Feb 3, 2023

Researching the Liberace of the Circus


I don't usually do reality tv, but paranormal documentaries are ok, especially the Disney Channel's My Ghost Story, about people who filmed their hauntings.  Episode 5 is about "two men who retire" and find their house haunted.  They had better be a gay couple!

Scene 1:  Sensationalistic quotes: "I don't feel safe.  I think it will harm me" as a pick-up truck drives through Milton, a small town in western Florida about 30 minutes from Pensacola (ugh!) and 30 minutes from the Alabama border (double ugh!  I can't imagine even driving through, let alone living there!).   Two elderly guys, Raimond Orszak, who uses a cane, and Michael Wright, who is rather portly (I'm into chubs; I'd date him), are surprised when a homeowner agrees to half of her listed price, without negotiation.  The only drawback: the house is near the Old Holy Cemetery, a white-only cemetery unused since the 1920s.   

Scene 2: They move in -- it's a double-wide trailer -- and start furnishing with potted plants, leopard-stripe pillows, and movie posters.  Things start turning up missing; doors slam by themselves; there are icy spaces -- standard haunting stuff.  They start taking pictures, and capture the ghostly image of a person hanging from a tree, and another lying on the ground (I just see fog).  

Scene 3: Mike is getting tired of the ghosts' mischief,  so he dares them to push him off a stone bench.  They make it shake hard, but not hard enough to dislodge him (maybe he is too heavy; he looks like he weighs over 300 pounds).

Next he asks the ghosts if the KKK had anything to do with their hanging (he could have just asked if they were lynched).  Suddenly the letters KK appear on the ground (I don't see anything.)  

Scene 4: They are sad and low-energy inside the house, but once they pass the front gate, they are full of energy.  (There was a place like that in West Hollywood.  I was perfectly energetic outside, but inside I felt like a battery being drained.)  A psychic tells Mike to not leave the trailer at night, or something bad will happen. 

Boldface font: "Michael and Raimond are unable to find a buyer for their house.  They feel trapped and in danger."

Then on to the next story!

Wait -- no resolution?  This was just one of three 9 minute segments in the episode.  

Are Michael and Raimond a gay couple?  It seems obvious, but they never state it, never display any affection.  They only appear together in one scene.  It seems that the Disney Channel wants to maintain deniability, to allow heterosexuals to think "Of course they're just friends. Gay people don't exist."

Research reveals that My Ghost Story originally appeared on the Biography Channel between 2010 and 2013.  It later moved to Lifetime, and reruns aired on FYI and the Travel Channel.  That may explain the deniability.

A 2010 article in the Bradenton Herald states that Michael and his "housemate" aren't afraid of the ghosts. Some of the images they have captures are pleasant, smiling faces and little girls in their best dresses.  I guess they revved up the terror for tv.

Housemate?  Deniability again.  But living in rural west Florida, wouldn't you avoid saying "gay," too?

A 2014 article in the NWF (North West Florida) Daily News covers several haunted sites in the region, including Michael Wright's house: "When he first bought the home...he was having dinner when,,," and so on.  Rai is not mentioned.

An obituary in the Lewiston Sun-Journal reveals some of Raymond Orszak's biography. He was a magician, then a circus ringmaster, dubbed the "Liberace of the Circus" for his flamboyant stage presence.  (The term does not appear in a Google search).  

Later he toured with his "beloved partner, Michael," in a humorous magical act called "Señor Rai and Tillie."  He retired in 1999, and died in 2018, at the age of 81.  "He is survived by Michael, his partner of 43 years, nephews and nieces, and friends."

One gets the impression that Michael wrote the obituary, but at least it outs Rai Of course, the term "partner" still has some deniability: "Aww, they mention his business partner.  How sweet!"  But there really isn't a better way to signify the relationship.

