There’s this study where people are asked which movies off a list they want to watch. People pick the movie equivalent of Literature, the good films they think they should watch in order to be cultured. Then they’re asked, ‘And which film do you feel like watching right now?’ The responses are completely different and run to no-brainers, rom-coms and action flicks. Which explains exactly why these things exist.
The same thing happened when we subscribed to Netflix, and I suspect it’s common when anyone subscribes to any of these on-demand servies like Stan or whatever. (What’s with Australia’s new Stan’service? All I think of when I hear ‘Stan’ is a seventy-year-old man called Stanley, complaining to no one in particular about everything.)
You’d be quite impressed to see all the wonderful cinema that’s in my Netflix queue right now. I’d show it to you if I could, because it’s quite impressive. However, this is what I’ve actually been watching, instead of blogging, obv.
Crappiest of the crap things: Dance Moms Collection
I started this one just to confirm how rubbish it was, and before I knew it I’d watched the entire first season, slightly disappointed that that’s all there is available on Netflix. IT ENDED ON A CLIFFHANGER.
Abby Lee Miller is the perfect baddie. Then you realise that the real baddies are the fat-shaming, toxically competitive dance mothers she has to work around. As despicable as Abby Lee is, the interesting thing about any narrative is that a terrible character seems wonderful if you place her alongside even worse ones. Think of Jessie Pinkman in Breaking Bad, who ends up smelling of roses, because we compare him to the more exaggerated evil of Walter White, who is in turn quite moderate alongside the likes of Tuco.
I’m not the slightest bit interested in dancing per se, but watching this show I learnt to admire the skill of these young girls who perform amazing tricks and display eye-watering flexibility, but even more impressively, are able to memorise new routines very quickly — a new one each week.
As the season progresses we learn a little more about Abby herself: She has a dog (spoiler alert: it dies and she gets it stuffed) and the main person in her life is her meek mother, Mrs Miller. There’s a wonderful shot of Abby asleep unselfconsciously on a coach, with her mouth wide open and snoring. When one of her little dancers puts something into her gaping maw as a joke, that’s when my sympathies turned and I started to see Abby’s ever-so-slightly human side.
Abby’s nemesis is the hilarious woman who runs Candy Apples dance studio. I honestly can’t believe these women are the slightest bit real, but I don’t care. It’s a great script.
NAIL-BITING FAKE DANGER: MOUNTAIN MEN
In this reality series, the camera crew follows various old white men in who have decided to live off-grid, in Alaska and places like that. They hunt, they fish, they build their own log cabins. One of them lives off his extensive land but can’t afford to pay his rates, so the local government is threatening to take a portion of his land away from him as back payment. This leads to drama since he has no way of making a living without all his land. He hosts other hapless men who are finding life a bit much. These men do stupid things like leave his chainsaws out in the rain to rust. This pisses him off and creates extra drama.
Another fellow is a trapper up in Alaska, flying a rickety old plane through snowy skies, then riding on a snowmobile to his remotely placed traps. The snowmobile is always breaking down, and he is consistently on the verge of death. Of course, the unseen camera crew are probably not on the verge of death. They probably have far more reliable equipment than he has, and could give him a ride back to civilisation if it weren’t for the attractive near death experiences he is supposed to endure.
Knowing there’s an unseen crew on the scene turn these near-death experiences into quite good comedy.
A HORRIFYING GLIMPSE INTO PURITY CULTURE: PREACHERS’ DAUGHTERS
The camera follows three or four preacher families in various parts of America. Each preacher has a daughter who is pushing against the limits set by his church. We have the loveable Tayla who wants to be a singer/dancer in music videos and loves to hang out with boys. Another easily-led (sheltered) young woman took some drugs and got pregnant at 18. Another is the fourth daughter in a long line of oppressed girls, and both of her parents are equally crazy. When she made friends with a lovely boy from school, her father threatened violence and her mother went through an extensive checklist including invasive questions about his attitude towards sex.
This show is disturbing because although it’s set in a particular milieu that feels quite foreign, on the other hand we see more subtle policing of teenage girls’ bodies right here in Australia, with many parents just as scared of their girls’ burgeoning adulthood as any parents anywhere. Watching Preachers’ Daughters is like watching all of these anxieties everyone seems to have about teenage girls in harrowing technicolour.
