Ian Thomas Malone

Monthly Archive: February 2024



February 2024



Couple to Throuple is a predictably toxic portrayal of polyamory

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The LGBTQ population is very poorly represented by the swath of offerings across the reality TV landscape. Millions of heterosexuals can enjoy seeing the most toxic elements of straight culture play out each week on their favorite programs. The gays have no such luck, those of us predisposed to the genre forced to endure the adult equivalent of Disney princess fare.

The Peacock series Throuple to Couple ostensibly attempts to provide some insight into the world of ethical non-monogamy, a widely misunderstood segment of the dating world. Though ENM is quite common, though often confusing to explain with all the different terminology. ENM is an umbrella term that includes, but is certainly not limited to, open relationships, polyamory, and the more widely known practices such as swinging/swapping/threesomes. If any/all of that sounds confusing, the nuance is bound to be something lost in the weeds of reality television show

Couple to Throuple takes a bunch of ENM-inclined folk and dumps them in a beautiful island resort in Panama. As the title suggests, the primary driver of the narrative are couples seeking a third. The couples are presented with a swath of potential singles. In a style similar to Love Island the throuples share a bed together immediately, an awkward rite of passage for reality dating shows. What’s a little unusual is that the group of singles is kept around for the duration of the ten episode season, an awkwardly fixed ecosystem that betrays many of the flaws of this self-proclaimed experiment.

Seasoned practitioners of ENM generally frown upon the concept of “unicorn hunting,” usually when a heterosexual couple seeks a bisexual woman. There is an inherent power imbalance when a third enters into an established dynamic, sparking natural concerns over fetishization and basic stability. Couple to Throuple starts off its season with some exercises nominally designed to address this, overseen by a relationship “expert,” but the basic issues surrounding the very premise of the show surface almost immediately.

Few of the couples in Couple to Throuple have much experience with ENM. The term throuple may have entered the public lexicon, but the practice itself is fairly rare within polyamory and ENM. At least one of the couples has experience dating outside their relationship, but most are opening things up, or dating someone else together for the first time. Many of the singles have been in poly relationships, another messy reality for the power structures of the program. In typical reality TV fashion, the show emphasizes several “stay or swap” ceremonies, where the couples and their thirds are each given the chance to either stick with things or switch up their trouple. The constant emphasis on rotation only adds to the inherent instability of this mess, an untenable burden of doubt for many of the singles.

The idea of the couples being new to ENM is an interesting concept in theory, especially since many viewers are in the exact same boat. The execution is a predictable mess of toxic drama. The show largely tosses out any educational intentions halfway through, instead focusing almost all its attention on conflict and will they/won’t they moments between the cast. At a certain point, the show becomes quite clownish in its shameless dedication to one throuple that spent the entire season feuding with each other. The farce is so absurd that it’s almost hard to enjoy even as a problematic guilty pleasure.

The show takes such a haphazard approach to ENM that even basic reality is ignored in favor of throuple fantasy. The show repeatedly emphasizes the idea of monogamy within the throuple as something that many of the people want, not necessarily even just the established couples. The power dynamics of a closed throuple are very complicated, of course not something that the show cares to explore.

The most laughable moment of the entire season comes from one of the throuples deciding they’d definitely found their third, leaving the villa with an aura of “Mission Accomplished” that stands in direct contrast to the amount of drama centered on that couple for much of the season, including basic issues with jealousy not to mention practically untenable boundary issues. The show essentially decided that because this throuple was going to be worthless at future “stay or swap” ceremonies, they had no future narrative worth exploring.

Anyone who engages in a single element of ENM will tell you that it’s not easy to make things work in the long run, an often-forgotten reality of any type of relationship dynamic. Polyamory, the specific act of being in a relationship with multiple people, is very challenging, requiring ample empathy and communication. One might not necessarily expect a reality TV show to handle anything with nuance or grace, but it’s pretty jarring to see how quickly Couple to Throuple races to the gutter in its quest to be as toxic as humanly possible.

The show does deserve some sliver of credit for its effort to show some positive LGBTQ visibility. The lack of a MMF dynamic is a little disappointing, with many MFF configurations, but it wouldn’t be too surprising to learn that the show had trouble casting couples. Good intentions from a few couples aside, most of these people are too new to ENM to make for any kind of positive representation here.

