Long time no blog! Life comes at you fast when you graduate college and you’re jaded by the latest scandal in the aftermath of Harvey Weinstein. I have some reviews and costume analysis lined up so look out for that. To get us started a simple roundup: For the winter season, we have “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” and another season of Comedy Central’s Another Period.
What is interesting about this isn’t the lack of historical or fantasy shows but the lack of programming overall. With peak tv doubling the number of scripted shows since 2012 it was reported the amount of scripted shows for 2018 has increased. Combined with the number of sequels and blockbusters planned for the box office it doesn’t look like the bubble is going to burst anytime soon. There is also an alarming amount of shows being canceled after one to three seasons, some getting their seasons chopped in half before they air. Netflix also appears to be withholding show information, such as announcing Cloverfield Paradox hours before it’s release.
The good news is that media is slowly getting more diverse. The CW is airing the first black superhero show and Black Panther has broken pre-sale records. Of the pilot ordered for this year, roughly half have female leads and less than that are directed by female leads. A couple movies and shows andtheoreticals aren’t monumental but it’s a step in the right direction.
What does all this mean? We’re a month and a half into the year so we’ll see. It’s been predicted that the show oversaturation is going to have disastrous effects on Hollywood in the long run. Hopefully, this will force tv networks and VOD services to focus on fewer shows and keep them around longer.
Regularly scheduled blogging will commence next week!
When we think of a show about a Victorian-era ax murderess several channels come to mind, such as A&E or FX. Surprisingly, I am talking about the 2015 Lifetime limited-series, the Lizzie Borden Chronicles. A continuation of a 2014 movie and set a year later in 1893 it follows the titular Lizzie Borden after she was acquitted of the murder or her father and stepmother. I was interested to see how a violent story would be adapted for a channel known for its romance and feel good shows. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite reach it’s potential.
While the outfits are not exact replicas of French fashion plates they are accurate and capture the essence of early 1890’s fashion.The s-shape silhouette, black mourning walking dresses, shirtwaists, and hatpins are all present. I liked how clothes were used to visually characterize Lizzie and her sister Emma. Lizzie is a fashionable woman with a taste for fine things while older Emma is frugal and reserved. This is represented visually with their clothes.
L-R: Emma and Lizzie
L-R: Emma and Lizzie
For example, Emma’s shirtwaist is plain with minimal pintucks down the middle. Contrasted with Lizzie who has lace detailing at the yoke and down the middle. Another example is their outing outfits. Lizzie’s is brightly patterned with lace and other details while Emma’s is navy and utilitarian. Even their umbrellas reflect this. The only discrepancy is the limp hairstyles and leg-of-mutton sleeves. These missing finer details could be because it’s on cable tv and not being backed by a channel like HBO.
Needless to say, it was a chore to get through the first episode. Perhaps it was the constant shakey cam that made it difficult to focus on anything (including text close-ups), or the constant angle changes in a single scene, or the inappropriate music choices including a song that mentioned Greyhound buses (shout out for being one of the most inappropriate song choices I’ve endured). These things distracted me far too much to engage me or form any solid opinions on the plot or acting. As much as I enjoy empowered period heroines I’m going to have to sit this one out.
With the writer’s strike looming on the horizon threatening to cut summer and fall viewing short I am reminded to make one of these. EDIT: Writer strike averted! Summer and fall programming has been saved.
First order of business: the glut of time traveling shows. Two I thought premiered last year premiered this spring. Production issues? Reshooting due to test audiences? Networks realizing that period pieces are more expensive than regular shows? I’m not sure. The first one, Making History, had its season cut in half and had some minor plot changes. Described as plot-heavy it appears to be doing okay in ratings. The second show, Time After Time, unfortunately, was canceled and pulled five episodes into the season. The third show Timeless is the only one that suceeded and will likely get a second season. A fourth series, Class, a spin-off from Dr. Who joins the frey on BBC America and will no doubt last for five seasons.
Now onto the shows:
- American Gods: Adaptation of a Neil Gaiman novel of the same name produced by Bryan Fuller and Michael Green with an all-star cast. (whew!) In a word where gods and mythological creatures exist due to everyone’s belief in them. As technology becomes popular belief in these gods wain. Norse god Odin, known as Mr. Wendsday, prepares for war with the new gods.
- Still-Star Crossed: We finally have an air date! May 29 you better believe I’m watching this live. I have waited too long for a diverse poc-lead historical drama that wasn’t about slaves or the Civil Rights movement to see this flop. While important stories to tell, Black people deserve to be seen in different historical contexts besides suffering and subservient.
