Gemma: So what’s been on your watching plate lately?
Rasha: Well, I’ve been working on a lot of longer writing projects, as you know, and then just needing to clear a lot of other work, so TV’s been on in the background. I binge-watched Queen Sugar while revising my chapter. I recommend it.
G: Yes, so did my sister. It’s on my summer list. What makes you recommend it?
R: I would chat it with you. I love that the relationships among 3 siblings form the emotional core of the series, and it doesn’t hurt that the farm they inherited from their father is the central engine of plot. I am susceptible to farm stories. I love Cousin Tara, so I was always going to watch this show. I think you’d like that each character gets moments of triumph, and moments where their judgment is severely called into question.
G: Ooh, I do like those things. I am not susceptible to farm stories, but I am def susceptible to interfamilial shifts and tensions, and I love it when no one is righteous.
R: No one is perfectly righteous. They all get called out, and they are all glorious, you still cheer for them.
G: Awesome! Definitely on my summer list, then. In fact, it is my literal favorite thing when no one is righteous, now that I think about it. To the point where I think it’s kind of bleak that that has to be a favorite thing.
R: I know, I love you for it, and I think you will like this show. It can be a little heavy-handed at some points, especially where it feels like Luna is a stand-in for the show-runner, but that’s always a pet peeve of mine: when there’s a character that the author/director too obviously identifies with. But here, I don’t mind because I find Luna really compelling overall and the show does a good job of situating her in family so that her badass political activism is complicated by the impacts on her personal relationships.
G: I like people (and animals) named Luna, although I agree with you about the showrunner avatar thing. Occasionally a very reflective showrunner can pull it off, though.
R: I’ve been watching other things, but curious what you’ve seen that’s new.
G: Well, I’ve had finals and then been traveling, so my viewing has been kind of slow except for the usual unwind sitcoms. The main addition to my roster has been Handmaid’s Tale, and last night I watched The Salesman.
R: (The veneer of fiction in Queen Sugar gets a little thin at a few points, but there are enough other good ones that I don’t mind, and Sense8 has the same problem and is also still worth it.)
G: (That’s good to know. I still have not made it around to Sense8, because I am definitively not a Wachowski fan, but as a queer viewer I probably have to at least give it a shot. The Matrices lost their veneer for me fast, and I was so angry at the novel of Cloud Atlas that it made me furious anyone even thought it worth adapting.)
R: (You do, and there are genuinely delightful moments, and it is cinematically significant. I think they should have skipped Cloud Atlas and made Sense8 instead because it is more clearly the ensemble story they want to tell, and it is fun.) I don’t think I can bring myself to watch Handmaid’s Tale. I forced myself to read the book, and while I respect the work, sigh, it’s just not what I crave. It didn’t feel supportive, and I have not been excited about the series adaptation for that reason alone. What did you think of it?
G: Well, the novel has been one of my favorites for many, many years. I’m curious to know what you mean by “feel supportive.” It has a lot of Atwood’s standard blind spots; in many of her other works I find those blind spots epic and distancing and destructive (see, for instance, the infuriating classism of the MaddAddam trilogy), but in the case of the novel it’s a specific, refined focus thrown into gloriously problematized and problematic context with its ending. I know the show will never be able to manage the ending, because it makes no sense for the form, so they’re trying to do more with the structure of the society. Honestly, after six episodes, my jury is still out. The craftsmanship is undeniable, and they’re doing very smart things with the possibilities of some kinds of rebellion and not others.
R: I will be curious to return to your thoughts on it as the season ends. They’re renewing for a second season, which I don’t really understand. They’re adapting one novel, how long can they go on?
