This post was written for, and appears on Wales Arts Review.
It would be easy for the casual viewer to dismiss Fresh Meat as another hyperbolic comedy. Certainly, its comedic moments, while often grounded in reality, do frequently present as entirely inane and improbable. Its characters too, for some, are largely unlikeable, with their selfish nature preventing true audience engagement. Yet, to believe this is to not truly engage with the brilliance of the series.
Highlighting the all too recognisable types that students meet, or aspire to become, at university, the series offers a realistic insight into university life, while employing ridiculous moments of humour, moments that, in stemming from reality, offer as cautionary conceits.
What largely helps to make the series so wonderful, is its dedication to character development, particularly the development of the female characters. Each character embarks on a clear trajectory, and each is left changed by the series end. The series initially presents each character as a clear type, utilising well-known tropes to convey to its audience their characterisation. This simplistic use of stereotyping is effective, particularly when these stereotypes are so clearly subverted as the narrative progresses, encouraging the audience to question their previous misconceptions.
Take Josie, for example, a character whose seemingly sensible nature and devotion to becoming a dentist is rapidly unravelled as she struggled to truly embed herself within university lifestyle. Her Welshness is initially used to convey a familiarity, and the other characters, perhaps through her nationality, perceive her as the group’s matriarch. She cooks food for her housemates when ill, and is the one character who is studying a course that will lead to a clear career.
The breakdown of her relationship with Dave, who she has left behind in Wales to start university, causes Josie to question the nature and state of her life and results in a rapid spiralling out of control. Quickly, Josie begins to act in an increasingly erratic and unpredictable nature, resulting in her being forced to leave her course. Her subsequent relationship with Kingsley does, briefly, bring her stability, but she quickly realises that this form of traditional stability is not one that she wishes to embark upon. Through her breakdown, Josie is compelled to question her actions, and in turn her own nature.
Similarly, Oregon, aware of her class privilege, attempts to hide her origins as the horse owning Melissa, essentially adopting a costume through her assumed moniker. Her admiration of Vod, causes her to lose sight of herself and her roots and causes her to lose any sense of stability that she previously had. Her belief in her academic ability is never personally brought into question, and Oregon, despite her lack of self-belief in terms of her very personality, never doubts her academic ability until it is too late. This then forces to Oregon, like Josie, to question the preconceived idea that she had for her own life. Both Josie and Oregon started university with a clear plan, and by the end of their study, have rejected their previous notions of themselves.
Vod too is confronted with the idea that her nature is not static, but is susceptible to change and development. For Vod, a character whose troubled childhood is only alluded to, the idea that she can be academically and professionally successful proves to be a revelation. Interestingly, Vod, like Oregon, is dependent on her best friend. Both Oregon and Vod view each other through the lens of their friendship, and before the end of the series, allow this relationship to define their identity.
The male characters in the series are engaging, but their development is not as notable as that of the female characters. It is praiseworthy that Fresh Meat allows the female characters in the series the room to progress and grow. Notably, they are largely afforded this opportunity through the more stable nature of the male characters, who, while allowing themselves to become embroiled in various escapades, are largely dependable. Fresh Meat’s approach to its female character, while problematic at times, is relatively innovative and refreshing, allowing for thei
r trajectories to change and develop while also proving to be a source of comedy. Importantly, the female characters in Fresh Meat are allowed and indeed encouraged, to be funny. That this is still notable, demonstrates its vital nature.
The meeting that took place between Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow in the latest episode of Game of Thrones has been much mythologised. Fan’s anticipation meant that this meeting was, not only memorable but heralded as a crucial point in the show’s trajectory. Many, already, are feting the episode as the best episode thus far.
Episode quality aside, the most striking element of this meeting was, for me, the clear shift in power dynamics. Daenerys, away from Westeros, has been the subject of much praise and loyalty from her followers. This level of adoration has, in turn, coloured the audience’s perception of her. We believe she is good, and caring, despite some errors, because we are repeatedly told that she is. Characters who we trust, or feel an affinity for, openly declare their belief in her, thus, we too have stated our belief in her intentions.
Jon Snow too is a character who we have been led to trust and believe in, but not simply through character perception. Indeed, Jon has had characters openly state their disdain and difficulty with his actions, yet the audience, through witnessing his acts of selflessness, has long trusted his judgement.
The meeting between the two then is a notable moment largely because of what they both represent. Both ostensibly, believe in the virtue and validity of their actions, and both steadfastly believe in the value of doing what they deem to be right and true. What marked the meeting between the two, and made it so noteworthy, was the manner in which it was edited.