 Señor Rai and Tilly still have a Linkedin page entitled: "Ghost Encampers!  Come if you dare!"  Apparently they were able to make a little money from the haunting, even if coming out was not in the cards

"On My Block: Freeridge": Gritty Urban Drama Changes to Comedy, and the Bi Guy Gets the Girl


On My Block: Freeridge popped up on my Netflix recommendations.  Wait -- this looks like a comedy.  Wasn't On My Block a gritty, violent series about gangs, drugs, urban decay, and police targeting of minority communities?  I've got to see how they created a comedy sequel.

Scene 1: Gang members and passersby run into Freeridge (The sign goes by too fast to see what it is) to watch two girls fighting: "Y'all callin' me crazy!"  "Hate-ass bitch!"  The fight lasts for a long time, and is rather brutal, but portrayed as humorous.

Scene 2: The girls continue to argue and punch each other in the principal's office (Freeridge is a high school), but their street accent fades away.   Plot dump: they are sisters, Ines (thin, wearing pink) and Gloria (chubby, wearing blue), the latter sophomore class president. So she's about 15? Their guardian, Uncle Tonio (J. R. Villareal),  comes in and promises to keep them in line.  As punishment, they each owe him a hundy ($100). Gloria (blue) walks off in a huff.  Ines (pink) yells that she wants enchiladas for dinner.

Scene 3: Gloria in the supermarket, shopping for enchilada ingredients with her two friends, a boy (Tenging Norgay Trainor) and a girl.  She blames them for the debacle, because they were supposed to keep the sisters from attacking each other.  "You couldn't stop me anyway!  I hate Ines!  She ruined my reputation!"  

The friends note that Ines is ruining all of their reputations, so could Gloria please dump her?  The boy also promises to end his toxic relationship with Andre.  A boyfriend?  Please?  I'm getting tired of all heterosexual all the time teencoms (or gritty urban dramas).

Another problem: Uncle Tonio's fines are adding up. Now she owes over a thousand dollars.  How can she pay all of that?  

Scene 4: Gloria in the garage, going through the box of her old baby stuff, looking for the silver spoon her aunt gave her.  Too bad, Sister Ines already sold it.  

Dad comes in and gets all verklempt over a memento of a date with their mother.  Wait -- I thought Dad was dead.  Why is Uncle Tonio their guardian?  Did he lose custody somehow? Plot dump: his birthday dinner is Saturday, and he invited "a friend."

Uh-0h, they forgot to buy a birthday present.  Ines orders Gloria to buy one for both of them.

Scene 5
: Gloria and her two friends at a fast food joint, fuming: "This toxicity has to end!   Eject Ines from the friend group!"  Whoops, Ines shows up.  "Do it!" the they snarl.  "Dump her!"

Suddenly Andre, a super-swishy gay stereotype  (Zaire Adams). rushes up and hugs the boy.  He recoils in disgust.  If I didn't know that they were dating, I'd swear that he was homophobic.  The girls glare: "Do it!  Dump him!"

Gloria and the boy (Cam?) both lose their nerve and run away.  Ines tells the remaining girl (Demi) that they should get rid of the dead weight in their friend group: dump Cam!

Scene 6: On the way home, Gay Friend Cam tells the girl, Demi, that he's into her.  She cuts him off; "Your obsession with me is just an excuse, to justify dumping Andre."  So Cam is bi?

Cam agrees.  He should try being single for awhile.  Besides, he couldn't date Demi because "you'd wreck me."  Is that a sexual expression?  Demi lags behind, overcome by the realization that she is in love with Cam.  That gushy, starry-eyed, way overacted sitcom love.  So when he wants you, you don't want him, but the minute he stops being interested, you fall in love?  Only in a sitcom!

Scene 7: Gloria dumps Sister Ines: "You're out of the friend group.  Go make your own friends."  But instead of ostracizing her altogether, she make Sister Ines her bitch (servant).  