Shows like Love Island, Love is Blind, and The Bachelor do not carry the same weight of obligation toward the heteronormative community that Couple to Throuple possesses toward ENM people. It’s not inaccurate to say that’s unfair, but that’s also the reality that every LGBTQ or LGBTQ-adjacent community has to confront with regard to mainstream media.

Couple to Throuple paints a toxic portrait of polyamory in the trashiest, most predictable way possible. Anyone with any experience in ENM knows this community has plenty of characters ripe for the genre. The poly community deserves our own cringey shows, but this base-level rancid vanilla simply fails on every level.







February 2024



The Traitors unites the reality TV extended universe with its delectable gameplay and stellar storytelling

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Reality TV found its footing in the post-9/11 American landscape. Shows like Big Brother and Survivor exposed the underbelly of our nation’s baser instincts amidst a culture grappling with the pearl-clutching phoniness that’s defined the Republican Party’s wayward bet toward Christian nationalism dating back to the Reagan era. George W. Bush’s embrace of culture war issues like gay marriage, a strategy more bluntly wielded by his ideological successor Donald Trump, created a swamp of debauchery ripe for the kind of antics cherished on MTV.

The Big Brother house is hardly as loose as it once was, making national headlines in its fourth season for the first on-camera copulation the Head of Household room. Survivor has largely shied away from controversy since the mid 2010s, having not outed any transgender contestants since 2017 and avoided dumpster fire casts since the trainwreck that was Worlds Apart in 2015. The Real World has been off the air for years, having shed its Spring Break-style reputation popularized by cast members like Trishelle Cantella long before, spawning its decidedly tamer, competition-based spin-off The Challenge (which was known as Real World Road Rules Challenge until 2010).

In many ways, The Challenge, which has evolved from its Real World/Road Rules days to include plenty of characters from across the Reality TV Cinematic Universe, namely CBS and Viacom properties (which have since remerged into Paramount Global following their prior detransition in 2005), set the rubric for The Traitors. While reality TV has long-sought D-list celebrities in its programming, The Challenge brought forth a novel idea to create its own celebrities. Former Real World alum such as Cantella, Chris “CT” Tamburello, and Johnny “Bananas” Devenanzio have all found illustrious careers in the genre decades after their original seasons aired. The Challenge helped transform reality TV from a petri dish for Andy Warhol’s “Fifteen Minutes of fame” thesis into something a longer form narrative not too dissimilar from the soap operas that once used to dominate the low-budget TV artform. The Challenge gave us characters to root for year in and year out.

The Traitors, which airs on Peacock, follows a fairly simple premise. A group of people are sequestered in a Scottish castle, divided into faithfuls and traitors hiding within their ranks. Each night, the traitors pick a faithful to “murder,” eliminating them from the game. The group partakes in a mission to earn money for the collective pot, maxed out at $250,000. Before bed, the group meets at a roundtable to deliberate and attempt to vote out, or “banish,” a traitor. If all the traitors are eliminated by the end of the game, the remaining faithfuls split the prize pot.  If any traitors are undiscovered, they either share the prize among their fellow traitors, or if they’re the only one left, take it all for themselves.

The first season of The Traitors split its cast between reality TV stars and civilians unfamiliar to that cutthroat world. The results were entertaining, if not predictable. After remaining undetected as a traitor for the duration of the game, four-time Survivor icon Cirie Fields mopped the floor with the foolish civilians she carried to the end, easily taking out Bachelor alum Arie Luyendyk Jr., who transitioned from faithful to traitor late in the game. The civilians felt cheated and were very grumpy that they were betrayed in a game called The Traitors. International versions of the show, including its original Dutch version De Verraders have varied between civilian and celebrity casts.

For the show’s second season, The Traitors did away with pesky crybabies and opted for a cast entirely comprised of reality TV stars. The two groups most represented within the cast are reality competition alumni from Paramount properties such as Big Brother, Survivor, and The Challenge and cast members from Bravo lifestyle reality shows such as The Real Housewives, Shahs of Sunset, and Below Deck. The latter group is an odd fit for a competition show, though it makes sense that fellow NBCUniversal entity Peacock would find plenty of space at its roundtable for sibling network Bravo’s favorite daughters such as Kate Chastain, Brandi Glanville, and Phaedra Parks.

