Dec 17, 2022

"Far From Home": Poor boy cheats his way into an elite prep school, almost gets fed to a hyena, and takes off his clothes a lot

This morning Netflix pushed a Nollywood tv series at me, Far From Home: a poor boy gets a scholarship to an exclusive private school "for the 1%," where posters advertise Chess Club and Choir.  The promo shows the poor boy walking into class: a Femme Boy smiles at him, an Arrogant Jock glares at him, a Mean Girl sizes him up, and a Nice Girl helps him tie his tie.  Wait -- Nigeria is one of the most homophobic countries on Earth. There can't be a gay character -- can there?  I'm reviewing the first episode to find out.  

Scene 1: Ishaya's first art exhibition (all black-and-white portraits of expressive faces), treated like the Oscars, with paparazzi and fans clicking away as he walks up the red carpet.  He adulates himself: "Who would have thought that the dreams of a young boy from Lagos would come true?"    

Obviously this is a dream.  Ishaya (Mike Afolarin) awakens late for work.  Nice beefcake shot as he rushes to get dressed. 

Scene 2: Ishaya at his job cleaning a rich guy's house.  The rich guy clomps on his cleaning supplies; the teenage son throws a plate at him derisively.  After work, he tries to sell his painting on the street, but the rich people sneer at him.  

Scene 3:
Back in his horrible hovel.  Ishaya's friend Michael (Moshood Fattah) wants to know why he  needs money so badly: "I won a fellowship to study in London with the famous artist Essein, and I need to raise money for air fare."  Suddenly he remembers that he has to buy the cake for his sister's birthday party, and runs out.

Left: during Pride Month, Moshood Fattah promotes the use of PrEP on his instagram page.  That's quite gay-friendly for Nigeria.

Scene 4: The party is for Ishaya's sister Rahila, but the guests consist of Michael, Ishaya's girlfriend, and the parents.  They play cards and watch an advert for Wilmer Academy, the best school in Nigeria.  Rahila wants to go to the Open Exam Day to try out for a scholarship, but Mom forbids it. 

Scene 5
: Ishaya offers to sneak his sister into the Open Exam.  On the ritzy grounds of the Academy, they almost get smushed by a car.  The passenger calls them "gutter-trash" and yells "You don't belong here!"  I can't tell that they are poor by looking. Maybe in Nigeria you can.

Ulp, the registration fee is 150,000 naira ($336)!  They are shocked.  "Aren't scholarships supposed to help people who can't afford extravagant fees?"  "This is Wilmer Academy, you gutter trash!"  They slink out.  Next up: the guy who yelled from his car, and his surly Arrogant Jock son Denrele (Raymond Umenze, left, the one in drag).

Scene 6:  Ishaya offers to help her get the money, but Rahila has given up: "Having dreams only leads to disaster.  Dad wanted to become an artist, and it cost us our brother's life."  I want to know more about that back story!

 Cut to Ishaya's evening job as a waiter at a nightclub where men squeal as women's butts gyrate in their faces (three times!).  His uniform is sleeveless -- so men can gaze at his muscular arms after they finish with the butts?  On to his  day job cleaning houses.  And his side job painting portraits.  (Nice chest shot as he changes clothes.)

Scene 7: Government, the manager of the butt-gyrating club, slams someone for stealing drugs from his stash, and then feeds him to his pet hyena.  Ishaya comes in to ask for his paycheck.  

Scene 8:   Ishaya is still intent on going to London.  Girlfriend finds out that he was planning behind her back, dumps him, and starts dating one of the nightclub guys.  He roils with jealousy.  Plus the travel agent needs the full 300,000 naira fee now.  He can't go.  

Scene 9: At the nightclub, a customer asks for some bills to shove up ladies' butts.  Ishaya goes into the money room to fetch some -- and steals 150,000 naira! Not enough to pay the travel agent, but enough for the Open Scholarship exam, and since his sister is no longer interested....

Scene 10: Ishaya pays the fee, and memorizes the test answers in advance, so he's sure to get in.  Hey, that's cheating!  

Scene 11: 
 First day of school.  At the assembly, Ishaya sits in the only available seat, next to smiling Femme Guy (Emeka Nwagbaraocha). 

