The Cutprice Guignol

The Sixth Year: American Sigh Story

Category: Television Review

Banality, Bipolar, and Brassic

When it comes to depictions of mental illness on television, there’s an all-or-nothing attitude. It’s either 13 Reasons Why all-consuming-DEPRESSION or nothing ever going wrong at all thank you so much and if it does it’s certainly resolved by the end of the episode, no in between; either mental illness is consuming the life of a main character, or it doesn’t exist at all.

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Carnival No

“Muttonchops,” intones Orlando Bloom introspectively, near the start of the first episode of Carnival Row. I spit out my tea. This is, as I had feared, not off to a good start.

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The Sublimety of Suburgatory

Suburgatory, much like Happy Endings, seemed to be a victim of just being marketed the wrong way at the wrong time. All the adverts for it that I saw were just dullish teen-comedy nonsense about a young girl (Jane Levy) who was Way Cooler than All of You moved from the city to the suburbs after her uptight dad (Jeremy Sisto) caught her – gasp – with condoms. I didn’t bother with till a few years after it came out, when I went down an Alan Tudyk rabbit hole, spotted this Emily Kapnek-helmed sitcom on the list, and thought, hey, why not? I tried to put that cheesy title to the back of my mind, and, somewhat nobly, I feel, pushed on.

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The Scariest Horror Show You Haven’t Seen

I feel like I have made my love for creepypastas abundantly clear on this blog already, but in case I haven’t: I fucking love creepypastas. For those who have lives enough not to know what they are, they’re basically the internet versions of campfire scary stories – tales passed around forums and websites, from user to user, growing and evolving with every retelling and every new detail added by all those people bold enough to stick their fingers in and get involved. They’re multimedia projects, that span text and video and chat and sound, that allow for anyone who engages with them to add to the mythos in some way or another.

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The Best Villain of Orange is The New Black

So, Orange is the New Black is over, and I’m sure by now you’ve read precisely ten thousand commentary articles on the show as a whole: the best characters, performances, arcs, seasons, episodes, moments. And quite rightly so – OITNB has consistently, despite some wobbly seasons, proved itself as a dynamic, diverse, woman-centric piece of storytelling with a solid mix of the serious and the silly, as well as providing platforms for a collection of awesome actors to launch their careers off of.

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TV Shows That Aged Seriously Badly, Part 3

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying writing this series, and thus, figured it was about time for another look at all the TV shows I think have aged fucking terribly. Get the month started on a snarky note, and start as we continue to go on. Check out the last couple of articles I wrote in this snarktacular vein, and drop your own retrospective disappointments in the comments below.

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Why the Gossip Girl Reboot Might Actually Work

You know, when I first saw the news of the Gossip Girl reboot a few days ago, I didn’t think much of it. Yeah, sure, whatever. Just because I spent my teenage years consuming the books and TV series and the spin-offs with an avaricious hunger that is only triggered when I’m a hormonal teenager crushing hard on Blake Lively doesn’t mean I actually still care about it. I mean, the series is trash – pulp of the highest order. I’m grown now. I watch films and describe the camera work as “dynamic”. I don’t have room in my Meaty galaxy brain for stuff like Gossip Girl anymore.

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Stranger Things Season Three is Total Nonsense

Alright, I’m going to be real with you here: I didn’t give a shit about the new season of Stranger Things.

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Where Black Mirror Went Wrong

Black Mirror. You want to talk about Black Mirror? I’d love to talk about Black Mirror. I’d love to talk about the odd, patchy season that came before this one. I’d love to talk about the weird, unsettling experiment of Bandersnatch. And most of all, I’d like to talk about why this latest season, out last month, feels like such a downturn for a show which has so often held such a huge place in the cultural zeitgeist.

The problem with shows like Black Mirror is that they rely on an outside perspective on the aspects of society that they’re critiquing. When Black Mirror started out, back in 2011, it felt like a genuinely anarchic and even important take on where technology was taking us. Paranoia and fear about technology and social media was only just starting to really bloom, and Charlie Brooker, with his esteemed eye for pop cultural batshittery, was the perfect choice to explore it in a narrative sense.

But how can you sustain that sense of acerbic outsider-dom when you are firmly inside the system? When Black Mirror shifted to Netflix, and when it started working with Youtube personalities, and when it embraced the involvement of huge pop culture figures like Miley Cyrus and the like, it couldn’t hold on to this sense of being on the outside, looking in, and providing all the cogent commentary you would expect from someone holding that position. Other shows have suffered similair fates over the years; The Simpsons worked as a sharp-tongued critic of other pop culture, but after it became so thoroughly absorbed into the very fabric of what made up the modern media landscape, it just had to resort to sending the family on trips to Brazil and Japan for want of a better idea.

When Charlie Brooker gave up writing his legendary Screen Burn columns in the Guardian, he credited some of that decision to becoming part of the industry that he was trying to critique.  His reasoning is pretty unarguable: you can’t poke holes an industry that you have become so deeply entrenched in. As Black Mirror uses modern technology and media to push itself forward, attempts to critique the same become more and more shallow. I mean, I saw Anthony Mackie, star of one of the this season’s episodes, in a Marvel movie just a couple of months ago – unarguably the biggest deal in storytelling since Game of Thones ended. The presence of his celebrity (and the celebrity of so many who have been attached to recent seasons, like Miley Cyrus, Jodie Foster, Bryce Dallas Howard, Letitia Wright, et al) sort of blunts everything the show is trying to achieve. As the show expands to swallow up great swathes of popular culture, it can’t stand outside it comfortably any longer without ringing with some abject hollowness.

And that’s why this season, for me, just doesn’t work. While the show still has some obvious merit – creativity, solid writing, handsome cinematography and talented performers – the central message seems increasingly lost as the meta-narrative of what the show has become in the real world overwhelms the actual narratives that it’s trying to tell us within these episodes. Black Mirror, to its own detriment, just got too good at playing its own game.

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The Best Sitcom You’re Not Watching

Well, it’s summer, allegedly. And that means that we’re all reclining into our requisite summer viewing: light comedy, twenty-minute snippets that we can finish up quickly at the instigation of an impromptu beach ukelele party or something. Is that what people do in summer? I’m Scottish, I honestly couldn’t tell you if summer is some sort of elaborate joke at my expense and has been this whole time. Is it? Mail your answers on a postcard to my cat’s litter tray.

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