Good ideas are a dime a dozen, but it’s the execution that’s tricky. Dozens of new TV shows pop up every season, but only a few go on to become moderate successes, much less smash hits. Here are a few shows that I wanted to work.
Emerald City (NBC, 2017): Emerald City is a gritty reboot of The Wizard of Oz. It sounds crazy (and but was way too over the top for network television. In this version, Dorothy is a cop. She also has magical powers and becomes the unwitting heir to the Witch of the East. The Scarecrow is a tragic soldier. Glinda isn’t such a good witch after all. The Witch of the West basically runs a brothel and is usually high on poppy tea. The Tin Man is a teenage amputee and Ozma is his magical transgender BFF. Oz is, of course, a fraud–but he’s also a scientist who is scared to death of magic and tries to ban its use in order to preserve his own power.
The cinematography was excellent, but the show was ultimately brought down by trying too hard. It started really slow, and there were just too many plot points. It also dealt with some very adult themes that had to be glossed over in order to be fit for a prime time audience. A few edits and a move to SyFy or HBO could have made this show a success.
Constantine (NBC, 2014): Constantine sought to take advantage of the new wave of comic book adaptations. However, NBC was definitely the wrong network. The comics were created by Alan Moore, the same man behind The Watchmen. John Constantine is an occult practitioner and demon hunter haunted by his failure to protect innocents in the past. But the demons he fights are not of the wise cracking variety displayed on Supernatural (The CW)–they’re the baby eating, serial killing, apocalypse bringing kind. Moreover, in trying to add a female character they shoehorned in a reluctant sidekick who had escaped from a cult. The writers tried to split the difference between grim dark and comedic by making it sorta kinda dark, which killed all narrative momentum.
Almost Human (Fox, 2013): This science fiction drama shakes up the usual buddy cop dynamic by making the sidekick an android. Michael Ealy plays an AI who has seemingly developed sentience. It hit all the beats of a traditional procedural, but with an intelligent exploration of the tension between humans and robots. Karl Urban’s character also has a prosthetic leg, due to an injury he suffered in the line of duty. He hates it because he is staunchly anti-android, but as he starts to develop a true partnership with Michael Ealy, his feelings start to shift. However, the show was much too niche for Fox. SyFy would have been a natural fit, and they’ve kept worse on the air (Wynonna Earp, anyone?).
I’ve always enjoyed superhero stories. I love science fiction and fantasy, and comic books almost always contain a little bit of both. I’ll admit that before the movie came out, I didn’t know much about Black Panther other than the fact that he existed. I watched the miniseries back in 2010, but that was it.
As you can see, the production value is decidedly subpar. But the story was good and the voice talent (Djimon Hounsou, Jill Scott, Kerry Washington, Alfre Woodard) was great. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but promptly forgot it existed as I had no real expectation of ever seeing a live action version. I watched Blade but never really got into it. Halle Berry as Storm in the X-Men movies was a disappointment, Halle Berry as Catwoman was an even bigger disappointment. Don Cheadle was good as War Machine but he was still a sidekick. It was a feel good moment, but not one that made me run to theater.
Then Chadwick Boseman showed up as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, and Marvel announced a Black Panther movie and I was excited. As casting news kept trickling out, I got even more hyped up. My brother (an OG comics nerd) has watched all the #BlackPantherSoLit and #InWakanda feverishness with a detached skepticism. I’m a skeptic too, but I couldn’t suppress my inner child on this one. We went from a low budget cartoon on BET to this:
I GLADLY bought my opening weekend movie ticket almost two months beforehand.
*******SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON********
Black Panther was EVERYTHING. It felt so good to watch a movie where black people and black problems and black culture were the focus, and not an afterthought. The production was loving and thorough, as each Wakandan tribe incorporated references to actual African cultural clothing, hairstyles, and rituals.
Best of all, the women were the black women I know in my own life–fierce, sexy, competent, multifaceted. Wakanda’s elite fighting force is all female. They rock bald heads and armor but still retain their femininity. Their general had a black male lover who respected her. T’Challa was in love with a covert operative who wants to serve not only Wakanda, but disenfranchised people all over the world–and we catch her in the middle of a mission to save African women from being sold into the sex trade. And all four of the women featured in the main cast are brown to dark skinned. It just felt so good to see women of my complexion being both objects of affection and trusted advisors to royalty.
So often the token black person in media is lightskinned; recently, more and more often they also look mixed and/or racially ambiguous. Kill all the diversity birds with one stone, as it were. But Black Panther is different. Because Wakanda is an African country untouched by colonizers, the Wakandans are overwhelmingly dark skinned–with natural hair! I’ve honestly never seen this in a movie that wasn’t about slavery. Wakanda is the Africa that exists in every black American’s mind, a myth of what could have been if slavery had never happened.