Carmen, the great-granddaughter of the founder of the school, gives a speech.  "That babe is fine!" he exclaims.  Femme Guy Frank: "Sorry, I can't see it."  Did you just come out to a stranger?  In Nigeria?

Ishaya is introduced as a scholarship boy who got 100% on the exam. Everyone wants to get a photo of him.

Scene 12:
After the assembly, Femme Guy is buddying up to Ishaya, when a Femme Adult named Atlas (Olumide Oworu) gushes over: "Frankincense, is that you?" "My name is Frank now." Arrogant Jock pulls him away.  I don't understand.  Has Frank turned straight, and rejects people from his old life?  

Time for a campus tour.  When they visit the school's art gallery, Ishaya flashes back to telling his father that he wants to become an artist. "Art is not permitted in this house!" Dad yells.  "It killed your brother!"

Scene 13: Principal tells Ishaya that they need the transcript from his old school. " school?"  

Meanwhile, Arrogant Jock's Dad is yelling at him for not cheating on the scholarship exam.  "Now the gutter trash who cleans our house won the scholarship!"  I wanted to do it on my own."  "You're an idiot if you think anything can be achieved honestly in this world."  

Scene 14: Ishaya needs 50,000 naira ($112) to buy a fake transcript.  His friend Michael gives it to him.

Meanwhile, Femme Adult Atlas arrives at Carmen's mansion.  He calls his Mum to ask her to pay the school fees, so he won't be kicked out (ok, he's a student.) and can apply to the London Art Institute.  Is everybody at this school an aspiring artist?   Her assistant blows him off: "Your mother is still in Paris.  She'll call when she returns."

Scene 15: While Atlas chats about art with her parents, Carmen is searching frantically through her room.  She orders the maid to fetch Mum:  "Give it to me!"  "You don't need any more painkillers  Your leg is fine."  Uh-oh, Carmen has a drug problem.

Femme Student Atlas and Girl-of-Dreams Carmen head to the car.  She complains:  "It feels like I have no control over my life. I can't wait for us to move to London."  He hugs and kisses her -- a femme boyfriend!  I knew he couldn't be gay.

Atlas is so angry about his mother that he drives erratically.  Carmen flashes back to the car accident a year ago that squashed her leg, and shrieks for him to stop the car.

Scene 16: 
 Ishaya delivers the fake transcript to the Principal. "Great, now we just need to call your old school to verify it."  " it?"  He desperately calls his friend Michael to ask him to pretend to be a school official.  

Meanwhile, Atlas and Carmen arrive at school, and are greeted by another power couple, Reggie (Natse Jemide) and Nen.  They go to "the shrine," a single-person restroom with a door that locks, where they can smoke marijuana.  Carmen wants to know why they've been ghosting her for months.  "We're"

Scene 17: Ishaya rushes into the bathroom, changes into his school uniform, and rushes into class late.  This is the scene in the promo, with Arrogant Jock glaring, Femme Guy Frank smiling, and a purple-haired girl helping him adjust his tie.  

After class, Purple-Haired Girl, Zinna, asks if he likes Carmen, since he drew a portrait of her in his notebook.  Arrogant Jock introduces himself, but she snubs him to flirt with Femme Guy Frank.  He is thrilled.  I knew he couldn't be gay.  

Scene 18:  Art class.  Ishaya is busily drawing instead of listening to the lecture, so the teacher confiscates his notebook.  "This year the three best students will be permitted to apply for the London Art Institute Grant."  A grant to get into the school, and now a grant to go to another school.  Aren't these rich kids who don't need grants?

Scene 19:  Ishaya in the Bursar's Office, getting his grant money.  After subtracting the cost of his school uniform and textbooks, he gets 5,000 naira ($11.00).  Even in Nigeria, you can't survive on that!  He rushes into the bathroom and takes off his shirt and cries.

Scene 20:  Back home, the manager of the butt-gyrating club has taken Ishaya's family hostage.  He wants to know why Ishaya stole 150,000 naira from him.  "You have one week to pay me back, or your sister will become one of my prostitutes. We'll take her now, to save time."

They leave.  Dad, understandably upset, kicks Ishaya out of the house.  The end.

Beefcake:  Ishaya, frequently.

