Ian Thomas Malone

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Friday

5

July 2024

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COMMENTS

Pride, Surgery, Relationships, Stress

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ITM has a bunch of updates, including a lip implant removal procedure that kept her away from the microphone during Pride Month. It’s been a stressful time for many LGBTQ people. Ian shares her own struggles with stress, and talks about her new relationship. It’s a weird time to be LGBTQ in the world. It’s okay to not be okay 100% of the time (or any of the time). Be good to yourselves, fam.

Thursday

30

May 2024

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COMMENTS

Furiosa is an entertaining, underwhelming addition to the Mad Max Saga

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The entertainment industry’s fascination with prequels forces its risk-aversion tendencies into an inherent state of contradiction. The types of successful films that produce prequels are generally the same that don’t actually need sizable holes in their narratives filled with the equivalent of feature-length exposition. Prequels also save studios money on not needing much of the cast back, unlike sequels that often run the additional risk of undoing the hero’s journey of the original work.

Mad Max: Fury Road is not the kind of film that needed a prequel. The entire series is built on minimalistic storytelling, each film essentially operating as a standalone. Nobody needed to see a single installment in George Miller’s original trilogy to enjoy the franchise’s first release in thirty years. Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga diverges from this pattern by directly linking itself to Fury Road, following the origin of its title character (played as a child by Alyla Brown, and Anya Taylor-Joy as an adult, taking over from Charlize Theron).

While Fury Road left most of its world-building details to its audience’s imagination, Furiosa as a film spends most of its narrative building out the entire backstory of its leading woman, as well as the Wasteland itself. Taken from The Green Place of Many Mothers at an early age, Furiosa survives the harsh conditions of the Wasteland, first as a captive of Dementus (Chris Hemsworth) and Immortan Joe (Lachy Hulme, taking over from Hugh Keays-Byrne), before finding a mentor in Praetorian Jack (Tom Burke). The narrative is divided into five chapters, covering a wide spread of Furiosa’s life.

The politics of the Wasteland are thoroughly explored, particularly the supply chain that runs from Bullet Farm, Gastown, and The Citadel. The people who lamented Fury Road’s status as a feature-length chase stunt will find much to enjoy in the way Miller built things out this time around. Furiosa’s finest achievement is the way that the film enhances Fury Road without taking away from it or trying too hard to retrace its footsteps.

There is so much to enjoy in Miller’s approach to filmmaking, thoroughly marching to the beat of his own drum in a production that feels intimate in the way it centers Australia. Few movies with a budget of 168 million can make such a claim to exist in the same space as arthouse. So many blockbusters are overstuffed with obligations their greater franchise lore that they never stop to catch a breath. Furiosa is a lot more introspective than Fury Road, occasionally to its detriment.

Furiosa proves that the franchise can do just fine without Mad Max, but the film missed a key lesson from Fury Road, which subtlety built out its ensemble amidst all the mayhem. Furiosa rarely talks, leaving Hemsworth’s Dementus to occupy a weird space as not only a villain, but the force relaying most of the information to the audience. Hemsworth gives the role his all, but there is the sense that he’s doing too much, overstaying his welcome in more than a few sequences.

The way Miller allots the bloated 148-minute runtime also boxes Taylor-Joy out of much of the movie that bears her name as its lead. So much time is spent on Furiosa as a child that Taylor-Joy isn’t given much space to make the role her own, often amidst frantic action sequences that pale in comparison to Fury Road, inevitably drawing unflattering comparisons to Theron’s superior performance. Taylor-Joy only has about 30 lines of dialogue, and absolutely no chemistry with Burke, whose Praetorian Jack occupies an awkward space in the narrative.

To some extent, one might want to give Miller credit for not buffing out Furiosa with unnecessary side characters whose absences from Fury Road would have to be explained. The trouble is, the film doesn’t really have anyone to root for. You never lose the sense that Furiosa’s bond with the audience relies too much on what Theron built in Fury Road. There’s no Nicholas Hoult-type side characters to enjoy. Hemsworth is spread too thin carrying the dialogue, occasionally producing some unexpectedly substantive moments from his cartoonish character.

