No, I Haven’t Seen That Show Yet. Here’s Why.

I’ve often heard it said we’re living in the era of Prestige Television (or Peak Television, if you prefer).  Regardless of the terminology, there is the general sense among people who think, write, and talk about these things that the 21st century has seen the rise of a Golden Age – if not The Golden Age – of Television.  The caliber of what’s being offered on TV is generally considered to have risen.  There are more “high quality” shows generating more critical acclaim than ever before.  The line between “TV star” and the once-more prestigious “movie star” is blurring.  In fact, these TV shows with shorter seasons, renown casts, and complex storytelling, are often touted as six (or ten (or thirteen)) hour movies, broken up into smaller installments.  You couple this with the rise of streaming services (and the accompanying “streaming wars” where each service tries to outperform the others to earn your subscription fee) alongside the culture of binge-watching and our experience of television’s been transformed.  It is a remarkable time to be consuming such content and the excited query, “Have you seen [fill-in-the-blank-show] yet??” drives our pop culture conversations like never before.

The thing is, my answer is almost always “no.”  Like 9/10 times it’s “no.”  And here’s why.

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The Ol’ Parker Luck – OR – Why It’s Good to Have a Friend Like Spider-Man

With Fall 2022 having officially arrived just days ago, I find myself a little over a month into the new school year, my twelfth year teaching.  Over the last decade I’ve gathered a few traditions to accompany the start of each new year.  One of my favorites (and most helpful!) is a Spider-Man binge-reading session.  Each year I pick a particular author and era (or two (or three or four)) and dive into the world of The Amazing Spider-Man.  Teaching can be stressful and exhausting so, as summer falls away and work resumes, I find comfort in the familiar.  I’ve had a longer relationship with Spider-Man than any other fictional character, getting my first Spidey comic when I was three-years-old and still loving him now.  Plus, it’s nice to spend my night laughing when my days get harder and few characters have a better q.p.a average (quips-per-adventure, obvs.) than Peter Parker/Spider-Man.  But I’ve realized there’s more to it than that.  One of the most important reasons I turn to Spidey when school resumes is because of the ol’ Parker Luck.

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Spider-Man and Lily Hollister: She’s My Best Friend’s Girl

Harry’s been a friend.  You know he’s been a good friend of mine.  But lately something’s changed, it’ ain’t hard to define.  Harry’s got himself a girl and I wanna make her mine.  It’s time for the latest installment in my series using only Spider-Man comics to examine the variety of romantic archetypes we find in literature (illustrating the variety of romantic experiences we find in life)!  Here we see Peter in a good place.  His best friend Harry Osborn is alive!  Harry’s returned from an extended stay in Europe where he got sober.  He’s in a new relationship with Lily Hollister, a girl he really likes.  He’s starting his own business out from under the cruel shadow of his infamous father.  He and Lily are trying to fix Peter up with her best friend, Carlie.  There’s so much to celebrate!!!  Oh, and Peter also kinda has a thing for Lily.  He thinks she’s cute.  In fact, he thinks she’s a “knockout.”  In fact, he kinda struggles with not thinking about her.  But it happens, right?  While the significant other of a best friend should set our Bad Idea Sense tingling, sometimes we can’t help but be drawn to them anyway.  Oh Peter, tread carefully here…     

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Celebrating National Cinema Day with a Quadruple Feature

Yesterday was National Cinema Day.  In honor of this, my local movie theatre set every ticket for every seat for every show for every movie – regular seats, the D-Box seats, or 3-D shows – at only $3!!!  As a result, I embarked upon something I’ve only dreamt of.  I spent the entire day at the movies.  It wasn’t a double feature (which I’ve enjoyed for years whenever time allows) nor a triple feature (more rare but a I’ve done them all the same).  No, today I attempted the QUADRUPLE FEATURE.  I arrived at Tinseltown, our local Cinemark theatre, a little after noon and I got in my car to head home right before midnight.  This is the story of a dream that turned into a journey.  A journey that became a quest.  A quest which will live on in legend.

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She-Hulk: Attorney at Law Saves the Marvel Cinematic Universe

Yes, this title is clickbait.  It’s probably the most clickbait-y thing I’ve ever written.  Given the MCU has earned a not insignificant $15,558,746,560 at the global box office to date[1] (which doesn’t include all the profit it’s generated in merchandise sales and Disney+ subscribers) it’s not like the Marvel Cinematic Universe is in trouble.  It is a cultural juggernaut and like…well, like the Juggernaut, nothing seems to stop it.  It’s not in need of saving per se so it’s not like She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is salvifically sweeping in to salvage a once thriving interconnected cinematic universe flailing on the brink of cultural irrelevance.  But I chose the title to be an eye-catching invitation for readers (those intrigued, those enraged, and those in agreement) to dialogue with what this piece has to say.  Showrunner Jessica Gao’s She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is intelligent, goofy, sassy, funny, and self-aware; it’s everything that made me love She-Hulk more than the Hulk when I was a kid.  It’s also important to the future of the MCU in several key ways and we should talk about it.  So yeah, I said She-Hulk: Attorney at Law is saving the MCU.  Here’s why.

Be aware this piece contains some spoilers for the first two episodes of She-Hulk: Attorney at Law.