Other Sights: Lots of establishing shots of Lagos.

Heterosexism:  Atlas-Carmen-Ishaya, and I think the Surly Jock is into her, too.  Everyone else pairs off into boy-girl couples.

Gay Characters: Frank has a gay-subtext romance with Ishaya, but he's mostly busy fallin gin love with his sister.  Feminine appears to signify "rich" rather than "gay" in Nigerian culture.  The "frankincense" line was just an all-purpose insult.

My Grade: Ishaya comes across as a jerk: "I really want to become an artist" is no excuse for stealing, cheating, and (later on) helping your boss kidnap your best friend.  But the juxtaposition of the "who's dating who?" teen angst and the "feed him to my hyena" mob plotlines makes for an interesting drama.  And there is A LOT  of beefcake.  B

Dec 16, 2022

The Worst TV Shows of All Time, #1-12

I just read a clickbait article about the 25 worst tv shows of all time, and it occurs to me that the writers probably didn't watch many episodes.  They're going by reputation, or by sheer plot synopsis.  Some of my childhood favories are on the list.

And they forget that sometimes we don't watch a tv show for a compelling, dynamic, intellectually stimulating plot.  The most horrible premises can be redeemed by a gay subtext or the lack of heterosexual interest.  Sometimes we want to just "veg out."  Sometimes we want something flickering in the background while we chat, read, or do homework.  And sometimes we just want to look at cute guys.

1. The Jerry Springer Show.  I assume that they are going in order from the worst.  Jerry Springer has often been heralded as a sign of the end of civilization, but at least it wasn't bear-baiting.

Ok, it was terribly exploitive:  "Your best friend is having sex with your wife and your mother and your teenage daughter, and he thinks you're a jerk, and here he is."  But there was something satisfying about watching rednecks assault each other.  Besides, some of them had physiques.  And Steve Wilkos, the guy in charge of separating the pairs -- sigh.

2. My Mother the Car.  One of the many "my secret" shows of the 1960s.  Is a car inhabited by the soul of your mother more farfetched than witches and genies?  Or warp drive?

Besides, Jerry Van Dyke was a lot cuter than his brother Dick.

3. Cop Rock.  Who wants to watch a mash-up of serious drama and songs?  Well, maybe opera-goers.  But there are worse ways of spending a half an hour than looking at Peter Onorati.

4. After MASH.  I hated MASH, the half-episode I saw of it, so of course I wasn't about to be watching the characters let loose in a stateside veteran's hospital.

5. The Flying Nun.  One of the "unconventional nun" programs of the 1960s.  My first view of Roman Catholicism that didn't paint it as evil incarnate.  And the nun thing made hetero-romance impossible, so she and the very cute Carlos (Alejandro Rey) could be "just friends."

6. Hello, Larry.  Another MASH veteran, but playing a different character, Larry has a phone-in psychology radio show in Portland, Oregon.  Another ten years and a few hundred miles to the north, and he could be Frasier Crane.  Except no gay brother, dad, or coworkers.  Larry is surrounded by women, except for John Femia of Square Pegs.  But surely he was enough to make the viewing a pleasure.

7. The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer Everybody thinks it's about a slave in President Lincoln's household, but actually the White House didn't have slaves at the time.  Pfeiffer is a free black man who flees from Britain to America to avoid his gambling debts.  Why America, of all the fugitive-slave-law-cockamamie ideas? And a gay-stereotyped Lincoln.

I'd like to know why Chi McBride agreed to star.  Let me guess: a job is a job.

8. The Chevy Chase Show.  As in "I'm Chevy Chase, and I'm better than you?"  Aren't talk show hosts supposed to be likeable?

9. Homeboys in Outer Space.  Americans don't do comedic sci-fi well, especially when the premise is that the two space explorers are black stereotypes.   But I am interested in seeing Flex Alexander flex.

10. CavemenThe cavemen from a series of Geico Insurance commercials, who protest the slogan "So easy, a caveman could do it."  Now they're an oppressed minority dealing with prejudice and discrimination in the modern world.  A one joke series, no gay people anywhere, and you can't see any physiques under all the makeup.