Miller’s technical craft is almost always on full display, but Furiosa lacks the sheer spectacle of Fury Road. The film is nearly a half hour longer, but the action feels smaller. That shift in scope isn’t really replaced by an added sense of intimacy either. Taylor-Joy never invites us into Furiosa, lacking all the subtle nuance of Theron’s performance.

Furiosa is not a bad film. There’s a lot of entertainment value in the way Miller puts on a show. It’s just a show you’ve seen before, longer, but not better. Fury Road felt like a genre-defining masterpiece. Furiosa settles on just being a solid, unspectacular prequel.

Monday

13

May 2024

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COMMENTS

Madame Web

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Her web connects us all! Or does? Absolutely not.

Ian is joined by Ed Carroll for a discussion on Sony’s Spider-Man Universe’s latest disaster. Ian and Ed break down the odd narrative decisions, like the bargain bin Terminator chase to the odd application of clairvoyance powers to the puzzling absence of spider powers in a film with three Spider-Girls/Spider-Women. What a mess!

Disclaimer: Sony sent Ian a copy of the 4K/Blu-ray release for the purposes of recording this episode.

Thursday

9

May 2024

0

COMMENTS

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

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Ian has a lot of feelings about The Phantom Menace on its 25th birthday. She already wrote an article about the film a few years ago, so naturally her only recourse was to make a podcast film about it. Why do we care about a children’s movie that somehow straddles the line mediocre and underrated? I guess you’ll have to listen to find out! 

 

Ian’s old article on The Phantom Menace (rescued from the Wayback Machine): https://web.archive.org/web/20200408092924/https://fansided.com/2019/12/16/star-wars-phantom-menace-best-prequel/

Monday

29

April 2024

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COMMENTS

Classic Film: Happy Together

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One of the most frustrating aspects of love is seeing people we care about trapped in an endless cycle with an individual they’re clearly not compatible with, but can’t seem to live without either. Love makes us do stupid things. The issues are often confounded by external aspects, like living situations or ties to one’s community.

Wong Kar Wai’s 1997 film Happy Together crafts a fertile panopticon for a toxic relationship. Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) travels from Hong Kong to Argentina with his boyfriend Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung). The two bicker frequently, breaking up often. Po-Wing possessing a magnetic control over Fai, his toxic traits somehow endearing in that way that problematic relationships often tend to work. Fai grows tired of life in Argentina and works a number of jobs in order to raise money to go home.

Wong does a masterful job layering the mess that is Fai’s life. Being gay, especially in the 90s, is an isolating feeling. Coupled with life in a country where no one speaks your language, it’s easy to see the cyclical nature of Fai’s misfortunes.

True to form, Wong is not terribly concerned with presenting a narrative within his features 96-minute runtime. Leung and Cheung are largely given the runway to make magic with their lover’s quarrel. Wong’s best skill as a director is the way he frames the claustrophobia of toxic romance. Cheung’s Po-Wing is such an insufferably odious individual that you want to reach toward the screen and shake Fai until he comes to his senses. Leung does an excellent job selling his lead, a heartsick homosexual lonely in a foreign country with no one who cares about him but his selfish lover.

Wong’s commitment to the tedious nature of his film’s core romance highlights a key pillar of the 90s LGBTQ experience. Many of us know what it’s like to give partners significantly more chances than they deserve. The isolation that defined much of our community in those days breeds a lot of fear that we’ll grow old, unloved, and alone. These anxieties are hardly exclusive to gay people, but the discretion expected of our people fostered an environment where this nonsense could thrive, often unimpeded by common sense.