Scene 8: A yard sale to raise money for Uncle Tonio's fines.  New problem: the next door neighbors are having a yard sale, too, and want Gloria out -- until she demonstrates that she is an excellent salesperson, and offers to help.

Cam  bought a box monogrammed MM at the neighbor's sale.  He's going to give it to soon-to-be-ex Andre: "Wrong initials.  A box. Perfect!  He'll dump me for sure!"  

Uh-oh, the shoes of a scary elderly lady approach.  She wants the same box -- and is willing to pay $200.  Maybe don't wait for a yard sale?   When Gloria rushes to fetch Cam, the lady has vanished.  A bruja!

Scene 9: The box contains only a  pocket knife and a photo of the lady in her younger years..  Disappointed, Cam rushes off to give it to soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend Andre.  Then the elderly lady knocks on the door.  Now she'll pay $1,000!  "That box is cursed!" she exclaims.  They close the door to consult with Uncle Antonio, and when they open it, she's gone!

Scene 10: Demi,  who is into the paranormal, says that the curse will affect them all unless they learn more about the box. The other girls scoff.  Then it's time for Dad's birthday dinner, with his "friend" Lucia.  The girls text disgusted comments to each other.  

Lucia: "I'm a lawyer."

Girls: "Greedy loser.  All you can think of is money."

Lucia: "Most of my work is pro bono."

Girls:  "Broke loser!"

The girls give Dad the pocket knife from the box.  He slices open his finger with it, then throws his back out.  The curse!

Scene 10: At home, New Age Demi is using a tarot deck to find out about the curse.  Cam comes in: "The box is definitely cursed.  I gave it to Andre so he would dump me, but he loved it!"  

Demi grabs his hand and feels all love-struck, but backs off.

Scene 11: The girls in bed, discussing Dad's new girlfriend.  Are they having sex?  Why did he give her their dead Mom's scarf?

Scene 12: At school, Cam is elated because Andre hasn't texted in 15 hours.  "Because he's dead," the girls suggest.  "The curse killed him."   He scoffs.

Then Andre appears, with his face all swollen.  They all scream.

Scene 13:  They interrogate the neighbor who sold Cam the box. The old lady in the photo they found inside is dead!

Scene 14:  Sistern Ines, Cam, and Demi discussing the curse.  Gloria is upset that they've allowed Ines back into the friend group, and goes downstairs to pout.    Uncle Tonio appears to work on his laptop.  He gets a mysterious phone call.  A new mystery to solve!

Later, Ines and Gloria break into his computer (his password is the uber-heterosexist Boobies69) and discovers that he's been researching cancer.

While they are reading, Uncle Tonio appears from shower (no beefcake). "We're sorry that you have cancer."  "I don't," Tonio bombshells.  "Your Dad does.  He doesn't know yet.  The call was giving him the results of the MRI."  

Scene 15: Now Gloria believes in the curse.  "We've got to work together to save my Dad."  Meanwhile, the elderly dead lady is staring at them from her car.  The end.


Gay Characters: Andre.  Cam is bi, but he spends the entire episode trying to dump a guy and romance a girl.  Which do you think will get the fade-out kiss? .

Heterosexism: Only Cam and Demi express heterosexual interest in this episode, but Gloria gets a boyfriend later on (Michael Solomon, left)..

Drama: Mom's death and Dad's cancer.  Otherwise this is played as a comedy.  I'm interested in seeing the previous series, to see how the producers made the drama-comedy switch.

Jan 31, 2023

Laverne and Shirley

Laverne De Fazio (Penny Marshall) and Shirley Feeney (Cindy Williams) first appeared on an episode of Happy Days, when Fonzie hooks himself and Richie up with two "loose women" who are sure to "put out."

In 1976 (after Cindy Williams took time off to star in The First Nudie Musical)they spun-off into their own series, Laverne and Shirley (1976-83).  Theirr characters became more stable, friends and roommates who worked as bottle-cappers at Schotz Brewery in Milwaukee while waiting to "make all their dreams come true."  Those dreams involved snaring rich husbands.

