Oct 28, 2022

"Bad Witch": The Most Overt Gay Subtext of the Decade


The icon for Bad Witch, on Amazon Prime, shows two guys talking at a rural cabin, and the blurb says something about a male witch who gets in trouble, flees to the countryside, and meets "a young loner."  Sounds like a gay romance, but I'm not sure, so I'm going through on fast forward.

Minute 3: A hunky guy roughed up and tied up in someone's basement.  His assailant drips red wax on him while chanting in Latin; he screams.   Cut to a little girl asleep with a teddy bear, and in another room, the hunky guy wakes up next to a woman.  Beefcake shot of his chest.  This must be the Witch's heterosexual nuclear family before he flees to the countryside and gets a boyfriend.

Minute 4:  An outdoor barbecue.  Two male-female couples sitting down; a male-male couple standing by the grill.  The Amazon Prime x-ray identifies them as Tim (Matthew Sharpe) and Xander (Chris Koslowski, top photo), but neither of the photos look like them, so I'll just call them Young Hunk and Leather Guy.  They criticize the host, Trish, for wearing high heels to a barbecue.  Criticizing a woman's fashion sense?  Obvious signal that he's gay.

Young Hunk  is outraged when a third guy comes in.  "Why did she invite him?"  Must be his ex-boyfriend, after a bad breakup.  Leather Guy advises him to be cool, but he corners the new guy in the kitchen.  New Guy criticizes his hair and outfit.  Criticizing a man's fashion sense?  Obvious signal that he's gay.  They argue.  Trish comes in and breaks them up.  

Minute 8: Young Hunk awakens in his bed in the middle of the night, goes into the living room, and is ambushed by several men, who beat him up and burn the word "witch" onto his chest.  Wait -- I thought it was the Nuclear Family Guy from Scene 1 who had to flee.

Minute 10:  Young Hunk talking to middle-aged Henry (James Hennigan), who says "Serves you right for never wanting to teach me."  So Young Hunk is the Bad Witch, and Henry is his apprentice?

Minute 19:
A dumpster outside a bar.  Young Hunk, now the middle-aged Xander,  flirts with Roland (Jackson Trent, left).  This must be after he runs away to the countryside.  He was wearing young-hunk makeup in the earlier scenes, to indicate time passage.

Minute 20
: Another young hunk, Conrad (Jonathan Helwig), comes into the kitchen, where his father or boyfriend is cooking some slop.  "That looks disgusting," he jokes.  "Then you do the cooking."  Sounds more like boyfriend talk than father-son talk.   "Coach thinks I have a good chance of making the scouts next year."  Father-son talk.  Is this a new movie?  What happened to the guys from Minutes 4-10?

Minute 28: A diner.  Conrad from Minute 20 is talking about girls, while his gay bff Hans (Abe Kim, below), a fey Asian guy with bleached hair, rolls his eyes. Roland, the guy who flirted with Xander earlier, works there.  He walks past with a tray of drinks.  Bully Conrad trips him.  The bullies both laugh.  A femme gay bully?  

Xander helps him up, sits with Bully Conrad and bff Hans, and reveals embarrassing details about Bully Conrad that he couldn't have known, like he had syphillis.  Hans criticizes him for stigmatizing STIs.  

Minute 30: Xander drops Bullied Roland off at his house and says "I will see you tomorrow."  Their first date?

It involves playing video games, hugging, and...talking about the Girl of Roland's Dreams?  Hey, that's not what gay guys talk about!

Minute 33: Xander teaching Roland about magic.

Minute 35: They are hanging out in the woods.  Xander: "Casting a spell is better than sex.  That's why my roommate can't find out about this."  This, the magic, or this, the relationship?  So Xander is cheating on his partner with Roland?

Lots of scene of Xander helping Roland get a university admission, get revenge on bullies, fly on a broom, wear a cardboard witch's hat, and...go on a date with Veronica?  So it's a gay subtext, not a text.

Minute 52: 
 Bleached-Hair Hans, the fey bully, has stolen Xander and Roland's magic book.  If he gives it back, they won't tell his bff Conrad that he secretly hates him because girls like him more.  Hey, I thought Bleached-Hair Hans was gay.

