Wednesday, August 10, 2016

In Which I Review Dead of Summer (1x7)

I DVR'd this week's episode of Dead of Summer, "Townie." You see, the Olympics are on and tonight I watched Michael Phelps win his 20th Olympic Gold medal. The wonders of humankind. Why am I bringing this up? Mostly to remind myself that there is still quality TV out there, even if it's sportsball related--sometimes those stories have more drama and heart than your average scripted hour long program. Look, let's be real. This isn't a very good show; neither was my previous summer review show, Under the Dome, but at least it could be charmingly stupid in its own gibberish way. Dead of Summer is tedious, silly, and cringe inducing with bad dialogue, terrible acting, and over wrought platitudes about teamwork, being a man, and--this week--contemplating how far you are willing to go to get even. Spoiler alert! You'll go as far as murder. Grab a severed tongue and let's go!

My introduction was a rather long winded way of saying that I don't have much to say this week. I just have one question: why is anyone doing what they are doing? I know that sounds like a fairly simply question, but I honestly have no clue. Some writers keep their characters opaque to add mystery or because they are doing a deep exploration of the human psyche (cf: Don Draper). But for this show, the characters are simply ill defined and are granted no internal motivations. All the counselors, and baddies, are painted in the broadest of strokes with the dullest of colors. Amy, Joel, Alex, Garret, Damon, et al are "loners" and "haunted" and while their backstory tries to flesh out the whys for their emotional situations, it is so fleeting that I might as well be grasping at straws. Why is Garrett so determined to figure out what's happening at Camp Stillwater? Because his father died one summer there and it has haunted him ever since, especially given that Garrett and his cop father had a tense relationship. That's a perfectly fine launching point for a character but the problem is that Dead of Summer goes no further; it lets the character of Garrett rest there on just those bare bones of a story. Why was Garrett's relationship with his father so bad? Authority issues? Typical teenage angst? That answer is the root of Garrett's personal story, but the show doesn't bother to go there, to show its audience what's Garrett's damage truly is. And speaking of ill defined motivations, let's talk about Damon and his cronies, with their masks and ritual suicide (yeah, that happened). It really doesn't come as a major surprise that Damon and the rest of the Teacher's pets are those who feel powerless, alone; believers that the world "sucks," they sought power and agency in the realm of the magical and mystical. It's not uncommon; people turn to religion/spirituality for those reasons all the time. The problem, like with Garrett, is that the show doesn't nuance any of these experiences. Damon is simply "evil" (with his head to toe black clothing) and willing to go to murderous and suicidal extremes because he feels like the world doesn't understand him. No exploration is given to Damon's home life except a throwaway line about his father not being around; we don't get inside his head to understand his complex motivations--and complex they need to be if he is willing to slit his throat and believes it will allow him to "live forever." To put this into modern parlance, suicide bombers are not simply "evil" for the sake of "evil." Their culture, their upbringing, their societal instructions and a host of other factors like the entire span of human history and interaction inform their very being. Reducing complex people and complex situations to their most base and simplistic terms is how we get poor narratives and one dimensional characters. And in good (bad?) old fashion, the most one dimensional character on the show turned out to be the Teacher (Supreme Bad Guy). The old cop, who's name is apparently Boyd--a detail I did not know until Garret made sure to say it three times this episode--was apparently behind everything and, I kid you not, when I say that even Scooby Doo mysteries made more sense than this denouement. Boyd's screen time has been minimal and his influence on the narrative has been nonexistent. There was little to no obvious forshadowing or clues for this revelation and, in keeping with tonight's theme or being sans-motivation, I have absolutely no idea why Boyd took up with the Holyoake movement, how he even found out about it and the demon that lurks beneath the shores, or how he came to be the leader of a band of mask wearing men. Huh. Look at that. Turns out I had more to say that I imagined. Too bad the show didn't follow suit.

 Miscellaneous Thoughts on Townie 

--Amy, after she dressed herself in a traditional white gown, cut her arm to allow her blood to flow into the bottomless lake. It bled so much that it trickled out into a stream deep enough to wade in. And she neither died nor passed out and was able to scream in her increasingly irritating voice. This is not how the human body works.

--Blair and Drew were the only good thing about this episode and the show, to give credit where it's due, is actually trying to explore the complexities of relationships that have many hurdles to over come, both personally and culturally.

--Actual line of dialogue: "I heard your call and I am ready." This was said while a guy blew into a ram's horn that had been bathed in tongue blood.

--"You want to bring violent criminals into a camp? With kids?" Oh saints be praised, someone remembered that there are little kids at this camp and maybe we need to get them off the property! But no, they'll be fine. The color wars start today!

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