Bad relationships can be glaringly obvious to one’s friends and family. Wong takes the safety nets away, throwing a young gay guy to the wolves. Happy Together is a tough watch, but it’s a beautifully honest portrayal of the messiness that often defines queer romance. We’ve had to build a world within the broader heteronormative society. People aren’t exactly expected to act rationally when they’ve got no support systems. Many of us can relate to Fai. One of the most important aspects of community is the way the people who genuinely love us can help us steer clear of that fate.

Thursday

25

April 2024

0

COMMENTS

Classic Film: Chutney Popcorn

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One of the defining challenges of the LGBTQ experience is the way our community exists within a broader heteronormative world, forced to juggle expectations of countless previous generations that didn’t necessarily have space for us, alongside our own desires. It’s not enough to merely survive, but to thrive in this adventure called the human experience. Life is messy enough when you’re not expected to pave your own trail.

The 1999 film Chutney Popcorn examines the essence of family through a queer lens. Reena (Nisha Ganatra, who also directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay) is a young lesbian who works at a photographer in New York City. Reena possessing the kind of strong-willed character that many write off as selfish, including her mother Meenu (Madhur Jaffrey) and sister Sarita (Sakina Jeffrey). When Sarita finds out she’s infertile, Reena offers to serve as a surrogate for her sister and brother-in-law Mitch (Nick Chundland). Reena’s pregnancy puts her at odds with her girlfriend Lisa (Jill Hennessy), and their broader childfree friend group.

Ganatra’s work has an easy, lived-in feel to it. The film never feels like it needs to explain lesbian culture to its audience, instead frequently relying on humor to ingratiate itself to its audience. Much like Reena’s reluctance to give in to her family’s expectations, Ganatra’s effort behind the camera firmly marches to the beat of its own drum. Backed by a strong minimalist score, the scenes often play out like small vignettes through a year of Reena’s life.

The film’s greatest triumph is the way Ganatra breaks down seemingly impassable messiness, making an impassioned case for the power of love to persist under the harshest circumstances. The idea of being in love with someone who wants diametrically opposite things out of life than you do is unbelievably scary. It’s not inherently a bad thing to be scared either, forcing yourself to grapple with the reality that someone you’re intrinsically wrapped up with wants something that you don’t want. That is life. Love is supposed to take you outside of yourself, to push the boundaries of the soul past the confines of your own safe harbor.

Chutney Popcorn makes no apologies for desire. People are allowed to want things. People are allowed to change their minds. People are allowed to be terrified. Human existence is defined by those moments where your back is against the wall, and the only way forward is to hold your head up high and face that which exists outside of your control with grace and dignity. You can find out a lot about the purpose of this whole experiment when you take a deep breathe and allow some space for something beyond your own orbit to gain a foothold in your world.

The film does lose a bit of steam in its third act, Ganatra’s pacing circling the runway for a bit too long at the end. The results are in service to realities that we all need reminding of every now and again. The people we love are capable of surprising us, of pushing against their own limits to support our ambitions, to accept the basic entropy of intersectionality.

The queer experience can feel isolating, an added layer to basic realities that afflict many people regardless of sexuality. Many of us have to invest in found family for our own basic survival, but all family structures are fundamentally a buy-in. Those of us queer people who want families of our own are often forced to get creative with the ways we can make that happen, alongside the other people in our lives committed to figuring out how to cross the oceans of own desires. Plenty of us have made mistakes on that front.  Chutney Popcorn is full of relatable themes for a general audience, a narrative that holds up remarkably well twenty-five years down the road. Anyone who’s ever been put in an unfathomable position by a loved one could learn a lot from the grace displayed in this beautiful film.

Sunday

24

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

Staying the Course

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Five year Estradiol Illusions anniversary! Ian talks about what she’s been up to this year, mostly writing and trying to get over yet another breakup. Life is a tricky game. Best to keep a stiff upper lip and get on with things.

Thank you to everyone who’s listened to the show over the past half-decade! We don’t do as many new episodes as we used to, but it’s always fun to catch up. 