Lupe Fiasco captured this feeling in the track “All Black Everything” on his Lasers album. It’s one of my favorite songs of his, but it makes me feel so emotional that I can’t just listen to it at any old time. The first time I heard it, I felt chills down my spine and tears pricked my eyes. I’m an African American descendant of slaves; I’ve actually seen my ancestor’s burial grounds and the record that reduces his life to a mark on a tally sheet and a comment in the margins that “He was a good slave”. I am also descended from the Muscogee/Creek Indian tribe, a tribe whose remnants exist mostly on a reservation in Oklahoma.
But Black Panther takes us a step beyond the color blind utopia that Lupe imagined, into a world where Blackness is, at least in one corner of the world, undefeated. It’s supreme, even, and because the Wakandans were more concerned with pursuing excellence than being conquerors, no one else had to be oppressed in order for them to thrive. However, their choice to remain isolated means that the rest of history still unfolded as we know it. Could a small but technologically advanced country have defeated colonization on the African continent, creating a unity of nations so powerful that it stopped slavery long before the Civil War? We don’t know. But Erik Killmonger’s (righteous) anger at Wakanda stems from a feeling of abandonment, that Wakanda was strong enough to help its brothers and sisters in the diaspora and chose to turn away instead.
Killmonger was a powerful villain because in him, I recognized the same anger I feel whenever another black person is gunned down by the police, or gets a sentence three times harsher than the one given to the white person who committed the same crime. I feel that anger when I hear rhetoric about welfare queens and entitlement mentalities. To keep it 100% real, I felt that anger when I heard Africans complaining about black people wearing kente cloth and dashikis to the movie theater. My roots are lost to me. Ancestry.com can tell me I’m from Nigeria and most likely of the Yoruba tribe. But I don’t have a cousin whose house I can stay at. I don’t know what village I’m from. And anti-American sentiments are widespread enough in Africa that I wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed if I went exploring to find out.
The conflict between Killmonger and T’Challa is one that every African-American descendant of slaves faces. Do we fight and live solely to protect ourselves and our families from the dangerous forces of white supremacy? Or do we share our resources in order to preserve Blackness across the country and across the world? It’s a hard choice, especially so because white supremacy is so vicious and the resources that we have are not nearly as much or as organized as Wakanda. We don’t have vibranium weapons to ship to the hood, or a superpowered king who can bring in allies from the United Nations. We all we got.
Even though Black Panther grappled with some heavy questions, I left the theater feeling lighter spiritually. For a couple of hours, I was in Wakanda; and there at least, black people would get a happy ending.
I’ve always been a bookworm. Mostly because I love reading, but also because I grew up without cable so books didn’t have much competition. When your only options are Matlock reruns, Jeopardy, and the local news, books look much more attractive. Now we’re living in the age of peak tv and I have cable, DVR, and Amazon Prime. I used to have Hulu until it stopped being free. The worst part of television is starting a new show. Unless it’s something I’m excited about from the commercials alone, I wait until a show gets a second season before I invest time and energy. Nevertheless, I’ve been burned a few times over the years. Here’s a roundup of some shows that I loved and lost.
Powerless (NBC, 2017): An inside look at the lives of regular folks in the DC Universe. Vanessa Hudgens plays the newest hire at Wayne Industries, headed by Bruce’s incompetent cousin, Van. One of my favorite episodes deals with Hudgens’s character having a new boyfriend who turns out to be an evil henchman. This show got pulled before it even completed its first season. I feel like this was a case of the right show on the wrong network. It probably would have done better numbers on the CW (which has successfully adapted DC Comics properties Green Arrow and Legends of Tomorrow) or even Comedy Central (perhaps as a lead in to Tosh.0 or At Midnight).
Still Star Crossed (ABC, 2017) : This summer series, based on a YA novel and produced by Shonda Rhimes, should have been a success. It looks great–the cast is gorgeous (and super diverse), and so are the costumes and setting. This covers the romantic and political machinations of the Montague and Capulet families after the deaths of Romeo and Juliet. However, it got moved from Monday nights after The Bachelorette to Saturday nights, and ABC hasn’t put original programming on Saturday nights since the 90s (way back when there was no DVR and you watched reruns in the summer!). Honestly, this never really had a chance. While the show definitely doesn’t fit into the mold of Shonda’s Thursday dramas Scandal, Grey’s Anatomy, and How to Get Away With Murder, it might have done well airing on Sundays after Once Upon a Time. The OUAT audience is prepared to accept a universe where fairy tale characters are real, so this wouldn’t be a huge leap. Still Star Crossed also would have been a perfect fit for the CW, taking the time slot recently vacated by the series finale of Reign (a teen drama adaptation of Mary, Queen of Scots’s life story).