G: I’m troubled by the way they’re using race. Atwood makes it an explicitly white supremacist society; of course, this means she stays with the white people, with only passing mentions of POC and the “resettlement of the Children of Ham.” This Gilead is colorblind, and I can’t make sense of it being so divorced from its predecessors in Christian white supremacy. The showrunner has said something about how if you’re making a TV show about racist white people it’s the same as making a racist TV show, but that shows really limited imagination to me about how you can tell the story of POC. I mean, you have SAMIRA WILEY and you’re going to go way beyond the boundaries of the novel anyway, so why not, you know, TELL THE STORY about how a POC’s experience as a Handmaid who is also a Child of Ham would be different from that of a white Handmaid?
Why not TALK ABOUT how an interracial relationship and interracial child might be treated differently? To your above comment, they blew a couple of the climactic moments of the novel in the first two episodes and added a couple of new and significant plotlines already, so they’re capable of going further. I mean, I think it’s a very well-structured world the novel offers to explore in, and they’re doing some interesting things with it in terms of power. Yvonne Strahovski in particular is getting, and skillfully playing, some new and disturbing text and ideas.
I think they can engage the world of the novel without sticking to its plot points. I am, in fact, arguing that they have an obligation to go beyond its plot points in more ways than they’ve yet managed to.
R: I do think there is a point to shows that are only about racists being racist. See the AMC “documentary” that got pulled earlier this year. Do you think the show is going to break out of the limited 1st-person POV of the novel? One of the things that can be most exciting in scifi dystopias are the perspective shifts that reveal how dystopia is not evenly distributed–different folks and different places adapt differently to cope, resist, reject. (btw, may I zealously recommend The Girl with All the Gifts, available at your local red-hued DVD dispensary, as just such a tale, and it is SO GOOD at every level.)
G: Well, they’ve already queered a novel character and gone deeper into her. Unfortunately, she was played by Alexis Bledel, so that could only go so far. (Reviewers seem to be loving Bledel, seeing it as a break from her previous work. I’m not seeing it.)
They’ve gone deeper into Serena Joy, the Yvonne Strahovski character, as well. Moira, the character Wiley plays, is Atwood-Queer but Atwood-White, and thus far has not gotten enough time or attention for me to know if they can break into her POV. I mean, why bother with an actor of that caliber unless you’ve got real material for her, so we’ll see. I think they could do it, but I have seen no signs thus far that they are counting race as a power factor in this particular dystopia, and so I wait. I think what you mention is the best option for them, a real look at different people and different places. We have a possible protag-bestie in a different context, and we have a husband who’s clearly now part of a rebellion. Both are black. We’ll see where that leads us.
R: Joseph Fiennes casting once again haunts my ability to have good expectations.
G: And Joseph Fiennes is unfortunately very, very good. Douche who made stupid choices or otherwise, he plays this part extremely well.
R: At playing terrible? I could definitely see him shifting his career to become a villain. But it is hard for me to care about him as a character because of what I know about him as an actor. I think I’m there with Chris Pratt, too. Any case, I’m at the end of my time, but watch Girl with All the Gifts because I really want to diablog it with you!
G: Dude, Chris Pratt retracted the stupid shit he said, like, immediately. Don’t put him on the same level as Fiennes here. In quick movie notes, The Salesman is excellent in the land of No One Is Righteous. It is a beautifully, quietly upsetting and quietly ambiguous movie. I’ll look for Girl with All the Gifts.
R: I have maybe not heard of The Salesman? I will look it up. And for Pratt, that oblivious ramble is part of a larger pattern of general good ol’boyery, and he wouldn’t have retracted if there hadn’t been such a backlash. I have enjoyed some movies he’s been in, but when there are so many other Chrises to watch, I’m willing to be choosy. It just gets in the way of me enjoying the work. GWATG is at Redbox!
G: The Salesman is Farhadi’s most recent.
And I think Pratt is a brilliant comedian who should stick to comedian-ism, and attempts to make him a leading man have failed miserably.
I think there are enough people out there who wouldn’t engage with their audience and retract their statements that I honor his choices, and he’s far and away the least boring of the White Chrises. Oh, wait, Hemsworth.
R: It is clear we disagree. We can rank Chrises another time.