The future of TV looks a lot like the past

Earlier this month, news surfaced suggesting the merger of Warner Bros and Discovery would involve some life-changing choices. For some (me), it was hard to care much that a bat girl the film, shot for Warner’s HBO Max streaming platform, would be shelved indefinitely; many theatrically released DC Comics movies probably should have suffered the same fate. Then HBO Max dropped Mrs Fletcher, a 2019 limited series adaptation of Tom Perrotta’s novel starring Kathryn Hahn in the lead role; now it affected me personally!

The company went from bad news to bad news over the week, but a particular PowerPoint slide presented to shareholders on an earnings call was most criticized for appearing to suggest that “the 90 Day Fiance Universe” is an entertainment franchise that Warner Bros. Discovery ranks up there with Batman or Harry Potter. In terms of “iconic series and characters”, the creator of this slide also grouped the two Property Brothers and Friends. On one level, it was fun to watch the ensuing collapse of a series of reality TV shows compared to blockbuster movies based on children’s literature. But a debate over which franchise is most cynically designed to produce a product in perpetuity could only end with a Spider-Men pointing moment. (I know Spider-Man belongs to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but the fact that the DCEU still hasn’t inspired such an enduring meme just tells you how much cultural ground Warner Brothers Discovery CEO David Zaslav actually owes. catch up !)

Part of Zaslav’s job is to make this new venture profitable – perhaps most of it, since he’s the executive who came over from Discovery and the one who still has a job, unlike Jason Kilar, who ran WarnerMedia. Ditch the guy who (presumably) signed the budgets for Succession and The White Lotus and keeping one whose empire includes dozens of shows in which ordinary people have to pay for their own home renovations says a lot about a company’s priorities. (Kilar was also the guy who told Lachlan Murdoch in March 2021 that Covid is “really good for grades” so I don’t want to cast him as an honorable victim, but given he kept his job for more than a year after that, no one he reported to seemed to think it was an unforgivable blunder.) Given his apparent tenure, no one should be surprised that Zaslav is looking to capitalize on the most intellectual property important and best known of WBD. More than that, however, a cursory look at today’s film and television landscape tells us that the future of entertainment will mostly remind us of the past.

Not figuratively either. Literally. For example: Prime Video A league apart, which dropped its eight-episode first season on August 12. Anyone familiar with Penny Marshall’s 1992 film of the same name might expect the series to be like that, but more. It doesn’t quite handle that. The setting is the same: we witness the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943 and we focus on the Peaches of Rockford, Illinois. But the characters are all new, and the show’s creators — Will Graham and Abbi Jacobson, the latter also playing protagonist Carson Shaw — continue stories around the league that the film didn’t focus on.

For example: In the movie, a black woman near the outfield fence during a Peaches first game picks up a ball rolling towards her and throws it back to pitcher Ellen Sue (Freddie Simpson) with lightning speed. She’s not in the league herself, because it’s separate and she wouldn’t have been allowed to try – or so we have to assume from her stoic smile and dignified nod, because that we never learn her name and she gets no line. (Because of this, she is officially an extra and therefore not credited by name; she is played by DeLisa Chinn-Tyler.) In the series, Carson’s co-lead is Max Chapman (Chanté Adams) , a black woman who, turned down the opportunity to try out for the GBPL, gets a job at the local screw factory so she can join her amateur baseball team.

Another example: in the film, Dottie (Geena Davis) initially rejects the idea of ​​joining the league because she is married, although her husband is fighting overseas in World War II; she only agrees to try so she can bring her sister, Kit (Lori Petty). In the series, Carson is also married to a conscripted man (Patrick J. Adams’ Charlie), but she soon finds herself attracted to her costar, Greta (D’Arcy Carden), and before the end of the series premiere, Carson and Greta shared their first kiss. Spoiler: Max and Max’s transgender uncle, and Max’s Church of the First Lady, and about half of Peaches, and Team Navy’s ex-chaperone Beverly (Dale Dickey) are also queer . Maybelle Blair, a former Real League member, estimated that 450 out of 600 players were lesbian, but generously added that 1992 movie audiences were probably not ready to see the characters’ sexuality portrayed with full historical fidelity. ; Rosie O’Donnell, who plays Doris in the film and has a guest role on the show, said that in her main canon (and against Marshall’s wishes), Doris is queer. Since the homosexuality of the players is a huge element of the series and entirely absent from the film, one wonders why they even have a title in common, that is, until one remembers what Zaslav knows, which is that originality is risky. A period television series about women’s baseball league titled Receiver Carson? Extraterrestrial! Scary! A period TV series that somehow reminds you of a movie you watched and enjoyed 50 times on TBS? Familiar! Attractive!