Pitch (Fox, 2016): Pitch tells the story of Ginny Baker, Major League Baseball’s first female player. I’m not a sports fan and I find baseball especially boring, but I enjoy sports dramas (Survivor’s Remorse on Starz and Ballers on HBO are two of my faves). I love seeing black people on screen, and Ginny’s character was something you don’t see much. She was a female athlete who was dedicated to her sport, but who also had a love life. And the behind the scenes, Money Ball-esque machinations of the coach and front office were entertaining as well. Plus: plenty of topless Mark Paul-Gosselaar (aka Zack Morris aka the finest white boy alive)! Unfortunately, Fox chose to air this in a competing time slot with actual MLB games, therefore cutting out a large portion of the potential audience. Another time slot could have saved this. It also might have done better on TNT, which has a history of turning unconventional TV shows into hits (a la Leverage, Franklin & Bash, and The Librarians).
Dracula (NBC, 2013): This update of the Bram Stoker tale starred Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a sophisticated American businessman in London circa the Industrial Revolution. The bones of the story remained the same and Meyers was a great casting decision, as his commitment to the role kept it grounded. It came on after Grimm(which just wrapped a fantastic six season run!), so it had a solid lead in audience. It got tanked or low ratings after the first season, which I felt was unfair. Friday night shows, even the most successful, have much lower ratings than their Sunday – Thursday counterparts. It was set to be picked up by Netflix, but rumor has it that problems with Meyers sank the possible reboot.
The Gates (ABC, 2010): Nick Monohan is a cop who takes a cushy job as chief of security for an upscale suburban neighborhood. Little does he know, the families he’s watching are vampires, werewolves, witches, and other supernatural beings. This was basically Desperate Housewives with an urban fantasy twist, and even starred Rhona Mitra, who was in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. Ultimately, I think this was a few years before its time. In 2010, the Marvel cinematic universe was just launching with Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk (Edward Norton version). It wasn’t until 2011’s Thor and Captain America that the MCU picked up steam and studios started to realize that fantasy/scifi/comic book adaptations had a real audience, and weren’t just a fluke. Had it come to television in 2015, I believe it could have developed a strong following.
Mercy (NBC, 2009): This was a medical drama about a nurse who served in the Army’s medical corps in Iraq. She had an affair with the doctor she worked with, who of course gets a job at her hometown hospital. This wouldn’t be a big deal, except she left behind a husband and is dealing with PTSD. Her fellow nurses also had their own problems. It starred Taylor Schilling, who now helms Orange Is The New Black. Mercy was a worthy successor to medical drama ER, which had wrapped up its final season in the spring before Mercy aired. Apparently, I was the only watching it because ratings started low and got lower. It never caught on like Grey’s Anatomy, but it had really great characters. Looking back, it felt similar Nurse Jackie–yet another show that might have done better on cable.
Eastwick (ABC, 2009): This show was a lighthearted adaptation of the 1987 cult classic film The Witches of Eastwick, itself based on the novel of the same name by John Updike. The lead actresses had great chemistry. The magic stuff was cheesy but the likeability of the cast made it fun. It was very similar to the 90s WB show Charmed, but was canceled after one season.
So, what are the shows you wish could have a second chance? Tell me in the comments!
Growing up, I didn’t have cable. This was partially because my parents objected to us watching too much brain-rotting television (my siblings and I all have graduate degrees so I guess it worked!), and partially because we couldn’t afford it. My husband grew up with cable and loves watching movies. Between him and the fact that I’m making up for 18 lost years of pop culture exposure, I watch a lot of random sh*t. Some movies are just so bad, that they’re good. So I’m cataloging a few of my favorite hidden gems.
You guys. THIS IS MY FAVORITE BAD MOVIE OF ALL TIME. I first saw this movie with Tex and Teddy McBright. It has a gratuitous threesome in the first 5 minutes, and the ending is completely insane. On top of that, Benicio del Toro and Salma Hayek utter each line of this cheesy script as if it were a Shakespeare play. You can’t look away. It’s magnificent.
This is a close second with Savages because it’s just as foolish. Jason Statham is my guilty pleasure that I don’t feel guilty about. I discovered him in The Transporter wayyyy back in ’02 and he’s been bae ever since. Anyway, he’s starring in this opposite James Franco as a meth king in the Louisiana bayou. I sh*t you now. Tex’s uncle and aunt who always host Thanksgiving are retired, and unc has all the time in the world to go down the Netflix rabbit hole. This was the after dinner movie for 2014. I think I was the only person who genuinely enjoyed it, and I have no shame. I laughed. I gasped. I yelled at the tv. It. was. everything!