Minute 64:  Things have gone terribly wrong.  Roland breaks up with Xander: "You don't care about me.  You don't care about anybody but yourself." 

Minute 70: Xander tied up, shirtless, being tormented.  This must be a recap of Scene 1.

Minute 72: Roland talking to Veronica. Girlfriend or gal pal? There has been no scene of them kissing.  They decide to rescue Xander.

Minute 73: Xander tied shirtless to a stake, as his enemies prepare to burn him to death.  Veronica and Roland rush in, clobber them, and untie Xander.  He hugs Veronica, and goes in for a hug with Roland, but at that moment Roland spurts blood and dies -- one of the enemies killed him!  Xander cries over the body.  The guy was definitely his boyfriend.

Minute 75:  Veronica asks a shirtless Xander if he can use his witchcraft powers to resurrect Roland.  "It would be a big mistake."  He might come back -- different.   

Minute 76: Veronica performs the resurrection ritual anyway. Roland returns from the dead --- different.  The end.

Results:  I have not seen such a blatant gay subtext in years. But in 2022, why not go all the way?  A few minor line changes. and a scene of Roland and Xander kissing, and voila! The Bad Witch is a gay romance.

Oct 27, 2022

"Hamster and Gretel": Superhero Kid and Hamster, Beset-Upon Older Brother


I'm going to watch Hamster and Gretel on Disney Plus because it stars Michael Cimino, who 1) played a gay character on Love, Victor and 2) has a jaw-dropping physique.

Let's have another look at that physique.  

The premise: 9-year old Gretel and her pet Hamster have superpowers and fight kid-friendly villains, to the consternation of her teenage brother, Kevin (Michael Cimino!).  I'll be reviewing the episode "Saturday Homecoming Fever," where the two go to a dance, in case there are any background/supporting gay characters.

Scene 1: Kevin at school, complaining to his bff Fred (a girl) that everyone calls him "Minivan Kid."  They head to lunch, where Lunch Lady criticizes Kevin for being weak.  

Principal announces that votes for the Homecoming King are in: it's Hunter Campbell, a hot guy who is sitting with a male and a female friend.  Fred has been voted Homecoming Queen; she chafes against the gender-stereotyping, beats up the principal, and abdicates.  Hunter Campbell also abdicates, since he is in love with a non-popular girl.  So they'll choose a new prom king and queen at the Disco-Themed dance tonight.

Kevin thinks that tonight will be his opportunity to re-brand himself and stop being called "Minivan Boy."   "Nothing can go wrong!"

Scene 2
: Brother and sister supervillains escape from prison and check local events for something to ruin.  How about a high school dance?  

Scene 3: Fred, Gretel (the superpower girl), and the Hamster playing video games, when Kevin enters in his disco costume.  He's been practicing disco dancing all day. "Nobody will call me Minivan Boy after tonight!"

 "I can't wait to become a teenager!" Gretel exclaims.  "That's not happening -- we're a cartoon," the Hamster tells her.

Scene 4: Kevin enters the gym, fields greetings of "Hi, Minivan Boy," and asks the Girl of His Dreams to dance. Only two other couples on the dance floor: boy-girl and girl-girl.  

Uh-oh, a slow dance!  He rushes to get some punch to bolster his courage.  

Meanwhile, Fred, Gretel, and Hamster get an emergency alert on their cell phones: two 1970s costumes have been stolen from the Boogie Bargain Bin!  Obviously supervillains are plotting to destroy the dance.  They decide to go undercover to save Kevin's big night.

Scene 5: The supervillain brother and sister enter the gym in 1970s costumes, then take them off to reveal their supervillain outfits.  They disrupt the dance with a food fight.  Now there is a boy-girl couple in the foreground and a boy-boy couple in the background, dressed like Shaft and Austin Powers, but you have to freeze-frame to see them.

