Riverdale: This Ain’t Your Childhood’s Archie Andrews

There’s a good old all-American “gee whiz” quality about Archie comics, those tried and true comic books that have been around since your grandpa thumbed through an issue back in the 1940s. You won’t find that in the new TV version airing on the CW network.

No, in the latest installment, Kevin Keller was trolling the woods for anonymous gay hook-ups and Archie was becoming a vigilante. They have, as they say, strayed from the canon.

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Riverdale is the CW’s riff on all-American boy Archie Andrews and his pals, but you won’t find these stories in your comic book collection.

I have to admit to being fascinated by this show. I generally like it when people take risks with interpreting potentially stale material. I enjoyed the now-cancelled Will, the punk rock meets Shakespeare take on the Bard. I think the new Dynasty reboot is one of the worst things I’ve ever seen. And I find the BBC’s Still Open All Hours a sweet (and still funny) homage to the original.

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Original Archie and TV Archie. New Zealander KJ Apa plays the famously red haired hero thanks to a lot of hair dye.

Riverdale is a mashup of Archie Comics, Twin Peaks and every Brat Pack 80s movie. It’s dark — and getting darker by the episode — and more than a bit twisted (Archie had a torrid affair with Miss Grundy; Kevin had a one-off with Moose Mason; Jughead is a fledging gang member).

The storylining is good, the dialogue is a little bit forced, and they may be trying a bit too hard for relevance. Is it too much to ask to see a teen scene at the Chock’lit Shoppe where they are not talking about a murder? Or gangland troubles from the Southside Serpents? Or Riverdale’s new drug scourge, “jingle jangle?”

I do have to give them some props for the Kevin in the woods hooking-up story. It’s a pretty deep take on an issue that we certainly are not seeing on television. It’s going to cause a big riff between Kevin (a strong performance from Casey Cott) and BFF Betty Cooper, but it raises some pretty potent issues that deserve to be talked about. (I’d encourage a read of Ariana Romero’s recent excellent piece on Refinery29.)

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One-time teen screen idols Luke Perry (Beverly Hills 90210) and Molly Ringwald (Pretty in Pink) play Archie’s estranged parents in Riverdale.

Forsythe Pendleton Jones, III — you’ll probably know him best as Jughead — narrates the thing. And former Disney tween star Cole Sprouse does a fine job of playing a broody, intelligent, jaded, slightly smart-mouthed chronicler in a ‘whoopee cap.’

He is, for all the world, channeling every broody, intelligent, jaded, slightly smart-mouthed character that Andrew McCarthy played in every movie he was ever in in the 80s (with the possible exception of Weekend at Bernie’s). But, while it may be derivative, I can’t say it’s a bad thing!

Take old Riverdale out for a spin and see what you think. Whatever happens, you won’t be feeling any warm, fuzzy childhood nostalgia, that’s for sure!

The Real Goodbye

Well, the only gay-themed network sitcom got the axe last week, as ABC cancelled The Real O’Neals after its sophomore season. I didn’t find TRO a groundbreaking sitcom or really even a terrific piece of entertainment, but we have so few outlets for LGBT inclusion in mainstream entertainment these days, I felt compelled to watch.

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Martha Plimpton, Jay R. Ferguson, Noah Galvin, Matthew Shively and Bebe Wood were the O’Neal family, a Chicago-based Roman Catholic brood based loosely on the teenage years of Dan Savage. | Image: ABC

What I found was that it was a series with some flaws, but it also had heart. The actors, directors and producers seemed to genuinely care about the series and they didn’t do a lot of corner-cutting. They did challenge some sitcom norms, but at the same time, they did fall back into some annoying sitcom tropes from time to time. I’m not sure who to fault here, but my bet would be the network.

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Many out guest stars appeared on TRO, often in one of main character Kenny’s fantasies, including Robbie Rogers and Gus Kenworthy as themselves, urging Kenny on compete on the school wrestling team in season two. | Image: ABC

I liked young Noah Galvin, who played main character Kenny O’Neal, the middle child who comes out in the pilot episode. He and TV-siblings Jimmy and Shannon (Matthew Shively and Bebe Wood) had terrific chemistry and their characters and relationships developed early on.

The ensemble was anchored by the always-stellar Martha Plimpton as Eileen, the very Catholic mom who gets a divorce and then begins an inappropriate relationship with her children’s vice principal, played to a lunatic fare-the-well by Matt Oberg.