Ian is far more active on her two preferred platforms, Facebook and Threads

Tuesday

5

March 2024

0

COMMENTS

The 2024 Oscar Nominees for Best Picture Ranked

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2023 was a fantastic year for filmmaking. The nominees for the Academy Award for Best Pictures have several contenders that would have been worthy winners in any of the three years since the pandemic. Of course, awards don’t work that way. Best Picture winners are forever immortalized, even in the years when any number of films could’ve eked out a victory.

Art is subjective, an inherent flaw of awards shows. Any number of people could rank the Best Picture nominees in a thousand different ways. My list reflects the way each filmmaker’s storytelling landed for me. Your list would almost certainly be different.

As a critic, I’m primarily interested in two elements of filmmaking: craftsmanship and messaging. All ten Best Picture nominees feature exceptional acting, an element of the art form that can often be found in complete turkeys. It is a far more daunting task to elicit genuine emotion from the audience toward perspectives quite foreign to their own. Art reminds us all of the inherent relatability of the human experience across the boundaries of space and time.

Here is my list, ranked from most deserving of Best Picture to least deserving. Your thoughts on the nominees and my ranking are encouraged in the comment section.

1. Anatomy of a Fall A legal drama has not won Best Picture since 1979’s Kramer vs. Kramer. Anatomy of a Fall does not seem likely to break that trend, but Justine Triet’s intimate depiction of a writer on trial for the death of her husband presents one of the most captivating treatises on language depicted on film in the modern era. Sandra Hüller plays an eminently cold individual who manages to draw sympathy from the audience almost through a force of gravity, a gripping slow burn. Alternating between French and English, Triet constantly plays with the nature of identity and the agony of a human heart at war with itself. Few films manage to capture the claustrophobia of marriage without pointing fingers. People are often awful to each other. Life is not a scorecard, except in places like the courtroom, where everything is on the line.

2. Past LivesFew films capture the quiet, painful dignity of heartbreak quite like Celine Song’s work. Greta Lee delivers a performance of eloquent nuance as Nora, a South Korean expatriate whose journey to America separated her from her childhood crush Hae Sung, played by Tae Yoo. For all of us, the passage of time is full of what-ifs, moments that could consume an entire existence if one allows it. Song handles her material with such grace, a style reminiscent of French romanticism and the best elements of the 2000s mumblecore wave. Few films capture the humanity of loss with such a restrained approach. No other Best Picture nominee captured the pain of love quite like Past Lives, a marvelous feat of filmmaking.

 3. The Zone of Interest The greatest triumph of Jonathan Glazer’s adaptation of Martin Ames’ 2014 novel of the same name is the way the film communicates the horrors of the Holocaust so vividly without ever depicting them on screen. The narrative focuses on Rudolf Höss and his family’s comfortable life in Auschwitz, with a single wall separating their idyllic existence from the atrocities just beyond their backyard. The cinematography puts quite a bit of distance between its subjects and the audience, though Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller, the latter nominated for Best Actress for her work in Anatomy of a Fall, put forth commanding performances in the lead roles. The Zone of Interest is a tough film to watch, but Glazer deserves a lot of credit for his innovations in a well-trodden genre, an experience that leaves you completely drained by the time the credits roll.

 4. Oppenheimer Oppenheimer will almost certainly win Best Picture. Christopher Nolan’s work is both larger than life and strangely intimate, anchored by a tour de force performance from Cillian Murphy in the lead role. Few films with three-hour runtimes move with such deft precision, using Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s 2005 biography American Prometheus as its lodestar. The “Barbenheimer” phenomenon represented a singular convergence of blockbuster filmmaking and genuine art. Nolan’s split timeline non-linear narrative has the weird effect of taking the film outside both its subject and his bomb, a dynamic that starts to shrink Oppenheimer as the story progresses. Oppenheimer loses a bit of his mystery as a man when the narrative shifts to Los Alamos, appearing more like a traffic conductor or a politician than someone who rather singularly transformed the entire world.

