Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

the cw Archive

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4

November 2018

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Gearing up for Its Final Musical Number, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend Remains One of TV’s Best Portrayals of Mental Health

Written by , Posted in Movie Reviews, Pop Culture

Like its protagonist Rebecca Bunch, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend has always existed in open defiance to the rules that govern the world it exists in. Surviving multiple seasons as one of the lowest-rated shows on broadcast television, the musical comedy doubled down on its surreal fun-house version of reality while simultaneously offering one of the medium’s rawest takes on mental health, neither of which are particularly conducive to mainstream success. Rachel Bloom’s Bunch has never let imminent failure get in the way, which perhaps explains why the show enjoys such a rabid cult following better represented through Netflix streams and YouTube clicks than the increasingly archaic Nielsen model.

This current age of television has been benevolent toward beloved yet under watched shows, giving them final seasons to wrap up their stories rather than detestable cliff-hangers. With the finish line in sight, the early episodes of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s fourth season take stock of its hero’s journey while recognizing that there’s plenty of story left to tell. The days of stalking Josh Chan are long past, but the underlying motives that brought Rebecca out to West Covina remain. This dynamic is perhaps best reflected in the show’s new opening, which bears no mention of its title while still evoking the same sense of uncertainty toward Rebecca’s own identity. Josh was never really the end goal, but rather a placeholder for the void that Rebecca has been unable to fill in order to achieve contentment with her life.

Season four manages a strong balance between Rebecca’s arc and those of the rest of the show’s stellar cast. Daryl Whitefeather remains a singular force in TV’s portrayal of male bisexuality, a man unafraid to be tender and vulnerable as he takes stock of the things that matter in his life post-coming out. Josh and Nathaniel are similarly emotionally exposed, existing in open conflict with the “tough guy” image society often expects men to inhabit. Heather and Paula take backseat roles to the rest of the cast in the early episodes, but both exhibit a sense of belonging and purpose that was absent from their characters at the start of the show. These people have all come a long way, with plenty of road left to travel.

The extended eighteen-episode order gives Crazy Ex-Girlfriend plenty of time to explore its cast before it’s time to start wrapping up the narrative. Aided by a strong offering of musical numbers, Rebecca demonstrates growth while remaining unsure of little beyond perhaps an understanding that her elaborate schemes won’t make her happy. She’s always worn her flaws on her sleeve, endearing herself to the audience through her sheer humanity.

Life is hard. Singing about it won’t change the circumstances that make us sad, but music, comedy, and companionship can offer the kind of solace that gets you to the next day. With grim ratings, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend spent most of its run looking like a show that didn’t have much of a tomorrow to call its own. It defied the odds while staying true to what’s made it such a treat for its loyal audience. As Rebecca & co. dance and sign toward the finish line, I’m grateful that such a genuine portrayal of how hard it can be to live inside your own head managed to go out on its own terms.

 

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Tuesday

5

May 2015

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Reign Is A (Mostly) Fun Costume Soap Opera

Written by , Posted in Pop Culture

Since I’ve been doing a lot of articles on costume/period dramas, I thought it prudent to feature the only one currently airing on network TV. Reign is best described as a guilty pleasure that’s the offspring of a one night stand between Gossip Girl and The Tudors. Despite not being much of a success with ratings or critics, The CW picked it up for a third season despite possessing what’s probably the deepest roster in the network’s history. Perhaps some executives couldn’t get enough of the “historical” telling of Mary, Queen of Scots’ time in France.

Reign’s premise is fairly simple. It tells a story (I hesitate to use the word “the” given the historical inaccuracies) of the relationship between Francis II of France and Mary, Queen of Scots. If the writers know any of the actual history beyond what can be read on Wikipedia, it doesn’t show. In fact, if the writers’ training consists of anything other than watching old episodes of Melrose Place and The O.C., that doesn’t really show either.

Despite this, there’s something oddly endearing about the show. The plots are stupid, but Reign rarely tries to hide this fact. This is a soap opera that knows exactly what it is. Beautiful people scheme in a beautiful castle. That’s Reign in a nutshell.

Reign is carried by the talent of its two lead actresses. Adelaide Kane and Megan Follows dance circles around the rest of the cast as Mary, Queen of Scots and Catherine de’ Medici. Tory Regbo plays a rather spineless King Francis and Torrance Combs has had very little to do since season one as Francis’ bastard brother Bash. Queen Mary’s ladies maids/ladies in waiting all occupy various degrees of odiousness.

Which is why I enjoy it. We’re in the era of costume/period dramas. Reign has its place in the circle of life as the only one regularly airing on network TV. Being on The CW means that it’s going to be more soap operatic than it would be if it aired on the other networks, assuming it wasn’t intended to be a comedy like Galavant, but that’s okay too. We don’t really need network rip-offs of Game of Thrones, Outlander, and Vikings that can’t have excessive violence or nudity because of the FCC.

Granted, Reign’s status as a guilty pleasure show has been called into question with a pretty subpar second season. I blame that on the episode count. Twenty-two episodes a season is tough for most shows, let alone a costume drama. The plot has moved at a glacier pace since the death of King Henry, often recycling stories every three episodes or so. Quality has never been Reign’s strong suit, but even the melodrama has suffered with so little progression.

It’s hard to see Reign lasting very long past season three. History told us that already given the brevity of Francis and Mary’s marriage, but I’m not sure how relevant that is to this show. The CW’s line-up is pretty stacked, leaving little room for an expensive show with sagging ratings.

From the show’s third episode, which features sparring match between King Henry and Bash played to Bastille’s hit “Pompeii,” you could tell exactly what Reign was going to be. Popcorn fluff. Better that than most of what’s currently on network TV. You could certainly make the case that The CW is delivering what its audience wants better than NBC or ABC (Fox has Empire and CBS has all its procedurals so I’ll give them passes).

Reign is (usually) fun. That’s all it needs to be. One should not look to The CW for a history lesson. There are these things called books, which are good for that kind of stuff.

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