The writers seemed not to know what to do with Dad after season one and, consequently, Jay R. Ferguson, always a rock-solid performer since his own days as a child actor, was sadly wasted as was Mary Hollis Inboden as wacky Aunt Jackie.

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Sean Grandillo (l) played Kenny’s first “real” boyfriend in a multi-episode story arc in the second season of TRO. | Image: Variety

Sensing what was coming, the writers buttoned up the series nicely, but I’m sorry to see it go. Given the tenor of the times, I suppose I should be grateful that ABC stuck with it for two seasons (well, two half-seasons), but I want more. I want young LGBT kids to see much, much more of themselves reflected back on TV than my generation did. I fear we’re never going to get there.

Here’s some cute bits from TRO, courtesy of NewNowNext:

Source: The 15 Gayest Moments On “The Real O’Neals” | NewNowNext

E3: Season 3 of EastSiders Needs You

You should not look for any objective reporting here.  I’m just simply biased. I fell in love with EastSiders five years ago and have been awed by the talent and the dedication and the blood, sweat and tears that Kit and John and their team have put into this series. They’ve been telling the stories they want to tell on their own terms and, trust me, that’s powerful. And rare.

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Image|EastSiders Season 3 Kickstarter

And it’s also why people connect with them. They are real. They are authentic. They are from a singular vision. Too much of “entertainment” is decided by committee. And that’s why the edges aren’t sharp. It’s why the comedy is lukewarm and the drama is tepid. And it’s why we don’t see stories of substance, stories of depth, stories of importance that reflect the LGBT experience in this country. And now, more than ever, we desperately need to tell those.

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Image|EastSiders Season 3 Kickstarter

If I’ve convinced one person to give to one of these Kickstarters and convinced another five to sit down and watch an episode, then I’ve changed the world just an infinitesimal bit. And maybe even made it better. See if I’m right about that.

Read some of what I’ve written over the last five years (or not) and then go to www.eastsiderstheseries.com and donate to this Kickstarter.
EastSiders – New Web Series Worth Watching 2012
Kickstart This — “Eastsiders” Needs You 2013
Kit Williamson: Logo Online and the Web Series Renaissance 2013
How to Say Thank You — A Saga and a Case Study in Doing It Right 2013
Why I’m Supporting EastSiders — And Why You Should, Too 2014
Kit and Van and Cal and Thom and … Cassandra? 2014
When Not Shutting Up When You are Told to Shut Up is Important 2014
Kit Williamson on Slut-Shaming 2015
Return to Silver Lake – Long-Awaited Arrival of EastSiders Season 2 Does Not Disappoint 2015
Verdict on EastSiders Season 2: Most Assuredly the Best of the Lot 2015
Emmy Nods for EastSiders 2016

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Cal and Thom live in Silver Lake … and also in my guest room in New Jersey.

Takei “Disappointed” in Gay Sulu

With all due respect to George Takei, whom we can all agree is awesome, I think the revelation that Hikaru Sulu is gay in the soon-to-be-released film Star Trek: Beyond is a fine thing.

Screenwriter and Scotty portrayer Simon Pegg says that it was done as an homage to Takei, who is openly gay, but Takei says he’s disappointed in the choice to take a character who has always been straight and suddenly make him gay 50 years after he was introduced in the original series. He says it’s against the vision of creator George Roddenberry.

Takei may have something there; after all, no one involved in the film reboot of the original series has had the benefit of knowing and working with Roddenberry. That said, I think if Roddenberry were alive today, he may well have approved.

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(clockwise from top left) George Takei as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek, the original television series, John Cho as Sulu in the latest Star Trek motion picture series, Zachary Quinto as the latest Spock, and Simon Pegg as Montgomery Scott, the chief engineer on the starship Enterprise. Pegg also wrote the screenplay for the latest film.

Zachary Quinto, who portrays Spock in the franchise had this to say, as reported on Towleroad:

I was disappointed by the fact that George was disappointed. Any member of the LGBT community that takes issue with the normalized and positive portrayal of members of our community in Hollywood and in mainstream blockbuster cinema…I get it that he has had his own personal journey and has his own personal relationship with this character but, you know, as we established in the first ‘Star Trek’ film in 2009, we’ve created an alternate universe, and my hope is that eventually George can be strengthened by the enormously positive response from especially young people who are heartened by and inspired by this really tasteful and beautiful portrayal of something that I think is gaining acceptance and inclusion in our societies across the world, and should be.