Kevin and his date try to save the day by challenging the supervillains to a dance battle.  They do Saturday Night Live moves. the Hustle, and Disco Inferno.  Meanwhile, Fred, Gretel, and Hamster enter in 1970s disguises. The Shaft-Austin Powers couple are visible to the left.

The supervillains lose the battle, but refuse to leave the dance; they begin tearing down streamers and crash the sound system.  While Fred helps with the evacuation, Gretel (in a disco ball) and Hamster subdue them.

Scene 6
: The students waiting outside the school.  The principal announces that since the sound system was destroyed in the fight, the dance is over.  Kevin pulls up in his minivan, now equipped with a disco ball and music.  Some aliens in a flying saucer provide the flashing lights, so the dance can continue in the parking lot!  Now it looks like all boy-girl couples. 

The principal names Prom King and Queen -- not Kevin and his date!  The end.

Beefcake: None.

Heterosexism: The Kevin-centric episodes are mostly about trying to impress/ talk to/ win The Girl of His Dreams.  Yawn.

Gay Characters:  Maybe Fred.  A surprising foregrounding of a girl-girl couple at the dance.

Multiculturalism: Interviews emphasize that Kevin and Gretel come from a blended family, with Mom from Venezuela.  No evidence in this particular episode.

Hamster and Gretel: No connection to the fairy tale. The uber-Germanic "Gretel" is an odd name for someone with American-Venezuelan parents.  Did they come up with the title first, and then look for a story to fit?

My Grade: Meh.  I'd rather look at Michael Cimino in a towel.

Oct 25, 2022

"Dolly Parton's Heartstrings": The Gay Couple Two Doors Down


I knew that Dolly Parton was gay-positive, but I had no intention of  watching her Netflix series, Dolly Parton's Heartstrings: "Eight stories celebrating family, faith, love, and forgiveness," each inspired by a Dolly Parton song.  Sounds like Sunday morning services at the First Baptist Church, all set to country-western music.  I was shocked to discover that the episode "Two Doors Down"  won a GLAAD Award in 2020.  So let's take a look.  It might not be horrendous.

Intro: Dolly explains that when she wrote "Two Doors Down" in 1977, she was on the road a lot, away from her family, but she found a new family with her crew, which was composed of "all kinds of people: different colors, gay, lesbian, transgender, different faiths, but we all loved each other.  Love is love."  It goes on like that.

Scene 1: Singing "Two Doors Down," naturally, Ty (Broadway actor Andy Mientus) drives down country roads "to the place I belong" (sorry, wrong song). Switch to Mom busily micro-managing his sister Lee's upcoming wedding, and wondering why she looks so miserable. Could it be...Mom butting in?

Scene 2:
They all arrive at the elegant hotel in the South.  I thought they would be hillbillies, but Mom is loaded!  Mom tells Ty that he's sure to get a lot of attention from the ladies at the wedding, because her Gay is buying his outfit: "that's the one thing gays are good for, right?  Fashion!"  

Estranged Dad (Ray McKinnon) arrives.  Now that's a hillbilly!  He looks like he just finished huntin' possums with Jed Clampett (there actually is a dead deer in the back of his truck).

Scene 3:
Ty discusses his secret with his boyfriend, the uber-swishy Cole (Michael J. Willett): "As you know, Dear, I'm not out to my family, due to Mom's homophobia.  When marriage equality arrived, she said it was the end of the world.  But I'm going to tell them all this weekend." Cole notes that Sister, his bff, already found out by accident, but she wants Ty to tell her in person.  

Also, they are having a long-distance relationship problem. Cole lives in Atlanta, and Ty lives in Athens, 72 miles away.  

Ulp, Cole hides in the closet as Mom comes in.  She discusses the life-threatening Steel Magnolias disease that she had last year, which left her "a sentimental puddle," so she really wants Ty to find a girl.  

Scene 4:
  In the absurdly elegant parlor, Sister and her fiance Digby are discussing their secret: "As you know, Sweetheart, after the wedding we are leaving small-town Atlanta for Los Angeles so I can pursue my acting career.  Don't tell Mom!"  Digby?