A Luc Besson film that was given a scandalous 29% on Rotten Tomatoes, this movie is a diamond in the rough. It’s like Home Alone, except instead of a little boy setting booby traps for robbers it’s a formerly connected family setting booby traps for the mob. Totally worth it just to see old man DeNiro scowl while trying to act like a regular, suburban American dad…in France. Tommy Lee Jones is more deadpan than usual as their humorless FBI case officer. Honestly, this might be the most quality film on this list.
What do you get if you mix Taken with John Wick and add Bruce Willis? A hit, ladies and gentlemen, that’s what! This was the 2015 after Thanksgiving movie. It didn’t quite live up to the splendor that was Homefront, but it was pretty good nonetheless. Bruce Willis stars as Bruce Willis and John Cusack stars as an unconvincing bad guy. There are gunfights and explosions and Rain is criminally underutilized for him to be pictured on the movie poster.
The story of the Bondurant brothers is predictable. We know it won’t end well and that the women are just going to get them caught up. The accents are offensive at worst and merely bad at best (I swear some of these folks just swagger-jacked Cletus the slack-jawed yokel). But the scenery and the costumes are gorgeous, and the actors make this entertaining. I came for Shia LaBeouf (don’t judge me!), but I stayed for Tom Hardy. That man can act his way out of a paper bag.
So that’s my top 5 bad movies. Have you seen any of these? Do you plan to watch them? Any bad movie recommendations? Let me know in the comments!
So I’ve devoured all the books in George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series. I’m caught up on the tv show. I bought the anthologies Dangerous Women and Rogues just to get my Westeros fix, even though I really don’t like short stories. I feel like I’ve read every character entry on the GOT wiki and seen every plausible theory on the discussion boards. What to do? The next book probably won’t drop before 2016, and there are 4 more months until the show comes back. I figured I can’t be the only one in this predicament, so I’m sharing my list of read that compare favorably to GRRM’s heady mix of high fantasy, political intrigue and family feuds.
Although it airs on the History channel, this isn’t a documentary. It’s an engaging, fast-paced take on legendary Norse ruler Ragnar Lothbrok, who was the scourge of France and England in the 800s. There’s plenty of fighting and raiding, but clan politics and family tensions keep things interesting. And since it’s the History channel, there’s plenty of glimpses into Viking culture and religion that add depth to the plot.
Yes, this airs on the CW. Just think of it as a lighter, fluffier GoT. This is a fictionalized take on the rise and reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. Court intrigue, international politics and illicit romance abound, along with a touch of the supernatural. If you can learn get over the Renaissance Fair wardrobe styling, this is a fun show with enough substance to keep it from being silly.
Recently greenlighted for a second season with FX, Tyrant tells the story of Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayeed. Bassam is an expat from the fictional Middle Eastern country of Abbudin who visits home for the first time in 20 years to see his father before he dies. Bassam is faced with a choice: return to America or help guide Abbudin’s new ruler, his impulsive brother Jamal. Family ties run deep, and Bassam, along with his American wife and children, are suddenly thrust into a world where they are foreigners. Bassam must figure out who he is, and who he can trust, before the balance of power shifts out of his favor.
If you don’t know who Frank Underwood is, you ought to. This fictional Congressman is the living embodiment of Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War”. Cold, calculating, and impeccably bred with Southern charm to spare, he and his wife Claire are on a mission to rule the political world. They work together with a loyalty and efficiency that puts the Lannisters and Starks to shame. Frank and Claire have an answer for every question, a backup plan to the backup plan, and a workaround for every obstacle. But can their luck hold forever? You’ll have to tune into Netflix and see.
A cult hit by French author Maurice Druon, this is a dramatized retelling of the Hundred Years War. It has recently come back into print due to the popularity of GoT, because George R.R. Martin cites these books as his main inspiration for the hit series. I haven’t started reading yet, but I’m looking forward to it!
Amber and the Courts of Chaos are the two true worlds, of which Earth and many others are mere shadows. The royal families of these worlds are the only ones allowed to travel back and forth. The first five novels comprise the adventures of Corwin, a Prince of Amber who wakes up in a New York hospital with no knowledge of how he came to be there. With the help of his sister, he recovers his memory and undertakes a journey to claim the throne. The last five novels in the series follow Corwin’s son Merlin, who has come of age in a very different Amber than came before- and his destiny, like his father’s will change Amber forever.