- Feud: Bette and Joan: This follows the feud between Golden Age movie Stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford during the filming of their 1962 film. Written by Ryan Murphy of AHS fame we know this will be a historically accurate and compelling series.
- Anne: Based on the novel Anne of Green Gables it follows an orphan girl as she tries to fit in with her new life. The head writer is a Breaking Bad alum so I’m not expecting a fluffy lighthearted adaptation.
- Harlots (PG-13 trailer): Set in Gregorian London it follows a madame trying to keep her brothel afloat and the rivalry with another brothel. Yes, you read that correctly and yes, it is historically accurate. I never thought I’d see a historically accurate 1790’s series about prostitutes but Hulu delivered. Written by and from the point of view of women the show veers away from the male gaze and being voyeuristic. There also appears to be two named black characters who have multiple speaking roles. I’m sold.
Final thoughts: All of these series (except American Gods) have female leads which is unexpected. The spring preview overall has about 1/3 of the shows with female leads in various genres. I have no doubt the VOD series will do well but I hope the network shows succeed as well. No fantasy shows this time but the amount of historical pieces makes up for it.
Happy fall solstice everyone! Last week’s premiere of AHS reminded me that the fall season is upon us. After a very dry summer season autumn has come to the rescue with lots of period pieces and some fantasy. Theme for fall: time-travel.
- American Horror Story 6: What is this season about? Nobody knows, not even after watching the first two episodes. Knowing this show period flashbacks are inevitable. (How well I can stomach any inevitable plantation scenes is another story) An inter-racial couple and a single black woman in rural NC, I am prepared to have my inner peace disturbed. I’ll be keeping the lights on for this season.
- Making History: Unpopular Dan from present day has a time-traveling dufflebag. After realising he might have screwed up the American Revolution he goes to his colleague for help, a history prof. Together they try to “set things right”. Looks like a lot of fun and will be funny. Not fond of “white lead black (comedic) sidekick” shows but from the trailer he doesn’t appear to be the standard stereotype and actually wears period clothing similar to everyone else. Reading the extended summary it sounds like Dan’s love interest gets to do things too (besides look pretty). Cautiously optimistic about this.
- Son of Zorn: First thought that this was either an [as] show or Fox. I’m not sure how I feel about this but it looks typical for a (half) animated Fox show. Pass.
- Still Star-Crossed: Diverse period piece and Shonda Rimes, I’m sold. I don’t need to know what it’s about I’m tuning in every week. 😛 Based on a novel this is an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet and what happens to their families after their deaths.
- Time After Time: A man who invents a time-travel machine believes his friend is Jack the Ripper, so he goes to the future to stop him. Not so sure about this one.
- Timeless: A trio goes throughout time to stop a criminal who keeps trying to alter major events. It appears them being chosen is due to more than mere coincidence. I appreciate the sole black man of the trio acknowledge that American history as a whole would be unsafe for him. He wasn’t featured in many scenes so who knows how much of a role he’ll play. On the fence about this one.
- Westworld: Based on the 1973 movie, people in the future can pay to pretend to be in the wild west. Full of androids and no formal authority, they can act out their desires with no consequence. It’ll explore what’s right and wrong, etc. An HBO series so violence and nudity will be plentiful.
- Midnight, Texas: From the creator of True Blood, this is set in a Texan town populated by supernatural folk (vampires, werewolves, etc) who try to keep outsiders away.
- Emerald City: Dark n edgy Wizard of Oz. Can’t find a trailer for this one so I can’t properly form an option.
I don’t know what inspired all these time travel shows or period pieces (the past couple seasons were light on both) so I am very excited to see these. I see all the major channels are trying to cash in and I just hope they are decent. Better yet, they last more than a season.
The fall season is about to start, so here is a list of upcoming period pieces:
- The Bastard Executioner: Described as “Sons of Anarchy in the Middle Ages”. I’ll have to see more before I can form an opinion.
- Wicked cities: Can the 80’s be considered period? Another detective series.
- American Horror Story, season 5: Here we go again! This season takes place in a hotel in the 30’s, which means beautiful period pieces and architecture abound. Unlike the rationed and pared down 40’s the 30’s was full of lovely gowns (for the wealthy, mind you). Everyone’s favorites will be back and even Lady Gaga will be there.
Final thoughts: More medical dramas, gritty reluctant white police officers/detectives, and movie reboots/spin offs than you can shake a stick at. Looks like I’ll have to see if there is anything from the summer season to look at. They would have finished or almost done so catching up shouldn’t be an issue.