11. Killer Instinct.  Finally, one that is not a sitcom.  Dramas can be horrible, too, you know.  It was about cops investigating "deviant crime." After a lifetime of being called "deviant" for being gay, I was not interested in finding out what types of crimes those were.  But here they are: death by spider, a serial killer who targets sex offenders, Egyptian mythology-inspired murders, death by crossbow, and so on.

12. Woops.  The hilarious shenanigans of survivors of a  nuclear holocaust.  They search for food, try to reproduce, elect a leader, celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, and, later find a new teenage survivor to draw in the kiddie crowd (played by teen idol David Lascher).  It doesn't sound much different from The Last Man on Earth.

Next: The Worst TV Shows of All Time, 13-25

The Gay-Positive Episode of "Here's Lucy"

The last of the trilogy of Lucille Ball tv series, Here's Lucy (1968-74), made Lucy Carter a widow with two high school-aged kids, Kim and Craig (played by her real life children,18-year old  Lucie Arnaz and 15-year old Desi Arnaz Jr.).  Gale Gordon reprised his blustering Mr. Mooney role, but as Harry Carter, Lucy's brother-in-law and her employer at Carter's Unique Employment Agency.

Plotlines involved the unique characters seeking employment, generation gap antics between Lucy and her kids, and the usual stream of celebrity guest stars (celebrity to the Establishment, that is): Jack Benny, Eva Gabor, Liberace, Lawrence Welk, Richard Burton, even Lucille Ball herself (when "Lucy Carter" meets the famous actress).

Notice: not a lot of teen stars.

It was definitely Lucy's vehicle; she got the best lines and all of the slapstick comedy.   Craig was cute, nicely tanned, with a penchant for wearing shirts open to his navel, but he had only a few lines per episode, and in the first three seasons he had maybe three centrics (episodes devoted to him).  He sang a few times, but usually when sharing a stage with his mother.  After three seasons, he was written out of the series.

They weren't even trying to draw in a youth audience.  Craig is a fan of Frank Sinatra, not the Beatles.  In one episode, Lucy roils when Kim begins dating a boy who graduated from Berkeley -- with all the sit-ins and protests and...

As a result, Here's Lucy seems less hip, less energetic, and with fewer gay subtexts than the earlier Lucy Show.  

No beefcake to speak of.  No bonding.  No symbolism.

But there was a LGBT-positive episode on November 6,  1972.

Phyllis Diller is scheduled to perform at a benefit, but she can't make it, so Kim finds a replacement, female impersonator Jim Bailey.  Lucy  is shocked at the very idea of a man impersonating a woman, but Kim and Craig are perfectly nonchalant.

I was shocked, too; at the age of 11, I had never heard of such a thing before.

In real life, Miss Ball was gay-positive.  Jim Bailey was a friend of hers.

Dec 14, 2022

Are the Pantos Gay?

I have studied English literature, watched British tv, known people from Britain, visited several times, but before last year I had never heard of a pantomime, except as something mimes do.  Apparently people raised in Britain have fond memories of going to pantos at Christmastime, but nobody ever talks about it.

It's is a type of musical comedy performed during the Christmas season, using well-known stories.   Next winter, for instance, you will be able to attend the pantos of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Peter Pan, Puss in Boots, Aladdin, Dick Whittington, Treasure Island, and Robin Hood (prices range from $12 to $30 U.S.)

IThe basic plot must be familiar, since it will be skewed, augmented with satiric bits, slapstick, references to current events, and ad-lib scenes.  The audience, mostly children, will interact with the cast, boo the villain, ask questions, shout "He's behind you!", and even argue: "Oh, no it isn't!" "Oh, yes it is!."

There are five standard characters, plus a chorus and various comedic players:

1. The Principal Boy, traditionally played by a girl in drag, but now more often a tv star, such as Ray Quinn of The X Factor as Aladdin (top photo), or a boy band hunk.

That explains why, when I saw Peter Pan back in the 1960s, Peter was played by Mary Martin.  And why the audience had to shout "I believe in fairies" to save Tinker Bell's life.  Panto roots.  But it doesn't explain the creepy dog in the nanny cap, or why people who aren't sick need to take "medicine."