We see Jon’s arrival to Dragonstone before we see Daenerys. We witness his boat landing and his meeting with Tyrion and Missandei. There is a suggestion, through a high shot taken from the castle window, that Daenerys is perhaps watching his arrival, but we don’t know this for sure. This in itself is worth noting, as the usual tendency would have been to show Daenerys intently watching Jon’s arrival, perhaps commenting on his appearance to a trusted advisor. Instead, the first time that we see her in this episode is the first time that Jon sees her. Thus, our perspective and interpretation of her, despite the fact that we have met her many times before, is immediately aligned with Jon’s perception.
Through Jon’s eyes, Daenerys is weak, overly intent on her birth right, with little regard to the dangers that Jon speaks of. Simply put, she is depicted as being entirely fallible, no longer the unconquerable leader that she has been portrayed as in earlier seasons. The audience already knows that her war strategy has been unsuccessful thus far, but to witness her appearance and actions through the eyes of a trusted character, a character who has proven his ability to fight and lead on numerous occasions, clearly highlights Daenerys’ potential inability to be the leader that she has had the audience believe she can be. Her statements of loyalty from the Dothraki and the Unsullied are no longer impressive, rather, when openly and boastfully declared to Jon, they read as childish and naïve.
During its twelve year run, Peep Show certainly achieved cult status. Its depiction of Mark (David Mitchell) and Jez (Robert Webb), two flatmates whose first person perspective and account of events make up the narrative of the series, remains both inventive and engaging. Creating a first person perspective through interesting and unusual camera use was initially the series’ USP and, in the early series in particular, the camera is continually bobbing and weaving across the screen, forever drawing the audience’s attention to its use.
The employment of the first person narration from both Mark and Jez allowed the audience to not only gain an insight into character motivations, but also their machinations. With both characters sharing thoughts with the audience that would never be said audibly, a form of kinship can be created. The audience is privy to Mark and Jez’ innermost wants and desires, ones that are often, fleetingly, dark for comedic purposes.
Initially, it is this strain of dark humour that is the show’s strength. Largely because, no matter how objectifying, or bizarre Jez and Mark’s thoughts are, the other characters are there to temper their actions. Thus, Mark’s call to Sophie early on in their burgeoning relationship, in which he phones and leaves a voicemail singing to her, is reiterated back to him by Jeff. Jeff, also in a burgeoning relationship with Sophie, recognises the strangeness of Mark’s actions, and uses the knowledge of it to mock him. While we may not like Jeff, and certainly first viewings do not endear his character to the audience, we align our perception with his. We too recognise that Mark’s actions are becoming obsessive, and it is the very nature of these actions that promote much of the comedy. Jez’ behaviour too, is tempered by those around him, including Mark. His sexual proclivities are often brought into question, and Mark regularly expresses distaste for Jez’ actions. Together the pair, while both individually questionable in their actions towards women, are initially able to monitor one another, largely preventing their actions from becoming too damaging.
It is later on in the series run, that their actions frequently become rather more repugnant. Take Mark’s treatment of Sophie. Throughout the series, almost until the moment that the pair finally got together, Mark had promoted Sophie to a position of high regard. He places his affections for her above anything else, and regularly proclaims his belief that she is ‘the one’. This belief, it quickly becomes apparent, is clearly based on Mark’s own projections towards Sophie. He doesn’t truly know her, or understand her character, and when he is finally in a relationship with her, does all he can to avoid spending time with her (joining a gym, nearly reneging on his decision to propose). Mark seems to accept that once in a relationship with someone, happiness doesn’t matter and isn’t the end goal. It is simply being in a relationship that is enough. It could, of course, be argued that the audience is supposed to question Mark’s actions and treatment towards Sophie. After their disastrous wedding, Sophie becomes a former shadow of her once vivacious self, and we see a woman who was once capable (being promoted ahead of Mark at work) become a liability. Yet, Mark’s actions, being used for comedic purposes, are never truly brought into question, particularly when the early episodes have spent so long attempting to commend Mark to the audience.
Mark’s treatment of Sophie is not his only misdemeanour. His treatment of women, in general, is hugely questionable, and, upon repeat viewing, merely highlights itself as outdated and tired. Take his actions towards the vulnerable university student that he meets under false pretences. After he purchases shoes from her while shopping, he tracks her down at her university, pretending that he too is a current student. Allowing her to share her fears and feelings, he quickly sets about attempting to engineer a relationship between the two of them, regardless of age disparity or lack of honesty. Similarly, when regretting the demise of his relationship with Dobby, we discover that he tracks and monitors her location surreptitiously. These actions are not sources of humour, and should not be heralded as such. Rather, they are the actions of a man abusing his position of power.