It wasn't one of my top 10 programs, but everyone else in the family watched, so I saw it relatively often.  And, in spite of the heterosexist premise and standard 1970s obsession with sex, there was quite a lot of gay content.

1. In 1950s lesbian culture, you had to decide whether you were a butch or a femme, and date only the other type.  It was scandalous for two butches or two femmes to hook up.  Laverne was strong, aggressive, a good fighter and a hard drinker, into sports and home repairs, while Shirley was soft-spoken, polite, retiring, sexually repressed, and into frilly lacy things. I didn't know anything about 1950s lesbian culture in those days, but it wasn't hard to figure Laverne and Shirley out.

2. Shirley had a sort-of boyfriend, sort-of big brother in Carmine (Eddie Mekka), an aspiring actor-dancer-singer-boxer.  Carmine's main source of income was an older woman named Lucille, who gave him gifts and money in exchange for unspecified favors. Outside of work and friendship, Carmine didn't seem particularly interested in women. I didn't know much about hustlers in those days, but it wasn't hard to figure Carmine out.

Actor Eddie Mekka has been the subject of several celebrity hookup stories.

3. Carmine was amazingly hot, though rarely shirtless on the show (the photo is from Circus of the Stars).  And lots of other hunky guys paraded through Laverne and Shirley's apartment, as boyfriends or relatives,  including Christopher Guest, Ted Danson, Ed Begley Jr.,  and Ed Marinaro.

4. The annoying upstairs neighbors, Lenny (Michael McKean, middle) and Squiggy (David L. Lander, left), made the usual hand-biting gestures and kissing noises whenever they saw an attractive women (or in this case, an attractive man), but they rarely attempted to actually date anyone. They were  devoted to each other, permanent, exclusive, passionate partners.

In a 1996 episode of The Nanny, David L. Lander, swishing it up as Fran's gay-stereotype landlord, states that he has been with his partner "Leonard" for twenty years (that is, since Laverne and Shirley premiered).

Jan 29, 2023

Feria: A Cult in a Small Spanish Town in 1995, with Bi Girls and Penises


Feria: La Luz Mas Oscura (The Darkest Light)  is a Spanish series about two sisters uncovering their parents' unpleasant association with a murderous cult.  Maybe there are some hot guys.

Prologue: A Spanish village on a mountainside with a castle on top, 1975.  The camera descends into a mine, with drenched water and rocks, to a half-naked old guy chained up.  (Not very attractive).  Suddenly there's an explosion, and he's incinerated.

Scene 1: Same picturesque village, 1995, twenty years later.  People walking up and down the steep streets, chatting, doing laundry, sitting in cafes. We move to the town square, with three little kids eating candy and gazing lustfully at a bikini lady on a poster.  The same lady, Eva, appears, in short-shorts, with a bare midriff  Everybody grins and gawks as she sashays and jiggles her way to a boy-girl couple.  The girl steps aside as she says "You owe me 20 pesos!" and kisses the boy (Carlos Scholz, top photo, who stars in the Spanish series Toyboy, which I'm investigating next).

Bikini Eva addresses the left-out girl: "10:00 at the reservoir, Mar?"  

Scene 2: A room full of mounted dead bugs and other scary mementos.  A teenage girl named Sofia feeds her pet lizard.  Mom knocks: it's time to go to the reservoir.  Sofia doesn't want to: Midsummer Festivals are always the same, people getting drunk and making out.  But Mom talks her into it.

Downstairs: Sofia is Bikini Eva's sister!  Dad reminds them to not stay out too late, and Mom hugs them. After they leave, Mom and Dad look guilty.  Wait, Sofia criticizes Eva: "You're so basic!"  That's a 2020s expression, unknown in 1995.  Maybe it's the subtitle translator's fault.