Quinto’s remarks buttress Pegg’s in The Guardian:

He’s right, it is unfortunate, it’s unfortunate that the screen version of the most inclusive, tolerant universe in science fiction hasn’t featured an LGBT character until now. We could have introduced a new gay character, but he or she would have been primarily defined by their sexuality, seen as the ‘gay character’, rather than simply for who they are, and isn’t that tokenism?

Justin Lin, Doug Jung and I loved the idea of it being someone we already knew because the audience have a pre-existing opinion of that character as a human being, unaffected by any prejudice. Their sexual orientation is just one of many personal aspects, not the defining characteristic. Also, the audience would infer that there has been an LGBT presence in the Trek Universe from the beginning (at least in the Kelvin timeline), that a gay hero isn’t something new or strange. It’s also important to note that at no point do we suggest that our Sulu was ever closeted, why would he need to be? It just hasn’t come up before.

Pegg continued, saying:

The viewing audience weren’t open minded enough at the time and it must have forced Roddenberry to modulate his innovation. His mantra was always ‘infinite diversity in infinite combinations’. If he could have explored Sulu’s sexuality with George, he no doubt would have. Roddenberry was a visionary and a pioneer but we choose our battles carefully.

And he ended the interview with a sentiment that, I believe, we can all agree with:

Whatever dimension we inhabit, we all just want to be loved by those we love (and I love George Takei). I can’t speak for every reality but that must surely true of this one. Live long and prosper.

For Trek geeks, I think the point that the TOS (the original series) timeline and the Kelvin (movie reboot) timelines are different and therefore the canon is different. For folks pushing for inclusion, I can’t imagine a better universe to do that in than Star Trek. Except, perhaps, for our own.


Somewhat Related Post from 2013: Here

‘The Outs’ Creator Adam Goldman Talks Queer Storytelling on the Internet

Here’s a good article from Esquire about Adam Goldman and the second season of The Outs. I haven’t written too much about The Outs, even though it is the series that originally got me hooked into the world of web series in 2012.

I found season one deeply satisfying. I found season two perhaps even more satisfying. The characters felt deeper in many ways and, perhaps naively, I was not expecting Jack and Paul (Hunter Canning and Tommy Heleringer) to be the emotional center, the real beating heart, of the series, even though these two were always my favorite characters.

It’s elegantly written, wryly funny, deathly serious and intelligent. Goldman’s intelligence shines through in every scene. It’s worth a watch on Vimeo for that alone. (But Canning and Heleringer are just lovely!)

Source: ‘The Outs’ Creator Adam Goldman Talks Queer Storytelling on the Internet

Emmy Nods for EastSiders

Congrats to the EastSiders crew for their Daytime Emmy Award nominations. The second series, which debuted in October, was nominated in the new category of Outstanding Digital Drama Series. Van Hansis was nominated for Outstanding Actor in a Digital Drama for his role as Thom. This is his fourth Daytime Emmy nomination, having been a contender three times for his portrayal of Luke Snyder on As The World Turns.

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Series creator/director/producer/co-star Kit Williamson may have had the best reaction, as evidenced by this Instagram post.

I’m glad that NATAS has seen sense and created the digital drama series categories. As we continue to uncouple “television”  from the “television set,” it’s important that we continue to recognize new ways to deliver content.

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Van Hansis and Kit Williamson in season two of EastSiders.

The content, though, stays the same. Well, let me reframe that thought. Most “entertainment” on traditional television stinks. Much of the best content is coming fast and furious in new delivery methods — EastSiders on Vimeo, House of Cards on Netflix, Transparent on Amazon — and I think while the death knell for traditional broadcast and cable networks has not yet sounded, the plans for the coffin may be being drawn up.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t seen EastSiders, what is the matter with you? Watch it now.

Finally, here’s some Daytime Emmy trivia for you. Who was the first daytime performer recognized with an Emmy? That would be All My Children’s Mary Fickett in 1972 in a special daytime category at the primetime Emmys. Fickett played AMC matriarch Ruth Brent Martin for nearly 30 years.

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Fickett in the early years of All My Children.

However, the first person to take home a daytime statue for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama was Elizabeth Hubbard in 1974 for her portrayal of Dr. Althea Davis on The Doctors. Hubbard won an additional Daytime Emmy in 1976 for portraying First Lady Edith Wilson in an NBC special, but astonishingly — and despite eight additional nominations in the category — she never won for her quarter-century of assaying one of daytime’s greatest roles: Lucinda Walsh on As The World Turns.