Scene 5: Mom and Dad discuss their secret: "As you know, Dumbbell, we hate each other.  I think you're a country bumpkin, and you think I'm a rich snob.  We're going to get a divorce.  But don' t tell the kids!" Uh-oh, dark secrets all the way down.

Scene 6: Ty comes out to Sister in the stupidest way possible: "Seeing you and Digby so happy has made me realize that I'm happy, too.  So happy that you might say I'm...gay."  

Sister is proud of him for having the courage to come out. Digby?  How did the poor guy survive middle school?  "You can tell Dad, but don't tell Mom.  She'll stick her head in the oven." 

Sister tells Ty her secret about moving.  Whoops, for a wedding present, Mom and Dad bought them a house in Atlanta!  Complications! 

Scene 7: 
 Sister trying on wedding dresses with Ty's boyfriend Cole and her gal pal, Mim Tinkelpaugh (and I thought Digby got bullied a lot!).  Mim is trying to get with Ty.  Sister explains that he's...um...seeing someone.  

Mom comes in to complain about Lee's cousin Renee (Aidan Langford) doing something weird "with her bridesmaid's dress."  Sister explains that they have come out as nonbinary, and prefer the name Ren.  Mom huffs: "More LGBT XYZ nonsense!  You give me one week with her, and I'll straighten her out!"

Scene 8:  The rehearsal dinner.  Ty is upset because women keep hitting on him.  Mom tells her friends that Ren is now her nibbling, a gender-neutral term for the child of a sibling.  They smile politely.   Wait -- she's ok with nonbinary but not ok with gay?  While rehearsing the vows, Sister becomes so stressed about the various secrets she's hiding that she blurts one out: "Did y'all know that Ty is gay!" 

Mom takes charge, clears the room, and apologizes to Ty: "She was just stressed.  She didn't mean any of those horrible accusations."  Whoa, Mom, way homophobic.  Ty says that he actually is gay, but Mom won't have it: "You are not that way!  Don't talk such nonsense!" 

Scene 9:  Minutes after discovering that his son is gay, Scary Redneck Dad grabs a gun and asks if he wants to take a drive into the woods to relax.  Um.... no, thanks, Dad, I'd rather live.  But it's ok, they've been going hunting together since Ty was a kid, and Dad is fine with him being gay.  He actually wants to talk about his own marital problems, har har.

Scene 10:  Mom visits Cole the Boyfriend: "You're a real gay, as swishy as the night is long.  But Ty is  normal.  Could you talk some sense into him, show him what real gays are like?"  Cole: "You don't have to be swishy to be gay."  

Mom: "But I just can't imagine Ty choosing your lifestyle."  Cole: "You don't choose to be gay."  I had conversations like this with heterosexuals a lot, back in the 1990s.  Not in 2020.  But I guess the intended audience -- who tuned in for a story of "faith and forgiveness" -- hasn't had them yet.

Scene 11: Uh-oh, Dad accidentally shot Ty during their late night hunting expedition!  He's ok, just grazed, but everyone rushes to the hospital, and and Mom sees Cole kiss Ty!  Plus they all see Sister playing a vampire on tv! (Remember, she was keeping her acting career a secret.)  Mom doesn't know which secret to be more horrified by.  

Scene 12:  After calming down a bit, Mom asks Ty if Cole has been trying to seduce him so he'll turn gay.   Ty says "No, I made th first move. He didn't want to get involved someone who was in the closet, but I won him over."  

Mom is adamant that Ty can't be gay, since he's not feminine: "I could set you up with a therapist who works with confused kids."  

Scene 13: Ty and Ren (his nonbinary cousin) have a heart-to-heart: "Welcome to the rainbow."  Telling the world that you are nonbinary is relatively recent; telling the world that  you are gay has been a standard practice for over 50 years.  Why is it so much more difficult for Ty than for Ren?

 Ahh, there's a live possum in the parlor!  Shoot it!  But they're not concerned: "Maybe it's your spirit animal."  Now I know these people are from the South.

Scene 14:  The wedding.  But before it starts, Sister and Digby (Digby?) clear the room and say that they already got married, downtown.  They just didn't want any more drama. Maybe do this before you rent the hall, buy the outfits, and invite 500 people?  