Remakes and revivals are nothing new in pop culture (the star trek the show engenders the star trek movies, which spawn a lot more shows and movies), but especially on television; half of current dramas on CBS are spin-offs from each other, or remakes of crime procedurals of yesteryear. But A league apart is one of the new class of shows that aren’t remakes or reruns, exactly, but nondescript IP-branded pastiche. Around the time Disney started extending their copyrights via (stupid, bad) feature film remakes of their (beloved, lovely) animated films, we also got Once upon a time, an ABC series in which characters from different Disney properties lived together in an enchanted town; it satisfied a specific audience’s need to know what it would be like if Captain Hook and Cinderella shared a family tree. (You won’t believe this show lasted almost Seven Earth years.)

Shortly after, FX debuted Fargo, an anthology series set in the Midwest, which vaguely hinted at the entire Coen Brothers filmography through a series of more or less overt nods and references. In the case of Hulu stone castle, the titular Maine setting is at least common to several of Stephen King’s novels and books that he somehow excerpted for its chilling plotlines; the second season tied more directly to King’s Misery, in that it was a prequel to the novel’s antagonist Annie Wilkes, but this season was also, to date, the series’ last. (Near-redemptive prequels about iconic villains are a whole other subgenre that I just can’t get into; admittedly, that’s been the realm of movies more than TV, but less is said about Pawl Where Bates Motelthe best.)

Among these predecessors, the League show is probably closest to Fargo, if only because it borrows various elements that moviegoers may knowingly nod to. A player catches a ball in his cap; a Peach writes a theme song for the League; the candy mogul who funds the company continues to threaten to withdraw his support. We hear about a player from another team who “always aims for the highest”, like Kit in the movie. (The rest of that line is “it’s a whole”, which is one of many linguistic anachronisms that Richard Lawson very correctly calls out in his VanityFair.com review of the show. I suspect no one in 1943 was calling The Wizard of Oz “problematic,” neither.) In some cases, those lifts from the original are cropped to fit the show’s areas of focus, such as when he re-enacts the finishing school crash course. of the movie. While the film makes it clear that these lessons are meant to ensure the players are female enough to excite male fans, the show’s concern is that women don’t appear to be dating.

The League show also (spoiler again) replicates the outcome of the movie’s climactic playoff finale: Peaches lose. Of all the elements the show could have opted for not borrow, that bizarre trope of on-screen depictions of women’s athletics might have been the best. I realize that Rocky notoriously loses on the first Rockyand that there are probably more examples of noble losses in movies about male athletes – or, as they’re commonly called, sports movies, with Women’s sports movies being their own separate category, but male athletics is frankly none of my business. Spoilers ahead for most of the decades-old shows and movies, but the female leads end up losing not just in the League movie, but also Bring it on, blue crush, paste it, Whip itand this episode of Futurama where Leela joins the New New York Mets of blernsball. Just Watched Hulu Teen Lesbian Romantic Comedy 2022 To crushand while a thread involving the heroine joining the relay team to get closer to her titular crush is not this relevant to the plot in terms of anyone’s athleticism, even if he ends up coming second in his big track competition! Female athletes cannot learn lessons and build character while too hammering their foes in ignominious defeat? That a woman wins one, damn it! East play it like Beckham the best female sports film because its main roles are fundamentally queer and their team wins in the end?

At the top, I used the term “cynically designed” to describe the major franchises referenced in that infamous Warner Brothers Discovery slide. I wouldn’t go that far in describing the A league apart series, which for better or for worse seems very seriously designed, as Kathryn VanArendonk puts it in her Vulture review, “both to celebrate the film and to fix its two biggest blind spots – race and sexuality” . But we’ll never know what the show might have been had it been allowed to be an entirely low-key exploration of the GPBL, with no reference to any previous release, no matter how beloved. It’s hard to imagine such a spectacle would be greenlit, regardless of its merits. As the number of companies creating, broadcasting and streaming screened entertainment continues to contract, so does the opportunity for all things purely original to reach us.

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