THE ONLY COOKING SHOW I’VE EVER WATCHED AN ENTIRE SEASON OF, TWICE: THE PIONEER WOMAN
I’d never heard of Ree Drummond until I read a think piece about someone’s six-year-old daughter who was watching a whole lot of Pioneer Woman episodes. The writer assumed her daughter loved country-style cooking, so bought her aprons and baking equipment for her birthday. But the gift fell flat, because it turns out the six-year-old was really in love with Ree Drummond herself, the ‘accidental country girl’ whose cooking and photography blog took off and resulted in a show on the Food Network, among other things. From what I can gather, there are now at least nine seasons, and the first season is available on Netflix. I happen to know most of the rest is available at lower res on YouTube, because I have watched them.
To be clear: I don’t like cooking any more than that six year old likes cooking. For one thing, we eat a Paleo diet, and Ree Drummond is pretty fucking far from paleo. Perhaps, three years on, I’ve been missing the nuisance of baking. I used to bake every week, and after some initial disasters in my early twenties (too much baking soda, no sugar, forms one memorable occasion), was getting quite good at cakes by the end of my twenties. Perhaps my fascination with the Pioneer Woman is to do with nostalgia. Perhaps it’s because our view of hills and a rolling plain is currently being developed into a suburb and I can no longer pretend we live in the country. Perhaps it’s because my house is constantly in need of some TLC, whereas TV houses have unseen cleaners toiling away. Ree has a great kitchen, with prettily coloured appliances and a fridge freezer that looks like a cupboard, not a big white metal thing. Wow. Or perhaps it’s because I also have a brother called Tim, who is also married to a woman called Missy. Parallel universes, man. I AM THE MURRUMBATEMAN PIONEER WOMAN.
Most of all, my own seven year old is totally in love with Ree Drummond. She’s not in love with any other cooking show, so I must conclude, as the woman in the think piece did, that my daughter is actually in love with Ree.
Ree is always smiling, always has a positive attitude, always looks forward to simple things like family gatherings and eating soup in front of the TV, and tells us with a wink and a nudge that if we ‘cheat’ by using processed ingredients or drop some mixture on the floor, she’s ‘not gonna judge’.
She has homeschooled four children who help their father on the ranch (when they’re not playing sport together outside or having riding lessons). This life is a veritable Pinterest life — one with no real worries other than if a cake is going to fall out of its pan without breaking (and if it doesn’t, well, you can always cover it in cream. I won’t judge ya.)
I’ve had to turn away a few times because those ice cream cookies looked really delicious. But skipping forward to season nine on YouTube, Pioneer Woman is on a self-described ‘health kick’, assembling more salads and eating fewer carbs. I believe she even goes gluten free at one point. Her children are grown now, presumably with lives of their own, and we hardly see them anymore. I realise it’s the family I’m most interested in. (The girls look exactly the same these days. And by the way, doesn’t Ree’s mother look UNCANNILY LIKE GERMAINE GREER??)
This is the most bizarre thing, because I really don’t care about someone else’s marketing of family. Of course none of it’s real. The only glimpse I’ve seen ‘behind the curtain’ is when Ree is helping herd cattle, then tells her family that she’ll have to go inside to start on some dish she’s preparing for everyone. Ladd the husband snidely says, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll do your work,’ thereby fracturing the mood just for a moment, enough for me to think that maybe he is one of those grumpy men who always seem to end up with over-the-top accommodating women. What does he really think about his wife’s celebrity enterprise? Did she find herself an ‘accidental celebrity’, or is she a shrewd business woman, ruthless off-camera? Is she bringing in more money than his cattle are, these days? Has Ree’s little hobby become just a little too intrusive?
This I’ll never know, and I don’t want to know, because in the words of my seven-year-old daughter, ‘Ree has such a nice life.’
RETRO CREEPY: THE INCREDIBLE HULK
I think I had nightmares when I watched this as a kid back in the eighties. I have recollections of it screening on TV in NZ on Sunday afternoons or something like that, because I can see our whole family sitting round watching it. I’m sitting near the door. It screened before or after another equally rotten show called ‘That’s Incredible’.
I have a seven-year-old who still likes superheroes, and this one fits the bill. It’s still just as attractively creepy for the kid as it was for me, but I think it’s pretty hilarious these days, because I am thinking how different it would be if done with CGI. CGI has a lot to answer for, come to think of it.
There you have it, my trashiest TV fixes of the first half of 2015. I’ve also watched some resonant, thought-provoking shows recently, but I’ll leave that for another post.