The Traitors is a very messy show. The reality TV world is not that big. Players such as Dan Gheesling, Parvati Shallow, and Janelle Pierzina bring with them reputations going back to the George W. Bush administration. Viewers would have to consume thousands of hours of reality television to understand all the dynamics at play. The two distinct genres within reality TV, competition and lifestyle converge in a bizarre fashion, with the Bravo women forming a natural clique against the gamers. Somehow, amidst all the chaos, The Bachelor alum Peter Weber formed a group including the likes of Cantella, Love Island: USA alum Carsten “Bergie” Bergensen, and former Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow. This show is all over the place.

Presiding over all the chaos is actor Alan Cumming, who brightens up each episode with his flamboyant outfits and delectable one-liners. Cumming’s obvious delight radiates through the screen, a sentiment clearly shared by many in the cast. It’s not hard to see why.

Big Brother and Survivor are incredibly taxing games. Both require physically and emotionally draining gameplay, as well as major time commitments from the players. Stars of the genre are usually younger professionals in their twenties without families or obligations that would present logistical challenges for the months required to play these games. Every single Big Brother and Survivor alum who has played The Traitors did their respective shows multiple times. Especially in BB’s case, it seems unlikely that any of them will ever play the show’s full format ever again.

Survivor, The Challenge, and Survivor are far too physically demanding for most seasoned veterans of reality competition programming. Fields’ recent stint on Big Brother 25 further demonstrated the show’s lopsided favoring of physicality over the kind of strategic thinking that defined its glory years. The Traitors presents a unique opportunity for titans of the genre to showcase their skills once more in a setting that favors spectacle over strength.

The casting of reality TV icons clearly works to the show’s benefit. The Traitors leans heavily into its murder-mystery aesthetic, with a collection of characters who understand the perpetual need for drama. The blend of gamers and Bravo personalities has crafted a singular blend of chaos and mayhem that’s compelling to watch even if you aren’t familiar with the histories of the players.

The Traitors presents an Avengers-style convergence of reality TV titans at a time when the streaming era has diminished popular culture’s collective consciousness. Backed by a delectable host and stellar production values, Peacock has elevated the entire genre while giving longtime icons another chance in the arena. Big studios are doubling down on established franchises across the board for tentpole films. Peacock is currently proving how effective reality TV can be on that front. As the sun sets on the concept known as “peak TV,” The Traitors has rather flamboyantly thrown its name into the gauntlet as one of the best shows on television.



February 2024



The Zone of Interest is a powerful commentary on the mundane cruelty of apathy

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The breadth and depth of the broader World War II genre, especially the entries that focus on the atrocities of the Holocaust, have immortalized horrors that humanity cannot afford to forget. The most effective historical films tend to be the ones that teach us something ugly about the present that we take for granted. The film The Zone of Interest dedicates its narrative to one simple question anyone who’s ever learned about the Holocaust is bound to have asked: how could anyone let that happen?

Over a million Jewish people were killed at Auschwitz during World War II. Director Jonathan Glazer keeps his narrative at arm’s length from the camp itself, instead focusing on the home life of Rudolf Höss (Christian Friedel), who was commandant of the camp for three years during the war. Höss and his family lived in a house that shares a border wall with the camp, his wife Hedwig Höss (Sandra Hüller) working hard in the garden to build an idyllic sanctuary away from the horrors happening right next door. Like his wife, Rudolph spends his days buried in his work, always too busy to process the horrors he’s in charge of perpetuating.

Largely shot like a documentary, with multiple cameras rigged inside the Höss family home and frequent long takes, Glazer presents an approach that feels intentionally hands-off. The director doesn’t really need to worry about his audience having a familiarity with the subject material. Instead, The Zone of Interest aims to cast a light on the mundane nature of evil. Real life doesn’t have secret villain layers. Instead, there are far uglier realities, like a swimming pool that’s only a few meters away from a crematorium.

Friedel and Hüller both perform well under untenable circumstances as lead actors in a film with no protagonists. Hüller plays Hedwig like a selfish housewife, only able to see the blessings that a life at a post like Auschwitz had afforded to her family, a reality of her own choosing. Friedel threads a more subtle needle, a boring administrator glued to his singular task.

The 105-minute runtime flies by, an impressive feat for a film that deliberately keeps a fair amount of distance between its narrative and its audience. There are a few occasions where Glazer practically forces his viewers to be alone with the cruelties he structures the film around while never actually showing the camp in operation. The deafening silence that lies at the core of The Zone of Interest is nauseatingly powerful, an impressive feat of filmmaking within a well-trodden genre.