Scene 3: 
 Mom and Dad receive visitors: an old guy and a long-haired guy in a wheelchair.   They stare ominously.

Left: another view of Carlos Scholz and some of his friends.  Sigh. Maybe I'll switch over to Toyboy right now.

Meanwhile, the reservoir.  A brief glimpse of a muscle guy jumping over a bonfire.  Bikini Eva is going to college in Seville, and invites Raul, the kissing guy from earlier, to share her bed there.  Mar, the third wheel from earlier, glares at them and gets drunk.  

Sister Sofia wanders off to where the Nerd Chisco (Jorge Motos) is making a video: "St. John's Eve, the shortest night of the year. The youth of Feria are oblivious to the danger that stalks them.  The Fair of Blood is about to begin!" Foreshadowing?  He sets off a bottle rocket, startling the bully Rubio, who chases them into the woods.  Darn, he forgot to press "record," so the footage is lost!

Jorge Motos, looking decidedly femme.  But he's apparently cisgender and hetero.

Scene 4: Bikini Eva finds Mar, the third wheel from earlier, and asks why she's been so weird laterly.  They play with each other's hair, then grab and smooch.  Wow, Eva really gets around!.

 Uh-oh, Raul sees them.  Unaware that they are an item -- obviously it's not a three-way relationship -- he stalks off.  Presumably he's upset over Eva cheating, not homophobic.  I was in Spain in 1995, and it was perfectly gay-positive.

Meanwhile, Sister Sofia wants to go swimming -- she wades into the water in a boob-showing bra and panties.  Nerd Chisco strips (a brief chest shot, no below-the-waist nudity) and joins her.  They dive down to investigate a bike at the bottom of the reservoir. Ugh, close-ups of Sofia's boobs and butt, nothing of Chisco!  Suddenly Sofia is grabbed by an unseen force; blood flows around her. 

Scene 5: Sofia awakens in her bed.  It was all a dream!  She puts on a jiggly outfit, goes downstairs, and asks Bikini Eva what happened last night: "You passed out underwater.  Poor Chisco almost had a heart attack."  Why are you being judgmental?  She didn't do it on purpose!   By the way, it's 3:15 pm: where the heck are our parents?  Maybe they went to Cadiz, and didn't tell us because we were asleep. 

Later that day, Sophia is watching the movie Society, about a boy who discovers that all of the parents in town are space aliens intent on eating their kids. Foreshadowing, anyone?  Suddenly 84 Civil Guard soldiers burst in,  guns drawn, and force the screaming girls into a corner.  "Where are your parents?" they shout.

Marcos, an officer they know, comes in.  What a relief.  "Call them off!" the girls yell. "Just answer the question!"  Uh-oh, he's not an ally.

Scene 6:
At the police headquarters, they meet Lieutenant Guillen, UCO (Issak Ferriz), who has just moved to town -- his office doesn't even have chairs yet.  

He explains: at 6:30 am, he was called from Cadiz to investigate "something strange" outside the old mine.  He arrived to find the police, the military, Hazmat suits, and 23 middle-aged people scattered around a pond, naked, dead. (Several penis shots! It's ok to gawk, they're not really corpses.) 

"We haven't identified the bodies yet, but don't worry, your parents aren't among them." 

So why are you looking for them?  There's a surveillance camera at the old mine's entrance, to keep trespassers out.  Last night at 1:09 am, it taped the 23 dead people plus your Mom entering the mine, fully clothed. Your Dad stayed back, watching.  Two hours later, they left, naked, gasping for air (and with more penises swishing around!).  Not Mom, though.  

"So," he concludes.  "Did your parents belong to a club...organization...cult?"

"Yeah, we go to Mass!" Bikini Eva snarls. 

Scene 7: A lady cop from Madrid and local cop Marcos investigate a nearby building: pockets of methane!  "That must be what killed them."  So they got a lethal dose of methane in the mine, and stumbled out to the pond to die?  Except methane isn't poisonous; in a high concentration, you suffocate from lack of oxygen, so if they were able to stumble out of the mine into fresh air, they shouldn't have died.