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Hubbard as Lucinda Walsh, one of the all-time greats.

Hubbard played Van Hansis’ grandmother on ATWT. She’s nominated again this year as Outstanding Actress in a Digital Drama, for her role in Anacostia, the web series co-written and co-produced by Martha Byrne, who played Hubbard’s daughter and Hansis’ mother on As The World Turns.

You can use all that next time you play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon!

Limping One’s Way to Glory

“I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to be young and desired,” writes Ryan O’Connell in a genius new essay on Thought Catalog.

He continues, “I, for once, would just like to be used and objectified.” Oh, Ryan, honey. Me, too!

Anyone who has ever had body issues, self-esteem issues or simply wasn’t pleased with what they saw staring back at them in the mirror — excluding bad hair days, beautiful people (and you know who you are) — needs to read this piece. He sums up so well what so many of us have been thinking.

The gay media is terrible — let me rephrase — is TERRIBLE at portraying “the other.” If you are not a ripped, muscly, hairless white boy in the tried and true Tab Hunter tradition, well, fuggedaboutit. Heaven forbid if you are overweight or over 40 or you have an overbite or you limp.

Of course, it’s not just the media. Have you ever been to a gay bar? 

The queer community is quick to be indignant so long as we can be indignant standing alongside some impossibly chiseled Ken doll. O’Connell again:

I know it’s embarrassing to admit all of this. Like, “Forget about my professional achievements and my cool brain. Just tell me I have a nice ass and that you’d like to come on my face!!!!” But TBH it’s how I feel a lot of the time.

Yep. I get it. Most of us, I would imagine, get it. It’s admitting that we get it; that’s the rub. In this essay and in his hilarious new book, I’m Special, O’Connell tells us all what it was like for him to grow up gay and with cerebral palsy and how excruciating — and really, sometimes hilariously funny — that could be.

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Gee, somebody left this poor crippled child to fend for himself in the back yard.

Again, I get it. I was born with they call a “congenital anomaly,” which sounds better than “birth defect” or “club foot,” which sounds positively medieval and gross. The doctors were always quick to point out that it was “environmental” rather than “genetic,” so no one would worry that a horn or tail might start growing at any minute. No, let’s just blame Mom and her screwed up uterus; that’s better.

I had a lot of surgeries and wore weird shoes on bars that held my feet in strange positions and a lot of other random treatments, but basically I was pronounced “cured” by about age five and all of the problems I’ve had in the intervening four decades — knee problems, ankle problems, sprains, stiffness, pain — are all, according to doctors, so much better than if I had never had anything done at all. And while this may be true, the fact of the matter is that the surgeries were a mask. They made my foot look like a normal foot (20 paces is everything!) but they didn’t make it function like a normal foot.

(I also learned early on to hide my limp, which will probably lead to hip problems or something as I age. When I’m tired or have been walking a long way or simply forget, I get, “Oh, why are you limping?” Since that answer involves a whole can of worms, my stock answer is, “War wound.” There are those occasional annoying souls that insist on a follow-up. “Which one?” Crimean or Peloponnesian are my stock answers. Sometimes I thrown in Boer. It usually never satisfies them but it does shut them up.)

Like O’Connell, I also found love when I didn’t think it possible and found that someone could love me warts and scars and crappy knees and belly and all, which is something that I never really ever conceived of. (For the record, some of that is dramatic license. I don’t have warts.) Today, nearly a decade and a half after finding him, I still stand in front of the mirror and wish that I was taller or slimmer (nearly always) or that my hair hadn’t gone grey when I was in my 20s or that my stupid leg wasn’t hurting bad this morning so I could elegantly descend the stairs spouting witticisms like I was a character in a Noël Coward play instead of ungracefully clomping down like an ogre.

It’s probably all in my head, but, hey, that’s where all body issues live. What I have learned over time is that I don’t dwell on them quite so much as I used to. For much of my young adulthood they crippled me — emotionally — because I knew I couldn’t be perfect and therefore I shouldn’t put myself out there because I would just get rejected anyway and if a guy didn’t reject me, what in the hell was wrong with him?

I’m well over all of that but it doesn’t mean that being physically different doesn’t suck. It does and it never goes away. Acknowledging it and just living your life are the keys, I suppose.

I think Ryan O’Connell is my new Spirit Animal.