We all know the horrors of the Holocaust. Modern audiences would do well to remember that genocide does not happen in a vacuum. It takes the work of countless people such as Rudolf Höss to perpetuate the wheels of destruction, as well as the apathy of all who surround them. Few films can convey such a message with so light a touch. The Zone of Interest isn’t an easy film to watch, but it’s quite impossible to forget.



February 2024



Shohei Ohtani’s Final Start as an Angel

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No sport manages to integrate itself into the life of its fans quite like baseball. Baseball is always there. Not in a purely literal sense, but if you add up the days from Spring Training to the 162 regular season games, plus the post-season and the off-season Hot Stove, it’s easy to see why baseball often functions as a metaphor for life. Every day matters, but the calendar isn’t stocked full of appointment viewing quite like football or soccer.

Shohei Ohtani’s six years as a member of the Angels upended the rhythm not just of Anaheim, but the game itself. Shohei singlehandedly transformed the city which largely exists as support infrastructure for Mickey Mouse’s vast empire, into a cultural hub of international relevance. Every day that Shohei took the mound had the potential for history in the making, a once-in-a-lifetime sensation for a league that plays 2,430 regular season games each year.

There’s a familiar pattern for Angels fans that’s developed over the past decade. Spring is for hope, Summer is for tragedy, and September is for next year. It’s rare to see the All-Star Game roll around with the Angels still in contention, spurring the usual discourse over how a team that spends so much on payroll, that not only boasts a historical phenom like Ohtani, but also one of the greatest players of the twenty-first century in Mike Trout, could be this haplessly pathetic. Being an Angels fan is a miserable experience most of the time.

Like many major metropolises, the broader Los Angeles area is home to plenty of people who didn’t grow up here, myself included. Before Ohtani, the busiest times of the year for Angel Stadium tended to be when the Yankees and Red Sox were in town, bringing with them their legions of East Coast expatriates. As a lifelong Red Sox fan, I’ve always had loyalties to the American League, never buying into the nonsense that it’s actually fun to watch the pitcher embarrass himself in the batter’s box, a moot point as of 2022.

My baseball friends around the country often find my fascination with the Angels perplexing. The Los Angeles Dodgers are a far more competent organization, with Red Sox icons Dave Roberts and Mookie Betts at the heart of the team. The Dodgers/Angels dynamic is a lot like the Yankees/Mets rivalry I grew up with in my hometown of Greenwich, Connecticut. Like the Mets, it takes a certain degree of masochism to root for the Angels. People wonder why anyone wasn’t born into that vicious cycle of heartbreak would choose it willingly. Bandwagoners like to hitch themselves to a winning horse.

Angels Stadium was a lot easier to get to when I first moved to Southern California for grad school in 2015, spending the first year and a half of my time on the West Coast in Claremont. I’ve lived in Long Beach for the past seven years, a swing city between LA and Orange County in many ways, while also more or less equidistant to either ballpark. Dodger Stadium is about fifteen minutes further away from my apartment than Angel Stadium, depending on the wildly changing variable known as LA traffic.

My beloved late grandmother grew up a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Maybe it’s due to my experience with ethical non-monogamy, but I’ve never felt weird rooting for multiple teams. The Red Sox are my first love, and NESN broadcasts with Don Orsillo, Jerry Remy, and Dennis Eckersley taught me most of what I know about the game. Summers in Toronto with my grandfather instilled in me a natural affection for the Blue Jays, though their pitiful organization makes it easy to avoid conflicts of interest with the Sox. A connoisseur of baseball fashion, my fitted hat collection of more than fifty caps includes eight bearing the insignia of the Montreal Expos, split allegiances that drive some people crazy until they listen to me waxing poetically over my passion for this game.

Dodger Stadium is a cathedral, a shining city on a hill, albeit a hill that’s a tremendous pain in the ass. Angel Stadium is a dump, one of the ugliest parks in the league. The food at Angel Stadium is gross, and unlike Dodger Stadium, there’s almost nothing fun to do at the park if you get there early. Inexplicably, Angel Stadium recently raised the cost of parking from ten dollars to twenty, removing one of its key values over Dodger Stadium’s ridiculous rates.

There is no reason for anyone who wasn’t born an Angels fan to root for this team. Like the Mets, each year starts with a lot of promise, and a few weeks later ends in pain. The Angels often have more payroll tied up in their IL (Injured List) than entire teams spend on their rosters. The same team that spent hundreds of millions on Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Justin Upton, Vernon Wells, and Anthony Rendon often trots out a September roster stocked to the brim with AAAA talent never to be heard from again.