While this is a significant change of pace from GoT, Martin’s trademarks remain- morally ambiguous characters, the philosophical struggle with self-determination vs. predestination, and mesmerizing prose. This is not your average vampire story. Martin’s tale of a weary steamboat captain who partners with a child of the night is evocative, poetic and engrossing. Joshua York is a vampire with a humanist bent who strives to transcend his “peculiar condition” and achieve something no vampire ever has before. He enlists the help of Abner Marsh, whose life has become increasingly hardscrabble, by dangling his lifelong dream in front of him. As York and Marsh make their way down the river in the world’s fastest steamboat promises are made, secrets are revealed, and loyalties are tested.
There are a lot of valid reasons for black people to be angry: Police brutality. Disproportionate unemployment. The school to prison pipeline. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of outrage over trivial issues. Sure, human beings are both frivolous and profound. But there is so much anguish wasted on the WRONG DAMN THINGS! For example: the current vitriol leveled at rap artist Iggy Azalea.
I like her music. It’s catchy and has that southern twang I’m used to from my favorite rapper T.I. However, I can be objective and acknowledge that Iggy’s no great MC. She’s not in the same class as Lil Kim, Outkast, or Biggie. But neither is Migos, Future or 2 Chainz, and I don’t hear anyone hollering for them to pay homage to the socio-political history of hip-hop.* I’m a history major, so I understand that it feels like white people only ever take from black culture without giving back- because that’s largely true. It happened with jazz and it happened with rock n roll; this is not new. The difference is that nobody who hasn’t been living under a rock would think that white people invented hip-hop. It took 30 years for the world to even receive a white rapper that would be taken seriously, and Eminem was judged by a much higher standard than any black rapper at the time. The man raps in iambic pentameter and it wasn’t until his third album that he really became mainstream and fully accepted into the hip-hop community. Black people may be a minority in this country, but we are the leading exporters of cool. The side effect of that is swagger jacking- imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? We should really be impressed that hip-hop is so powerful that it made a 16 year old white girl leave her country to chase a dream.
I say all this to say that if we’re going to start drawing lines about what real hip-hop is and isn’t, we need to start at home first. Example: Nicki Minaj. The girl can spit. She’s a lyrical beast. But she relies heavily on her sexuality to sell records (like Iggy) and often eschews hard core rap for poppier records that reach a Top 40 demographic (also like Iggy). I like her music, but Nicki is basically the Lady Gaga of rap: a massively talented woman who doesn’t exercise her full potential for fear that it won’t be marketable. I can’t entirely blame her though. The marketplace is flooded with subpar rap music. The fall of CDs, record labels, and traditional artist development means that music is fully democratized, for better and for worse. Soulja Boy got rich and famous off of a song he made in his bedroom, that never would have gotten past a label A&R rep. Future sounds like he’s singing into a water bottle. Juicy J’s flow sounds like ratchet nursery rhymes. I can’t understand what the hell Young Thug or The Migos are saying. 2 Chainz seems to exclusively make songs best heard in a strip club. Yet, the latter three can be heard all over the radio. But nobody is pointing at them and saying it’s a rap apocalypse, or that they don’t know enough about hip-hop history. If rap is “our thing”, then shouldn’t black artists be held to the highest standard? Shouldn’t we be boycotting all the artists who glorify sex, drugs, and female debasement before we start assuming that the lone white, female rap artist is single-handedly destroying the genre?
Personally, I don’t think rap has to be all one thing. Much like there are different subcategories of jazz, the same thing goes for rap. Some of it is political. Some of it is inspirational. Some of it is just good to dance to at the club, or blast in your car. There are lowbrow and highbrow elements to every artistic medium, and that’s okay. You wanna be mad at something? Don’t get mad because white people are saying “on fleek”. Be mad because the black girl who invented it didn’t think to trademark it, and now some white people are making money off it. Don’t be mad at Iggy, be mad that her sworn nemesis Azealia Banks twitter beefed herself right out of a record deal. Don’t be mad that Macklemore won the Grammy instead of Kendrick. Be mad the BET Awards are a joke, the Soul Train Awards haven’t cracked the mainstream, and black America still thinks the height of artistic merit should be determined by the whims of a panel of old white men who probably didn’t listen to the album.
There’s plenty to get mad at. Get mad where it counts.
*Speaking of which, when was the last time hip-hop was really relevant for being a political movement? Aside from the handful of rappers like Kendrick, Macklemore, Lupe Fiasco, Common and The Roots who are known for socially conscious tracks- and a few others like Wale who participated in the Ferguson protests- hip-hop is mostly prized for its cool factor and being a party starter.