 5. BarbieThe defining blockbuster of 2023 is a worthy awards show contender. Greta Gerwig managed to transform a doll designed to be everything to everyone and deliver a message that felt both personal and universal, a sentiment best expressed through America Ferrara’s Oscar-nominated supporting performance. Robbie and Gosling are quite delightful in the lead roles, shuttling between the plastic world of Barbie and the plastic world of Los Angeles. Barbie gets a little cutesy when awkwardly poking fun at itself, but Gerwig’s work is well-deserving of a nomination, even if the film is unlikely to walk away with many trophies.

 6. Poor Things ­­– Few filmmakers can elicit genuine shock quite like Yorgos Lanthimos. An adaptation of the Alasdair Gray’s 1992 novel of the same name, the film follows Bella, a woman who was revived after her suicide when a mad scientist implanted her unborn child’s brain into her body. Emma Stone is absolutely captivating in the lead role, easily the best performance of her career. The film possesses the best set design of all the nominees, with gorgeous steampunk aesthetics, but the story loses a lot of its power as the narrative wears on. Lanthimos’ most beautiful film is quite compelling in its own way, though its quasi-feminist messaging leaves a lot to be desired.

 7. American FictionCord Jefferson’s adaptation of Percival Everett’s novel Erasure is an absolute delight that marches to the beat of its own drum. Jeffrey Wright delivers a commanding lead performance as a writer/professor who finds unexpected success with a satire of stereotypical Black narratives that pander to white audiences. A powerful and necessary scathing rebuke of the publishing industry’s treatment of marginalized authors. Jefferson’s work struggles a bit down the stretch, but it’s a delightfully charming film. Sterling Brown, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Issa Rae deliver strong supporting performances.

 8. The Holdovers There is a lot to like about The Holdovers, a charming 1970s period piece about a Massachusetts boarding school. Paul Giamatti showcases his leading man chops as a hapless curmudgeonly teacher, bolstered by strong backing performances from Da’Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa. Director Alexander Payne plays it a little too safe with his narrative that borrows too heavily from filmmakers of the time period. Giamatti would be a worthy upset over likely Best Actor winner Cillian Murphy, but The Holdovers itself is hardly Best Picture worthy.

 9. Killers of the Flower Moon ­The framing for Martin Scorsese’s epic western centered on the 1920s Osage Indian murders is a complete disaster, focusing on a woefully miscast Leonardo DiCaprio instead of the far more compelling Lily Gladstone. Nominated for Best Actress, Gladstone finds herself sidelined for much of the unwieldy 206-minute runtime. Robert DeNiro and Jesse Plemons put forth strong supporting efforts. The cinematography is superb, but Scorsese’s exceedingly relaxed pacing undoes almost all its dramatic tension.

 10. Maestro – Bradley Cooper shows off his ample technical skills as a director in his sophomore effort, while also exposing some glaring flaws as a storyteller. Cooper’s first film, A Star is Born, was the third remake of the 1937 classic. Maestro presented no easy crib sheets, a meandering slog that feels much longer than its 129-runtime suggests. As an actor, Cooper disappears into the role of Leonard Bernstein, but he doesn’t have anything compelling to say. Carey Mulligan does her best grasping at straws for material amidst this poorly conceived avant garbage.

Friday

1

March 2024

1

COMMENTS

Dune: Part Two is a worthy adaptation of unwieldy source material

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There’s a simple reason why one of the most popular science fiction books in the history of popular literature has struggled to find a worthy film adaptation. It’s not exactly accurate to say that Dune is unfilmable, but the book and its sequel are exceedingly heady philosophical exercises that don’t play well to adaptation. Denis Villeneuve’s first Dune took an admirable stab at the novel’s first half, often succumbing to the unwieldy weight of exposition and the sheer scope of the cast.

