Wednesday, July 6, 2016

In Which I Review Dead of Summer (1x2)

Last week, I hypothesized that Dead of Summer is supposed to be a tongue in cheek satire of campy teen horror flicks. All the cliches and tropes are played to such an extent that they are ripe for taunting. In this week's episode, Barney Rubble Eyes, my theory takes the proverbial one-two punch and falls under the weight of the shows own tropes. I suppose the show was going for shock that all-American, preppy boy Alex is really Alexi from the Soviet Union, meaning he is labeled a Russian "commie" in the late 1980s, a time when being Russian wasn't met with much approval. Whether or not it's shocking in this show, though, is up for debate. We have little to no information about Alex/Alexi to begin with; last week he was just another camp counselor and I could barely tell them all apart. Had this revelation been kept until later in the season, after we got to know Alex without the Alexi component, then maybe I'd be more impressed at the sudden about face. As it is, the show blew the secret too early, leaving me underwhelmed. I have a sense that feeling with be reoccurring quite a bit. Grab your pocket knife and let's go! 

With the second episode of the series, we are still building the mystery and fleshing out the campers, if both are coming in piecemeal and rather slowly at that. As with last week, I find myself baffled that the writers of the show chose to set this program in the late 1980s. It's hard to relate to a former Soviet Union kid turned all-American wannabee. I have no frame of reference for this sort of life which makes it difficult, to say the least, to really care about Alex/Alexi. Without some sort of commonality, how can I see myself in Alex's story? Sure, he's an outsider but the sort that you are hard pressed to make any inroads with an audience. Amy's story of being an outcast as the new girl in a new school who finds it hard to make friends was far more understandable. What is more interesting and potentially more relatable is the way the show and Alex's story are mocking and deconstructing the idea of the American Dream--a vague and opaque ideal that I couldn't define anymore than I could explain quantum physics. With Alex's story we see the American Dream's seedy underbelly. Fake, fraudulent and with a definite "ick" factor, the American Dream is really about taking what you want, when you want it, and pretending to live a good, upstanding, moral life, one you can throw in others faces. All while screwing the Russian mistress. No one is who they say they are, and someone living the American Dream is likely posing, using the stereotypes and ready made cultural symbols to sell themselves as the embodiment of the Dream. It's almost Don Draper-like. In 2016, the American Dream gets a good amount of derision, a bygone phrase of an age that doesn't exist anymore (if it ever existed at all). Alex's story shows how flimsy that dream is, and does it through the eyes of a foreigner who is told that the American Dream is something tangible, something he can grasp. The show so far has a way of casting everyone as an outsider--Amy's a loner, Alex's a Commie, Drew is transgender, Cricket is the odd girl out when it comes to boys and I'm sure we'll discover weekly outcasts with each passing flashback. Does this mean that the show is somehow fresher than I possibly imagined? Not really. There is something to say about the American Dream, about the romanticization of a childhood past (captured perfectly in a summer camp), how that romantic past cannot last and about outsiders finding like minded individuals to take on the horrors of the world, but I'm still not sure that the show is making efforts to discuss these topics through the use of satirical tropes. It's more like they stumble into them and then move on before really digging in their heels and working out the nuances of the topics.

The issue arises with connecting these themes of being an outsider back to the larger mystery of the show. Lest we forget (and how could we with the show giving us the obligatory string wailing and ghostly visages every few seconds), this show is really a slasher/horror teen romp. The present day internal developments should somehow thematically link back to the mythology. The piano-player ghost makes several appearances, praying on little Anton (a Russian stand in for Alexi, of course). Why Anton? Is it because he's a loner? Because he's friendless? Does the ghost sympathize with this, or is he using that trait to his advantage? Why is the ghost targeting anyone? What does he want? The mythology of the show is obviously going to build very slowly, being teased out in simple strokes so that the writers don't totally show their hand. Is the mystery worth waiting for? Maybe and maybe not. It's hard to tell at this point. I maintain the cliche nature of the horror mystery, but I also have always maintained that telling me an old story well is better than telling me a new story poorly. There's a bit of intrigue still in the mystery, especially since it is all being kept so close to the vest, that does make me want to tune in and pay attention. Whether or not that interest stays is contingent on how fast this plot moves and if the show keeps dropping eye roll worthy lines like "it's just begun!"

Miscellaneous Notes on Barney Rubble Eyes

--Maybe I'm not cool enough (or old enough) to understand the reference that gives us this week's title,'s an odd one right?

--Holy love quadrangle, Batman. So...Amy likes Alex and likes Garrett. Cricket likes Alex and Blotter likes Cricket. Jessie likes Garrett and Garrett likes Amy and possibly still Jessie. Blair likes Drew and Drew hasn't opened up everyone that she's trans. On top of all this, Joel is crushing on Deb and trying to film her with his ever present camera. Yikes!

--The bar where Garrett's mom works and where Garrett goes to read secret police files just happened to be showing a documentary on Satanism.

--Two boys making a bet on who can score with a girl first. Yes, just what this show needed.

--"Where are you from?" "The Soviet Union." Do the writers understand that the Soviet Union isn't just one place; that it's a conglomerate of many nations that have many different languages and cultures?

--What is Deb's secret? Is it that she can create magnificent ice sculptures or freeze people? Maybe it's that she is secretly working for Ben Linus to get the lights turned back on before the "V" aliens arrive. (Yes, this is a meta reference to all of Elizabeth Mitchell's most famous TV roles).

--I just realized that the lead cop is Blackbeard from OUAT.

--The visuals for the acid trip were well done.

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