Uh-oh, a clattering noise behind a locked door.  They burst in to find -- Eva and Sofia's Dad.Pablo (Ernesto Villegas. If this is the same one, he got his start in porn.).

Sorry, I mispoke: it's a teenager.  But I'm not taking the porn pic down.

Scene 8: The girls have no relatives in town, so Child Services places them in a juvenile shelter. They get their own room; there's a giant teddy bear in the corner; but there are bars on the windows!  

Meanwhile, the teenage survivor has no id and won't speak. Madrid Cop ask Officer Guillen to interview him. Plot dump: the two are brother and sister.  This may become important later.

Scene 9: His name is Halid (Lazar Dragojevich).  He came to Feria four days ago with his brother, who said he had found a job in town.  They went to the mine to meet his employers -- the girls' mom and dad! -- but Halid "wasn't supposed to be there," so they locked him up.  He heard some praying and chanting, and then nothing.  So they went into the mine to pray to some eldrich gods, and accidentally suffocated? Or was it a death cult?

Scene 10:  Loading up the body bags.  Madrid Cop flashlights her way into the mine, down a dark passage, past rats. She hears a screech, so high that it hurts her ears, and falls unconscious.  A green monster approaches.

She awakens back at the base camp: "Are you alright?  Why did you go into the mine by yourself?

Scene 11: Nerd Chisco overhears Local Cop telling his Dad something about the mine.  He looks upset.  Probably that his mother was among the dead.

Scene 12: A line of ambulances heading down the mountain, while the townspeople look on.  Meanwhile, Officer Guillen visits Madrid Cop, who is sick.  They discuss the case: he had to let the survivor Halid go, and they're still looking for the parents. When he leaves, Madrid Cop starts squeaking.

Switch to headquarters: Nobody in town has any idea who the 23 victims are.  The only one to be identified is Olga Velazques, Chisco's Mom, a heroin addict who disappeared three years ago.  

Scene 13: Chisco and his Dad arrive at their video store to get the condolences of their friends and employees.  "Blame Pedro and Elena!" they yell.  "They caused everything."  At that moment, Officer Guillen drives past with the girls in his car.  Chisco glares at Sofia.  

They continue to the house.  Officer Guillen asks the girls to pack some stuff before they are sent to a new juvenle center in Sevilla.  "Wait -- we want to stay here!" "With the townsfolk blaming your parents for the 23 deaths? It isn't safe."  But he agrees to let them stay for a few days.

More clues: the officers found letters to Mom hidden in an upstairs closet, from members of a group called the Cult of Light: "we are moving on the path toward perfection. We've fulfilled the five veils of light, and you, Elena, are the key."

Obviously Mom convinced her followers to commit suicide by going into the methane-filled mine.  

Scene 14: Madrid Cop squeaking and panting and screaming.  Then the screaming stops.  She smiles.  Officer Guillen muses over the letters.  Nerd Chisco arrives at the juvenile center, looking for vengeance.  And the girls discuss what happened to Sofia on the night she almost drowned.  The end.

Beefcake:  Some stray penises, some shirtless guys.  

Hetero Male Gaze: The sisters get LOTS of boob and butt shots.

Gay Characters:  Bikini Eva is canonically bisexual, and her girlfriend Mar is gay or bi. Maybe some others will come to light.

Gay Subtext:  Except for cops saying "You should see this," I don't think any male characters spoke to each other.  Almost all interactions are boy-girl.  

My Grade: B, if you fast-forward past the boobs.  Othewise C.

Update: The second episode begins with a long, pervy shot of a woman's naked body.  I figured that it be brief, but it lingered on her lady parts and boobs.  By the time I reached the fast-forward button, it was over.  But if this series is going to be 10% plot, 90% hetero porn, I'm out.

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