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What I Learned (and Questions Remaining After) Watching Doctor Who: Flux in One Sitting

Harkening back to the serial nature of Classic Doctor Who stories, the last series of Doctor Who, Series Thirteen, was six episodes telling one massive story.  Named Doctor Who: Flux, this series premiered on 31 October 2021 and each episode was released in weekly installments with the finale airing 5 December 2021.  Filmed amidst Covid restrictions, I’m not sure how long the original arc of Flux was intended to be but the effects were evident in many ways, from lack of location shoots to the primary cast playing multiple roles to a narrative running over with story bits.  While I adore the Thirteenth Doctor – seeing her as “my Doctor” in as much as I can see any Doctor as “mine” when I love them all – and largely love what Chris Chibnall has done with the world of Doctor Who during his time as showrunner, Flux was…rough.  Watching it week to week there was so much I enjoyed but I also felt the narrative was overcrowded, trying to do too much with the time they had and ending with many questions lingering in my mind.  So I wanted to see if watching this one sweeping story in one sitting affected my understanding of the story!

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Daredevil’s Violent Vocation: God’s Calling or the Justification of Man?

Sometimes I’m surprised I’ve not written of Daredevil before.  I spend a lot of time thinking, talking, and writing about the intersection of comic books and theology and teach theology at a Catholic Mercy school and am a lifelong Catholic.  So Matt Murdock/Daredevil feels like a character made for me.  A lawyer by day who lost his sight as a child, Matt uses the radar sense he gained, along with his extensive martial arts training, to protect the people of Hell’s Kitchen as Daredevil.  As Marvel’s most prominent Catholic character, his faith and his relationship with God influence all areas of his life, superheroing included.  He attends Mass.  He goes to confession.  His parish priest and nuns are trusted natural supports.  But I never “got” Daredevil.  My brother David loved him but I wasn’t interested.  He felt like a bargain basement Spider-Man (when quippy) or bargain basement Batman (when dour).  Then I began reading Chip Zdarsky (writer) and Marco Checchetto (main artist on the run)’s Daredevil and OH. MY. GOSH.  I get it now!  Twenty-seven issues in and I love it!  A major story beat is Matt discerning God’s will in his life and, naturally, I was excited to explore this myself.  Is Daredevil’s vocation divinely ordained or an example of someone trying to sanctify their all-too-human violence in God’s name?

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Saga and the Revolutionary Power of the Opposite of War

Comic books are a vast medium.  Every genre you can imagine can be found between the covers of one comic or another.  While often seen solely as the setting of superhero stories, there are horror comics, memoir comics, true crime comics, comic adaptations of classic literature, fantasy comics, sci-fi comics, comic adaptations of films, YA comics, comics about history, comics which continue the runs of favorite TV shows, and on and on.  The comic medium truly has something for everyone.  And, as someone who’s loved comic books for nearly forty years, I don’t care about any of those other stories XD.  I’m sorry!  But I don’t!  Bring me my superheroes!  I have novels and movies and TV shows and short story collections and memoirs and nonfiction books for all those other experiences.  When I open a comic book, I want my Marvel heroes, my DC heroes, and nothing else.  Except Saga.  I want Saga.  I want all the SagaSaga is the brilliant, blazing, beautiful exception to my rule!  With sixty issues released and forty-eight still to come, Brian K. Vaughan (writer) and Fiona Staples (artist) have created a masterpiece of love, family, loss, trauma, trial, and healing…while also telling one of the most poignant antiwar stories I’ve ever read.

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Harley & Ivy’s Lessons in Life, Love, and Unburdening c/o the “Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour”

I adore HBO Max’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series.  It fundamentally shifted my relationship with the character.  Before I watched the show, I enjoyed Harley Quinn.  After watching it, I began tracking down every Harley comic I could find!  In the process, she became a very important character to me.  Naturally, I was excited when I heard of Tee Franklin (writer) and Max Sarin (artist)’s Harley Quinn: The Animated Series: The Eat. BANG! Kill. Tour, billed as Season 2.5.  The comic captures everything I love about the show and features serious character development for both Harley and Poison Ivy, something all too rare in stories set between films in a series or seasons of a TV show.  This development, woven through a story with all the profanity, insanity, and hilarity you’d expect from Harley Quinn: The Animated Series, enriches the characters and serves as a beautiful model for readers.  Any comic which can do all that while also including the line “Piss cakes of a dick” is a true gift :D.

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Easily Empathizing with and Conflictedly Rooting for Poison Ivy

Bill McKibben’s introduction to his 2019 book, Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out?, begins by reflecting on his 1989 text, “As the title indicates, The End of Nature was not a cheerful book, and sadly its gloom has been vindicated.  My basic point was that humans had so altered the planet that not an inch was beyond our reach, an idea that scientists underlined a decade later when they began referring to our era as the Anthropocene.  This volume is bleak as well – in some ways bleaker, because more time has passed and we are deeper in the hole…Put simply, between ecological destruction and technological hubris, the human experiment is now in question.  The stakes feel very high, and the odds very long, and the trends very ominous.”[1]  This is why a part of me can’t help but root, however conflictedly, for Poison Ivy in G. Willow Wilson (writer), Marcio Takara (artist), Arif Prianto (colorist), and Hassan Otsman-Elhaou (letterer)’s new miniseries, Poison Ivy, despite her goal being, you know, the absolute end of the human race.  Because maybe we kinda deserve it?  At least maybe we don’t not deserve it. 

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