shouldn't you have anticipated that this would happen?

But Yoko/ Tia's boobs try their usual strategy of insulting his masculinity, and he relents.  

Middle Eastern guy doesn't believe that he's really Dark Schneider, so he orders his Orcs to attack.  With the magic words of "suki sushi," Dark Schneider/Lucien splatters them.  

The castlefolk are in awe: "He has such frightful power." "He is very powerful." "Indeed, his power is very great."  "He has awesome power." And so on until the word starts to sound funny.

Middle Eastern Guy has a final trick: he calls on Balmor, the Lightning of the Darkness (huh?), to zap Schneider/Lucien, burning him to a literal crisp.  But he emerges from the crisp, unhurt, and turns Middle Eastern Guy into a literal sword.

Scene 5: The crisis over, both Princess Sheila and Yoko/Tia make the moves on the hunky Schneider/Lucien, but he rejects them both, puts some clothes on, and leaves.  Yoko/Tia follows and asks what he will do now.  "First, I'm going to get revenge on your deceased father for locking me inside a kid. Then I'm going to conquer the world."  

Yoko thinks: "He's an evil megalomaniac.  Why am I so turned on?"  Well, she can't complain that he's a sissy anymore.

Schneider/Lucien reveals that he hates Yoko/Tia because she was always ordering him around and insulting his masculinity.  "So let's kiss."  Huh?  Why kiss someone you hate?  Well, maybe if they're hot.

Uh-oh, the kiss turned him back into Lucien!  He doesn't remember anything of his morph into Schneider.  So Yoko/Tia has the power of turning him on and off! The end

Beefcake: Constant.

Boobs: Both Yoko/Tia and Princess Sheila are primarily talking boobs.

Gay Characters: None specified.

Ridiculous Premise:  "We're going to shove Sauron's spirit into Frodo, so he can help us defeat Saruman."  

Ridiculous Dialogue:  Maybe it's suppposed to be a parody of pretentious high fantasy speech?

My Grade: C.  It would be F, except for the incessant beefcake among the boobs, and I'm actually interested in seeing what happens next.

Oct 9, 2022

Green Hornet: Batman Lite

The Green Hornet appeared on Friday nights in the fall of 1966 with guns blazing, ready to take the kid world by storm.  There were coloring books, comic books, action figures, viewmasters, Green Hornet costumes for Halloween (apparently he was a revision of an early pulp hero).

  But he turned out to be Batman lite, reviled or ignored by everybody at Denkmann Elementary School, especially the boys who liked boys.

1. Instead of spandex costumes that beautifully displayed muscles and bulges, crime-fighting vigilantes Green Hornet (Van Williams) and Kato (Bruce Lee) wore silly green business suits and overcoats.  Ironic, considering that Van Williams, formerly of Sunset Strip, was well known for his muscular physique.

And Bruce Lee's beefcake posters would soon be plastered on the bedroom walls of millions of gay and non-gay kids.

2. Instead of cool villains like the Joker, the Riddler, and Catwoman, the Green Hornet and Kato fought crooked insurance companies, construction contractors, and local politicos.  And they expected kids to watch?

3. People actually died on The Green Hornet. And they expected kids to watch?

4.Robin was Batman's "youthful ward."  I didn't know what a ward was, but apparently it involved living together, emotional connection, and lots of nick-of-time rescues.  Kato was the Green Hornet's valet.  They lived together, sort of, but no emotional connection and no "my hero!" moments.  Ironic, considering that Van Williams was one of Rock Hudson's associates and rumored to be gay, and the liberal Bruce Lee would probably be a supporter of gay rights.

Facing strong competition from The Wild Wild West and Tarzan,  the series crashed. Guest appearances on Batman in September 1966 and March 1967 didn't help.  After 26 episodes, it vanished, never to be seen again -- until Seth Rogen and Jay Chou starred in a comedy version in 2011.

The World According to Mork

The second celebrity I met after I moved to L.A. in 1985 was Robin Williams, at a party in the Hollywood Hills.  He wasn't nearly as nice as Michael J. Fox.  I did manage to land a date with his friend, though.

I first saw the recent Juliard graduate in Mork and Mindy (1978-82) an "I've got a secret" sitcom about the alien Mork from Ork, returning to the role Robin first played on Happy Days. Here he was sent to observe present-day Earth, specifically Boulder, Colorado.  He moved in with Mindy (Pam Dauber), who worked in a music store with her suspicious father.She initially found Mork annoying, but of course they inevitably fell in love, got married, and had a baby.

Heterosexist story arc aside, the first season featured Mork's reasonably humorous misunderstandings of Earth customs.  But plotlines soon emphasized treacly lessons of the week which Mork delivered to his commander, Orson, in an annoying "report" at the end of each episode: "I learned that Earthlings sometimes have trouble expressing their feelings."

The only redeeming feature was the beefcake.  Mork was relatively attractive, though rarely shirtless, and Remo DaVinci (Jay Thomas, later seen on Cheers), who ran their deli-hangout, had massive biceps.

Robin broke into movies with Popeye (1980), which I likedfor the gay symbolism.  Sweethaven was a fascinating, self-contained world, drawn from Depression-Era culture and the original comic strips, where everyone was as trapped as in the Village of The Prisoner. As the "National Anthem" stated:  "Sweet Sweethaven -- God must love us.  Why else would He have stranded us here?"

But then came The World According to Garp (1982).  When I was in college, all of the English majors were hoarse from shouting the praises of John Irving's original novel  so I may have been a bit prejudiced when I sat down for the  movie version.  It was slow, artsy, morbid, and disgusting, but when you cut trhogh the pretention and disquiet, you got heterosexual sex -- a lot of it. And castration -- a lot of it.

1. Jenny Fields (Glenn Close) wants a baby, so she sexually assaults a brain-dead GI to get the sperm.  She calls her son Garp.

2. Growing up, Garp has lots of sex before marrying Helen (Mary Beth Hurt).  Unfortunately, she is unfaithful. He crashes his car into a car where she is having sex with her boyfriend, simultaneously killing and castrating him.

3. Meanwhile, Jenny runs a home for abused women, most of whom have cut off their tongues in solidarity for a rape victim (symbolic castration).  Garp hangs out there, and meets transsexual Roberta Muldoon (John Lithgow). This movie has the mistaken impression that a transsexual is a castrated man.

4. Jenny is killed by a rabid anti-feminist, and her memorial service is open to women only.  So Garp puts on a dress to sneak in (symbolic castration).  But he is discovered and goes into hiding.  Eventually he is killed -- I can't stand movies where the central character dies, but at least it put an end to the castration anxiety.  
 Since 1985, I've seen five or six more of Robin's movies -- not the earnest, heartfelt ones where people die -- and I'm still not sure about him:

Heterosexism (Hook), anti-gay slurs, ad-lib channeling of some of the most offensively lisping, mincing hairdressers (in Aladdin and every comedy monologue), gay couples divided into "the man" and  "the woman" (in The Birdcage and Mrs. Doubtfire), immensely heteronormative plotlines -- but then there's The Night Listener (2006), where he plays a gay man mourning his lost love.

Was he a homophobic gay ally, a gay-friendly homophobe, or what?

By the way, the story of my date with Robin and his "boyfriend" is on Tales of West Hollywood..

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