I attended Shohei Ohtani’s August 23rd start last season with a funny feeling in my gut. Ohtani hadn’t looked right in weeks, and the team was in freefall after inexplicably going all-in at the trade deadline. Each start seemed like the last time Ohtani would take the mound for the Angels.

I waited until ninety minutes before the game to pick up a ticket off Stub-Hub, procuring a seat just a few rows behind the dugout for a little over a hundred dollars. Part of the beauty of preferring the Angels to the Dodgers has always been the cheaper tickets, a reality I won’t soon forget as Shohei-mania inflates prices in LA for the next ten years.

Shohei left the game in the second inning. He hit a home run in the bottom of the first and collected two strikeouts before leaving the mound. As the first game of a double header, Angel Stadium was most unforgiving in the August heat. The stadium was full of angry bandwagoners furious that they’d spent hundreds of dollars on their seat for a Shohei cameo.

The Angels lost 9-4 to a talented young Cincinnati Reds roster. The Angels looked as pathetic as ever. The mood in the stadium was sour, almost everybody sunburned and depressed.

As for me, the most recent failures of the team did little to shake my bizarre love affair with the Angels. I went to the game by myself, as I often do, unable to convince any of my friends to abandon their workday on behalf of America’s pastime. I befriended an older lawyer seated next to me, impressing him with nonstop baseball facts as a chatty transsexual.

My shining Ohtani moment came the year before. I caught my first foul ball at his September 29th, 2022 start, where he came within a single strike of taking a no-hitter into the ninth against the Oakland Athletics. Knowing Shohei would likely remain in Southern California as part of the Dodgers, I hardly viewed the status of the 2023 Angels as an apocalyptic scenario.

SoCal locals tend to laugh whenever the Angels are referred to by their official name, the Los Angeles Angels. Everyone knows that Anaheim is neither part of Los Angeles, nor much of a city in its own right. The Angels are Orange County’s team.

I moved to California at a precarious state in my life. I began transitioning shortly after arriving on the West Coast, and have now spent almost a third of my life here. The Red Sox are the team I love to watch the most on TV, but I understand the love I feel for our SoCal teams as a sign of the roots I’ve laid here. As a transgender person living through unprecedented hatred aimed at our community, I’ll always be grateful to this city for giving me the space to realize that I can live a dignified life.

I often to go baseball games when I’m feeling sad. I tend to joke that it’s cheaper than therapy, objectively true with our broken healthcare system, but it’s more than that. Baseball is a constant. So much of this world stands in chaos, but baseball goes on. The cool breeze of a Southern California evening works wonders for clearing your mind.

The Angels have never once made the playoffs since I came to SoCal in 2015. That seems unlikely to change for the rest of Trout’s tenure. Lifelong Orange County residents will feel the pain of that much worse than I will, having my childhood heroes at Fenway to fall back on.

I tried to savor Shohei’s time in Anaheim, particularly the intimacy of having such an unprecedented talent in a setting that often feels like a regional ballpark. The Dodgers are a national beast, though only slightly less futile concerning the postseason, the Covid-shortened 2020 campaign aside. There is not a lot of hope in Anaheim these days.

One could say I’m more than a little spoiled for having two teams within driving distance. Visitors to my apartment often laugh at the memorabilia for the Sox, Dodgers, Angels, and Blue Jays, not to mention various souvenirs from other ballparks. I’m not a typical baseball fan by any means.

Some of my happiest memories of the West Coast are the evenings I spent at Angel Stadium with various loved ones over the years. I often joke that because I had my second puberty here, technically I grew up in Long Beach. Baseball’s status as “America’s pastime” naturally evokes a sense of nostalgia. I’m grateful to have lived out here long enough to feel that same warmth whenever I visit either of our parks.

Shohei Ohtani’s time in Anaheim has ended. The once-in-a-lifetime convergence of talent like Trout and Ohtani came, went, and spent most of its time on the IL. Baseball has never been a sport defined by one player or one moment.

2024 will likely not be much of a year to remember for the Angels, but I can’t wait until I pull up to the stadium, overpaying for parking to watch a hopeless team break its fans’ hearts. Shohei will work his magic down the 405, but baseball is a sport that finds its best magic in the quiet moments. The world is on fire right now, but for those of us who love that silly game, there’s always the promise that spring will come again.