2. The Dame, usually the Main Boy's mother, traditionally played by a man in drag.

3. The Comic Lead, the Main Boy's zany friend or servant, often played by another celebrity, such as  wrestler Nick Aldis as the Genie in Aladdin (left).

4. The Love Interest, an attractive woman with whom the Principal Boy will fall in love. If the original story lacks hetero-romance, not to worry, one will be added.  For instance, in the Wizard of Oz panto, Dorothy falls in love with someone named Elvis.

5. The Villain, male, female, or a drag performer.

Questions immediately arise: why the drag?  What does it mean to watch a woman in male drag fall in love with a woman?  Does it ameliorate the heterosexism of the boy-and-girl plotline?  Are the pantos gay?

Maybe not.  Maybe the drag serves to accentuate rather than challenge gender norms.

Although there have been pantos for adult gay audiences, such as Peta Pan (a lesbian version of Peter Pan), Get Aladdin, and Snow White and the Seven Poofs, some gay writers who grew up with the pantos felt that they weren't "for us" 

And attempts to incorporate gay characters or situations into the traditional panto have met with hysterical hand-wringing of the "It's for kids!!!!" sort.

If you still haven't met your beefcake quota after seeing a panto, check out the Boxing Day Dips, hundreds of people -- mostly cute guys -- dashing into the ocean nude, or at least wearing as little as the censors will allow.

Nutcracker Beefcake

Heterosexist plotline aside, every year The Nutcracker gives us the opportunity to see traditional, family-friendly, school-sanctioned, Christmastime ballet written by a gay man.

And loaded to the brim with hot guys in tights.

Not only the Nutcracker-turned-Prince who woos Clara, but the Mouse King, the Cavalier, party guests, soldiers, sentinels, Arabian dancers, Russian dancers -- the list goes on.

And on.

Not a lot of shirtless dancers -- it's set in a Russian winter, after all.  But wander backstage before or after the performance, and you can get a glimpse of Christmas perfection.

More after the break.

Dec 12, 2022

"Chucky": Gay Kid, Murderous Doll, Small Town. What Could Go Wrong?

 I've seen one or two of the Child's Play movies, about a homicidal doll.  Some of them are apparently queer-friendly, with gay and nonbinary characters.  Most recently, the Chucky tv series (2021-) reputedly has a gay protagonist, so I bought the first season on Vudu and reviewed the first episode.

Scene 1:  Idyllic small-town Hackensack, New Jersey, a suburb of Manhattan.  At a late-autumn yard sale, Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur, a femme young man with big hair and an ostentatious ring), buys a vintage Chucky doll.  

On the way home, he listens to "Hackenslash," a podcast about the dark side of Hackensack.  Today's episode: Charles Lee Ray, who killed his family in 1965.  (I think he's the one whose spirit possessed the Chucky doll.)  

Scene 2: 
Jake's room.  He's building a truly disgusting statue composed entirely of doll heads.  I can't even look at the nightmare.  Dad (former teen idol Devon Sawa) enters to complain about Jake "playing with dolls" and "why don't you ask a girl to a movie."  He's just concerned with gender norms?  His kid is seriously disturbed!

Scene 3: Dinner with Dad's twin brother, his wife, and his son Junior (Teo Briones), who "accuses" Jake of being gay.  This enrages Dad so much that he shatters glasses on the floor and yells "He's 13.  He doesn't know what he is yet." So he can know if he's hetero and "ask a girl to a movie," but he can't know if he's gay?

Jake points out that he's 14, not 13.  Big faux-pas, Dad!  (the actor is 16).

Additional plot dump: Jake's Mom died in a car crash (of course).  Dad's business is going under, but he refuses to accept aid from his brother.  Dad drinks.

Brother's Wife Bree says she has to go to the bathroom, but instead she sneaks into Jake's room to make a secret phone call.  She finds the Chucky doll lurking in a closet.

Scene 4: Dad bursts into Jake's room and smashes the nighmare statue (Good!), but only because he thinks that Jake is gay.  "No more dolls!"  

In the morning, Jake checks the internet and finds that mint-condition Chucky dolls sell for $1,500.  Surely Dad will make an exception for a cash cow?  To be safe, Jake takes Chucky to school with him.