- Another period: Parody of reality tv set in the early 20th century. Since its on Comedy Central I’m not going into this expecting BBC levels accuracy in the clothing or norms.
- Astronauts Wives Club – Set in the late 60’s, follows the wives of the astronauts that went into space and how they deal with their sudden fame.
- Deutschland 83 – Set in 1983 during the cold war, an East German spy is sent to West Germany to gather intel.
- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell – Set during the Neapolianic wars and off the book, it follows the feud of two magicians. A BBC production so accuracy and restrained eloquent banter guaranteed.
- Tut – A miniseries about King Tut that has a poc playing King Tut himself? AND has a mainly poc cast, including actual black/African people?? Its sad that we’re shocked a movie set in Ancient Egypt doesn’t have white people playing the lead. Almost as sad that Spike tv of all channels managed to get the casting right. I don’t know if the series is accurate but with a mainly poc cast it has my vote.
Summer season looked far more promising, and since these series are done or finishing up I can have something to look at during the fall. Fall’s offerings are slim, so this should
Alas, I keep forgetting to write up those reviews. Here are my thoughts on some historical related media I’ve been meaning to talk about.
American Horror Story, season 4: After much pestering from several people I finally caved and watched this season. I came in not knowing what to expect and was pleasantly surprised. I wasn’t expecting it to be set in the 40’s, nor was I expecting the accuracy that I saw. I’m used to the half-hearted attempts at grasping at period aesthetics, with gowns that vaguely look Victorian or weak jazz to indicate the 20’s. Not so here, the research put into this show is top notch. Everything was spot on from the flashbacks to attitudes and even the circus performers themselves. Since viewing this I’ve started the third season and will work my way through the other seasons, so expect more on those at a later time. Expect me this fall, FX. 4/5
Game of Thrones, season 5: aka everyone’s Problematic Fave. I am so fed up with this show and yet here I am, waiting for the next season. At this point, I just want to see my girls find happiness. They’re treated so poorly and it’s very upsetting. Before anyone busts out the “b-but that’s how it was back then!!1!” excuse, this is fantasy. You can make your own rules and have these girls not be used as plot devices. If what I heard from book fans is true, a lot of these changes and omissions weren’t necessary. Representation was pitiful as always. In FIVE seasons the only Asian person seen was a former prostitute and seen for all of a couple minutes in one episode. Yikes. Not even going to talk about the black slavers, this show irritates me enough. Just give my girls a good ending and call it a day. 2/5
Penny Dreadful, season 1: A very fun and entertaining show, although culturally inaccurate at parts. Considering the amount of detail that goes into every scene and character (ex. Dr. Frankenstein’s creature being true to the book and not the movies) I feel this is intentional. I heard this anachronistic mix as done on purpose but I haven’t been able to verify since I don’t want to spoil the second season. 3.5/5
HTTYD Race to the Edge: Its set in the Viking era, it counts. Aside from a couple Norse gods being mentioned and some Celtic knots, there is virtually no accuracy here. You don’t watch this show for political warfare and accurate depictions of daily life, you watch for the dragons and action scenes. 😛 In all an entertaining season, although it would be nice to see some the girls interact with each other more. (rolling eyes at each other doesn’t count!) 3.5/5
I need to find another new historical show to enjoy during the summer. I’m watching lots of sci-fi but I need something a little lighter and possibly whimsical.
As the month of Halloween (aka October to casuals) has come to a close it is time for me to report my costume roundup. It is with much regret that after visiting three different thrift shops numerous times my historical and vintage haul is non-existent. The closest thing I saw was a fantasy/medieval dress that had part of a bustier sewn in and made of rather weird fabric. (front half detailed, back half plain and unremarkable) It looked way too costume-y and couldn’t bring myself to buy it. As if that wasn’t bad enough the costume selection overall was weak. Last year my store got a phenomenal selection of goods while this year barely inspired excitement. All was not lost, as I was able to purchase a couple of goods including a lovely gothic lolita dress.
In brighter news, the mini series Over the Garden Wall has premiered! Created by Pat McHale who has worked on Adventure Time and Flapjack, follows the adventures of two boys lost in the woods trying to get home. It sounds terribly tired but the series is anything but. There are a lot of historical elements present in the series, although somewhat anachronistic. it is visually appealing and plenty of nods to vintage animation. The entire series is highly entertaining, unnerving, and ultimately satisfying. I will be discussing the aforementioned historical elements after the series has aired, to avoid spoiling those who are just tuning in.
Now back to bed so I can rest.