The back half of Dune is a bit more of an intimate affair. With Leto (Oscar Isaac) dead, the exiled Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet) and Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson) find a new home among the Fremen, who dedicate their lives to disrupting the spice production now returned to House Harkonnen after they usurped House Atreides. One of the Fremen leaders Stilgar (Javier Bardem) is convinced that Paul is their messiah, quickly inserting Lady Jessica into the mechanics of their political world as the new Reverend Mother.

Dune is a very dense text. Villeneuve does an excellent job breaking the material down for casual audiences, even if much of the nuances of groups like the Bene Gesserit is lost in the pacing. The women of the film, particularly Lady Jessica and Chiani (Zendaya) provide most of the emotional backbone of the narrative, often exposing the flaws of the White Savior trope in the process. Herbert’s writing spent a lot of time focusing on prophecy that a film doesn’t really have time to explore. The book has the luxury of presenting Paul’s ascendency over hundreds of pages as a matter of fate. The abridged runtime makes for a far more awkward presentation of a young teenager as the messiah of this rich world.

Villeneuve shows off his confidence with a relaxed sense of pacing, leaning heavily on the exceptional cinematography to carry the narrative instead of Herbert’s densely packed plotting. Part Two cuts a lot of stuff out, often to the point of making you wonder why the first film spent so much time on unnecessary exposition. There is something beautiful about the way Villeneuve focuses on the beauty of Arrakis instead of trying to cover as much material as possible.

The film does buckle under its obligations to function more like a blockbuster film than an exercise in philosophy. The limits of its 165-minute runtime are quite exposed when the narrative leaves Arrakis for a bit to focus on the Emperor (Christopher Walken) and House Harkonnen. Feyd-Rautha is a flimsy, underdeveloped villain, a shame given Austin Butler’s obvious enthusiasm in the role. Stellan Skarsgård does an admirable job as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, making the most of a limited runtime, but there’s an obligatory sense to the villainy that the film never quite shakes.

The action sequences are a bit of a mixed bag, much like the first film. The individual fight choreography is quite good, but the broader battles leave a lot to be desired. The cinematography of the actual fighting pales in comparison to the simpler frames showcasing the planet. The sandworms themselves aren’t given the same beautiful care and attention as they received in the first film.

Many popular science-fiction films have riffed off Dune’s basic premise over the years. Paul suffers from the weight of so many who came before him. Villeneuve never truly sells his lead as this necessary messiah figure, a reality exacerbated by the excessive amount of parental figures he has in the film, including Lady Jessica, Stilgar, and Gurney Halleck (Josh Brolin).  All three work hard to sell Paul as a figure of destiny, but Chalamet is rarely given much space to run with the ball. Zendaya is a much more satisfying emotional care of the film, an awkward reality that the source material can’t really compensate for.

Villeneuve spends so much time capturing the feel of Arrakis that he sometimes forgets that the audience needs to feel something toward Paul, perhaps the weakest character among the principal cast. It’s not necessarily Villeneuve’s fault that audiences are bound to be familiar with the Luke Skywalker’s and the Neo’s of the world who owe so much to Herbert’s work, but the headiness of Paul’s character is quite lost in the shuffle. One has to wonder if some of the time spent on characters who only appeared in the first movie might have been better allocated to the newcomers in Part Two whose introductions feel quite rushed.

Dune probably needed three movies to get everything right. As it stands, Part Two is a very good film. Casual moviegoers may find themselves checked out at times, especially when Florence Pugh’s Irulan swoops in for what’s essentially an important extended cameo, but Villeneuve delivered a worthy adaptation of Herbert’s work. Some of the material’s inherent flaws are products of its time, as well as Hollywood’s reluctance to invest in newer work. Paul’s weaknesses as a messiah somewhat reflect the reality that our society has moved beyond some of the confines of Herbert’s sandbox. Villeneuve has crafted a beautiful film that will likely go down as the definitive take on the franchise, while also exposing many of the flaws that demonstrate why it took so long to get made in the first place.

Wednesday

28

February 2024

0

COMMENTS

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.