Mom  takes the top of the wedding cake to her room to eat while being depressed.  Meanwhile, the other problems are resolved: Ty and Cole's long distance relationship (they move in together), Digby and Sister's move (they'll stay in Atlanta, where there is lots of film and tv work).

The reception goes on as planned.  Surprise!  Dolly Parton performs!  "Two Doors Down," naturally.  

Ty goes to Mom's room and asks her to come to the party.
convinces her to come down to the party.  

"No, I'm too depressed."

"Dolly Parton is performing."

There's a Mom-shaped hole in the door as she zooms downstairs.  

Then Dolly sings "Aud Lang Syne."  Did you know that this wedding was scheduled for New Year's Eve?  Yeah, me neither.

Beefcake:  No.

LGBTQ Characters: 3

Anachronisms:  A weird juxtaposition of time periods.  One moment they're in 2020, and the next they're having a conversation right out of the 1990s: "How do you know you are that way?"

Problems for the Sake of Drama: 4

My Grade:  C

Oct 24, 2022

"Mr. Midnight: Beware the Monsters": Teenage Parnormal Investigators in Singapore


Mr. Midnight: Beware the Monsters is a Singaporean tv series about teenage paranormal investigators.  Singapore is one of the more conservative, and homophobic countries in the world, so doubtless there will be no gay characters, but there still may be subtexts.  Besides, who doesn't want to see Singapore?

Scene 1: A lot of people watching a podcast where a masked figure says: "Welcome to Tanah Merah.  All spirits are believed.  All demons are feared.  Gods live in the high areas.  Demons inhabit the low areas."  Must be poorly translated; but Singapore is a former British colony, and the main language is English. 

Switch to a construction site with a billboard ("A brighter future for Tanah Merah").  A bulldozer breaks an ancient urn.  Shadows seep out -- demons from low areas!  They chase a little boy through the fields. They have fields in Singapore?  He bumps into an old guy, who says "It's not safe here."  Yah think?  

Scene 2
: A room full of ancient artifacts.  Crotch shot of a sleeping boy. Um...is this one of "those" movies?   The camera slowly moves over his body to a wheelchair and then his laptop, which is playing the tv series Night Patrol: "spooky stories from the heart of spooky Asia."  

The boy -- Tyar ( Idan Aedan) -- rushes downstairs, where Mom and Dad are having breakfast.  "I overslept!  I stayed up late waiting for Ling to finish editing our video for Night Patrol." Mom criticizes him for making videos instead of doing "Normal teenage things."  

"Why didn't you wake me up?"  "We thought you were up.  Something was walking around upstairs."  Aha, the demons from the urn!

A scooter drives up.  Feet turn into Ling, her hair blowing in the wind.  She enters the house and greets everyone -- no Girl of His Dreams vibe, so maybe they're just friends.  

They hear a thud and rush out to the garden to see a dead bird.  Tyar strokes it.  Then they scooter off, and the bird comes back to life!  So Tyar has healing powers?

Scene 3: They scooter through an Asian town: an open-air market, a street all lit with hanging lanterns, a street where all the shop names are in English ("Bloom the Room").  There seem to be more accidents and fights than usual. A dead guy, carrying a bucket and a briefcase, stares at Tyar. Why a bucket?  Maybe in Indonesian folklore, the dead carry buckets?

Scene 4: The Tanah Merah International School, very elegant, with three stories around a central courtyard.  They greet the goofy Westerner Nat (Australian actor Caleb Monk, top photo), who narrates their Night Patrol program.

Scene 5:  After school, Tyar and Ling watch Goofy Nat try out for the cheerleading squad.  A Mean Girl, Zoe, is narrating her own podcast, complaining that Asia is not what she expected: nothing is exotic, except the fruit stinks.  

Whoops, Nat screws up a cheerleading pyramid and breaks his arm!  Tyar and Ling rush to his aid.  An Indonesia guy appears behind him, saying "Sembukhan dia," which I assume means "Use your healing powers, Idiot."  So Tyar grabs his arm and heals him!   Mean Girl Zoe films the whole thing.