Scene 5: 
On the bus, Jake is bullied and laughed at. Well, you're a 14-year old lugging a gigantic doll around. He gazes longingly at Devon (Bj√∂rgvin Arnarson), who hosts the Hackenslash podcast, but his abusive cousin Junior is already sitting with him. 

Scene 6: At school, Jake's friend asks to be introduced to his cousin Junior, but Junior overhears and says "I'm flattered, but that's not really my thing."  Not so homophobic today.  To demonstrate, he smooches his girlfriend, the Mean Girl Lexi.

Scene 7:  In biology class, Jake is skittish about dissecting a frog.  He zones out, and when he returns, the frog is hacked to bits!  The teacher confiscates his Chucky doll.

Meanwhiel, Mean Girl Lexi starts a "Go Fund Me" to humiliate Jake. The teacher keeps her after class to complain.  When she leaves the room, Chucky menaces Lexi.

Scene 8: At lunch, podcaster Devon sits with Jake, but only to ask to interview him for an episode on bullying.  This enrages Jake, and he storms away.

Scene 9: At home, prospective buyers are contacting Jake.  One happens to be Andy Barclay, Chucky's original owner, who warns him about "mysterious things" happening around the doll.  Jake checks the internet: lots of murders.  Wait -- I thought just one Chucky doll was possessed.  Is it all of them? 

Scene 10:  When we last saw Chucky, he was locked in a cabinet at school, but somehow he ended up at home, and Dad found him!  "You have to get rid of this doll, now!"  Tell him about the $1500.  Suddenly Chucky speaks -- without batteries!  Jake freaks out and throws him in the garbage.

Scene 11:
School Talent Show.  Devon is not only a podcaster, but a pianist.  Later, Mean Girl uses her "talent" to humiliate Jake.  Suddenly Chucky is there!  Jake takes the stage, pretending to be a ventriloquist: "I'm Chucky.  We're friends to the end.  Only friends.  Not that there's anything wrong with that." 

He humiliates Lexi for dating both Junior and Oliver (Avery Esteves), and reveals a few more secrets, including Aunt Bree's obsession with Pokemon porn, to laughter and applause.

Scene 12:  At home, Dad is getting drunk.  Jake was suspended for his performance at the talent show: "You insulted your friends and family in front of the school!  Everybody thinks you're...weird." Does he mean gay?  Jake calls him out on his homophobia, and he responds by beating, strangling, and threatening to kill Jake.  

This annoys Chucky, who cuts the electricity.  When Dad goes down to the basement barefoot to check the circuit breakers, Chucky electrocutes him.  Jake is horrified.

Scene 13:
Jake talking to Detective Evans, who happens to be Devon's Mom, and Detective Peyton (Travis Milne). You called the cops for an accidental death?  

"You will be staying with your uncle.  Are you sure you don't want to see the grief counselor?"  An hour after his Dad's death?  Give him a couple of days.

They ask how the Chucky doll got from a locked cabinet in the school into the house.  How would they know that unless they asked the teacher or Jake?  And why would they, unless they suspect the dolll?  Jake claims that he broke into the school to retrieve it to work on his ventriloquist act.

The body bag is carted out, open enough to give Jake a good look at his father's bloody face.  That's got to be against protocol.

Uncle Logan arrives.  Oh, that's why it's a twin brother -- so Devon Sawa can continue to be on the show.

Scene 14:  Uncle Logan has a palatial estate!  A giant chandelier in the circular stairwell!  Aunt Bree shows Jake his gigantic room and gives him a map to the upstairs guest-wing bathroom.  Hasn't he been there before?

Cousin Junior just stands there, glaring at him.  What is he upset about?  Does he suspect something?  Jake shuts the door.  

Chucky animates.  Jake yells at him for killing his Dad, but Chucky insists: "He was an asshole.  He got what he deserved. Now let's talk about that bitch Lexi."  The end.

Beefcake: None.

Heterosexism:  None.

Gay Characters: Jake's friend.  Jake, although at this point unclear whether Jake is actually gay or just "accused."  Devon has not been specifically identified as gay, either, but he becomes Jake's boyfriend later.

The Doll Head Sculpture: If Jake is not being presented as a psychopath, what was the point of the nightmarish sculpture? (I can't even bring myself to make a screenshot of it).

My Grade: A-.

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