Friday night television used to be the dumping ground for some of the weakest offerings on the networks’ schedules, but times have slowly been changing. This fangirl is more thankful for the DVR than ever, because there are more than a couple of fan-friendly shows packing heroic tales that fill the slots once written off as lost to high school football games or date night.
Smallville, CW, 8pm
Now in its tenth season, Smallville is proving that there’s more to being a superhero than wearing a multi-color spandex suit. This season in particular, the storytelling has focused on what qualities are necessary to create an actual super man. This past week’s episode, “Patriot,” featured Michael Hogan (BSG’s Colonel Tigh) as the enforcer of the Vigilante Registration Act, which aims to enlist the renegade superheroes. When Oliver registers, he is jailed and then subjected to a battery of tests. As he quickly finds out, the VRA’s goals are not to create empathy and mutual cooperation with the superheroes, but rather to understand how best to destroy them. Let’s just say that between Aquaman and his wife, Tigh without the eyepatch, talk of the Dark Side, and previews for an upcoming alternate universe story, this episode had plenty of fare for the fangirls and fanboys who chose to stay home on Friday night.
The Clone Wars, Cartoon Network, 9pm
Probably my only big complaint about Season Three has been how the various episodes have jumped back and forth all over the timeline of the war, making the overarching arcs of the season (and the series) much harder to follow. This week’s episode, “Heroes on Both Sides,” jumped up the timeline again, featuring new, later-war looks for the central characters. Fortunately, the episode guide suggests we won’t be getting as much of the jumping around from this point forward. I haven’t worried too much about it, though; I’m sure once the series is wrapped there will be a special Special Edition DVD/BluRay which will compile the episodes into in-universe chronological order. Aren’t fans the best? We’re so predictable they know we’ll buy it. But I digress…
The ladies, once again, shine in this episode. In an effort to find a diplomatic solution to the war, Padmé enlists Ahsoka to join her on a clandestine trip to visit Confederate Senator Mina Bonteri. The episode is smartly written to reveal that enemies aren’t always who we believe they are. Padmé and Mina, who interact as longtime friends would, apparently understand this; it is through the eyes of Ahsoka and Mina’s son Lux that this lesson is imparted. In wars, the reason for the fighting is often shrouded in the pain of loss. It’s a vicious cycle that is difficult to overcome. For the short time Ahsoka and Lux are together, the first steps are taken toward empathy and understanding.
There are many other good things I’d like to say about this episode, but then I’d fill a whole blog. Briefly, then, the highlights. For one, the animation updates for Anakin, Ahsoka, and Padmé were stunning. At one point, Anakin simply makes a face, which says so much more than any dialogue could have. The breakthroughs in animation technology are only making the storytelling stronger. Likewise, the settings at the Confederate capital were rich, like eye candy. The gazebo scene, particularly, brought to mind Rolf and Leisl’s brief rendezvous in The Sound of Music. It’s amazing that a cartoon can elicit that type of visual connection. Honestly, I’m not even sure it was intentional. Hopefully Ahsoka and Lux’s fates don’t tread down the same doomed path that Rolf and Leisl did.
Most importantly, I’d like to point out that the credited writer Daniel Arkin and director Kyle Dunlevy are both men. While you will see me push for more opportunities for women to write, direct, and produce, that doesn’t mean I believe men can’t write good stories about strong female characters. This episode proves they most certainly can.
Supernatural, CW, 9pm
The sixth season of Supernatural, conversely, is proving that you don’t need to be a man to be the guiding force behind a series about two brothers out to save the world one demon at a time. After Eric Kripke stepped down from his cult favorite, he handed the reins over to Sera Gamble, who had started out as a writer for the show. So far, Season Six’s tale of two brothers has retained the high standards set by the preceding seasons – each episode is a witty, funny scarefest, even if the new executive producer has sometimes chosen to go where some storytellers fear to tread.
This season opened with Dean thrown into the midst of a normal life. He has a girlfriend he loves and has developed a strong bond with her son. By making Dean an everyman, with baggage that comes with relationships, his character arc begins to shift. The once-detached older brother begins to feel and care. At the same time the younger brother Sam’s returns, minus his soul, and the pre-existing dynamic between the pair flips into something we’ve never seen before. Dean is the compassionate half of the duo now stuck trying to explain empathy to a feelingless Sam.
Last Friday’s episode, “Clap Your Hands If You Believe,” got plenty of comedic moments out this dynamic, while still impressing on the viewer just how disastrous Sam’s lack of soul is for the hunting team. The episode starts out recreating the look and feel of the X-Files introduction, and we are led to believe the mysterious Evil abducting men in town are aliens. Through a clever turn of events, including Sam getting his butt kicked by a naked version of Tinkerbell, the brothers realize that fairies have been using the UFO-abduction hype to hide their own malicious doings. If nothing else, it shows that Supernatural is not afraid to stretch into more female-oriented fables and lore.
One thing the show has always done well is reverently poke fun at the insanity of fandom. Fanficcers, convention-goers, uber-fans – nothing has been off-limits. In this episode, it’s an overly sparkled fairy fan who holds the knowledge to stopping an evil leprechaun. In the climatic battle, Sam faces the never-do-well sprite, who offers the younger brother a supposed chance to get his soul back, a chance to once again feel. Sam turns him down. The viewer is left wondering if this is a choice to resist the temptations of evil or rather a choice to avoid the pain of having feelings.
Isn’t the ability to feel, to empathize, what makes us human in the first place? Which brings us to…
The Dark Side of Fans
Typically that would be it for my fan-favorite shows on Friday night, but as it turned out fanboys and fangirls showed up in an entirely unexpected location – the CBS police show Blue Bloods, which airs at 10pm on Friday. In this week’s episode, the term “fanboy” was hurled at a character in a derogatory manner. It’s hard to see that happen – because I want fanboys and fangirls to be seen in a positive light. Unfortunately, the fans central to the plotline of Blue Bloods did represent the underbelly of fandom. These were men and women whose fanaticism revolved around a serial killer.
One character, the “fanboy”, was portrayed as if he was holed up day and night in front of a computer, out of touch with the world. More importantly, out of touch with the reality of what his idol did – torture, rape, and kill women. Hiding behind a computer screen can reduce anyone’s ability to empathize with those affected by fandoms. Interestingly enough, though, this isn’t really much different than disconnecting from an enemy by referring to them as merely Republic Clones, Jedi, or Separatists. The sad fact is that the twitchy, socially impaired man characterized in this episode has roots in a very real subset of fans, people who literally have lost touch with their humanity.
It’s important, therefore, that we be positive ambassadors for fanboys and fangirls, that we show the many wonderful things fans can do. Take, for instance, the outpouring of love for Katie, a young fan who was bullied for liking Star Wars. (The Star Wars blog has an excellent commentary posted by Bonnie Burton if you’d like more information.) If getting to the computer to rant on a message board, or checking Twitter or Facebook, is the first order of business, then perhaps it’s time to take a step back and ask, “Is this what I want my reality to become?” Instead, take an opportunity to share your passion. Watch The Clone Wars with your nephews, or invite some non-fan friends over for a screening of Fanboys. Isn’t that a far better way to be represented as a fan?
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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