The onlookers are shocked.  Ling covers: "Nat just dislocated his shoulder.  Tyar's mom is a nurse, so he knew what to do."  

Scene 6:  The three buds scooter off.  Mean Girl wants to come with them, and hitches a ride on Nat's scooter.  He grins in hetero-horny ecstasy.  Darn, I thought the conservative Singaporeans would excise hetero-horniness along with the gay stuff.

Scene 7: 
 Jimmy (Samuel Pleitgen), the evil capitalist whose crew uncovered the demon-urn, is ordering a building of priceless historical significance to be torn down.  Meanwhile his hot teenage son Ben (Maxime Bouttier, left) is bored, texting and yelling "Dad, I got to go!"  

Meanwhile, Tyar tells Ling about his new healing powers,  the ghosts he keeps seeing, and "Sembukhan dia," which she says means: "Use your healing powers, Idiot!" in Javanese (one of the languages of Indonesia).   Nat and Mean Girl join them and flirt; Ling rolls her eyes. 

As they watch, the last wall of the ancient, priceless building comes down, emitting a hurricane of red dust. 

They run into a strangely-empty grocery store to escape.  One of the construction guys appears at the door and tells Tyar: "It knows you are awake."  Does it know if he's been good or bad? 

Suddenly the lights flicker, the security gate closes, black goo oozes from the bags of rice, and the potato chips Nat has been eating turn into worms!  Plus the store has turned into an endless maze, and a muscular monster with a face like a Japanese temple guardian is chasing them (played by Danie "The Destroyer" Dharma, the 2016 Mr. Singapore). They grab an unbrella, a squirt gun full of vinegar, and toilet paper to defend themselves. Toilet paper?

The squirt gun works; the monster backs off, and the store reverts to normal, with shoppers and a security guard.

Scene 8:  Night. They enter a curio store to talk to Ling's Dad, whom Tyar calls Uncle Tan-- the old guy from the field in Scene 1, busily painting a demon mask.  He explains that they saw an Oni, a Japanese ogre that feeds on fear.  "For some reason, the spirits are very interested in you, so be careful." Ling stops Tyar from mentioning his other paranormal experiences.  Why?  They're talking to an expert.   

When Dad leaves, Ling explains: "He shouldn't be involved.  We have to figure this out on our own."  

They decide that the best way to research the problem is to invite other people who have had paranormal experiences to call in to their program.  Thus creating a large enough sample size for a regression analysis?  But no one will confide in kids: they need an adult narrator.  Suddenly Tyar sees a mask on the wall -- the mask from the podcast in Scene 1!   So this has all been a flashback. 

Scene 9:  The masked figure, dubbed Mr. Midnight, narrates again: "We all have things that scare us. Tell us what scares you."  Meanwhile, Uncle Tan closes his shop, and glances at the ominous "Dead Write Photo Shop" across the hall.  He clutches the mysterious symbol that has appeared several times, but I didn't think was important enough to mention.

Background: The tv show is based on a series of over 100 children's books, a sort of Asian Goosebumps, by Singaporean writer James Lee.  There are no ongoing characters; readers are invited to send in their own paranormal experiences, which Lee "fleshes out" into stories.  Tanah Merah is a real place in southeastern Singapore. 

Beefcake: Just the bodybuilder in the monster mask and the weirdly out of place drooling over Tyar's fully-clothed body.

Gay Characters: Of course not. But Ben, the Big Bad's son, is mentioned in the episode synopses as part of the gang, so there will be three boys and two girls.  Either Ben or Tyar will stay unattached, and be ripe for a gay reading. 

Heterosexism: Only Nat and Mean Girl's flirtation.

My Grade: In spite of what Mean Girl says, the Singaporean locations and various spirits from Chinese, Japanese, and Indonesian folklore make this series "exotic," and thus more interesting than the paranormal series set in generic American-Canadian suburbs.  B

Spoiler Alert: Big Bad's Son and Mean Girl hook up. Tyar and Nat have a gay-subtext friendship.

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