Jez too, while not as damaging in his treatment of women (he does, at least, appear to respect women and enjoy their company) regularly involves himself with women through manipulation and lies. His relationship with Zara, for example, is entirely based on fabrication, and despite his working for her partner, he frequently attempts to contrive a moment in which the pair can begin a relationship.
Notably, much of Jez’ actions towards women are borne out of apparent love, and he does seem damaged or hurt by the breakdown of his relationship with Big Suze. His issue though, despite the affection and high esteem that he holds women in (he genuinely appears to care for Elena and Nancy) is that he, like Mark, projects his own vision of a relationship onto these women. He never truly attempts to get to know them, but rather, would rather admire them for their physical attributes. His connection with these women are superficial, and after the relationship breaks down, quickly becomes manic. He too, like Mark, is prone to outbursts in which he declares his current love interest as ‘the one’, and it is this concept that is perhaps the most damaging. Mark and Jez’ version of ‘the one’ is whoever is around at that moment. Their personality and characterisation does not matter, but rather what they represent at that moment.
Thus Mark’s interest in the university student is borne out of his regret of his choice of degree. Her studying of History, a degree which Mark always regrets not doing, allows Mark to create an alternative fantasy life for himself. One in which he is recognised for his supposed academic attributes. It is not the university student herself that he is interested, but rather what she represents: an opportunity to mould himself into the image that he desires for himself. Similarly, his interest in Sophie is reignited when he perceives the opportunity that the ownership of ‘nanna’s cottage’ would represent. He immediately begins to envision a life for himself, forgetting or neglecting to recognise, that this life with ‘nanna’s cottage’ would entail a marriage and life with Sophie.
While Peep Show was, and remains, progressive in its form, its depiction of women is entirely questionable. This representation is, interestingly, often made problematic through the very use of the first person perspective that is only ever male. We only ever see Mark and Jez’ perception of events and characters, and thus, the audience is encouraged to align their own viewpoint with the very characters whose discernment is so challenging.
There has been much fanfare surrounding the release of G.L.O.W. Netflix originals are becoming deluge like, and there is the risk that quantity is beginning to overtake quality. With so many originals released, it is becoming increasingly difficult, even for the most avid Netflix viewer, to keep track. Given that all episodes of a series are available instantly, and given the sheer plethora of choice, viewers are becoming increasingly discerning in their tastes. That is why then, it becomes increasingly important to highlight those programmes that are worth watching, and worth sticking with.
G.L.O.W, or the gorgeous ladies of wrestling, is one such show. A show entertains, but also highlights progressive and pertinent issues of race and gender. Based on the concept of the 1980s syndicated women’s wrestling circuit, the series follows the attempts to create a women’s wrestling TV show. Set in the eighties, the show follows Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) an actress who is either largely unsuccessful, or is consigned to the reductive female roles that are on offer at the time.
The opening scene in the series shows Ruth auditioning for a role, a role into which she has clearly invested herself in, only to be told that she is reading the man’s part. Quickly reading for the female character, we see Ruth’s lines reduced both in length and quality. Desperate, and struggling to fund her increasingly unrealistic aspiration, she auditions for G.L.O.W.
It is here in which the viewer is introduced to the eclectic ensemble cast which, initially at least, feels trope-like and rather regressive. Each character we are introduced to is largely defined by either a stereotype or an obvious characteristic feature. Kate Nash, as Rhonda then, is the British character. Jackie Tohn as Melrose, is the wealthy, spoilt party girl. These stereotypes and simple signifiers are, while seemingly reductive, actually both necessary and considered.
Firstly, as with all first episodes of a series, a stereotype is often necessary to allow initial engagement with a character; a simple signifier to tell us what we need to know about the character, and how the writer intends for the character to perceived. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, these stereotypes are then fed into the stereotypes that the female wrestlers create for themselves. Creating their own character, one over which they can claim ownership.
While the narrative of the series is largely simplistic, focusing on the creation of the show as well as Ruth’s difficulty in dealing with the aftermath of her own actions (sleeping with her best friend’s husband), it is the interaction between the women that help bolster G.L.O.W.’s quality. The female characters are individuals, each complete with their own motivations and desires. Importantly, the cast is made up of actors from a range of ethnic backgrounds, and while their representation is certainly not perfect, this is to be commended given the lack of representation of people of colour in mainstream television.
It is crucial that a show like G.L.O.W. exists. One in which the cast is female-focused, and successfully passes the Bechdel test. One in which the female characters are engaging, allowed to make mistakes, and allowed to take issue with their treatment. Debbie, in dealing with her cheating husband, highlights the standard by which her husband expects her to adhere to. Attempting to curtail her artistic ambitions if he deems them to be superficial or silly.
Producing a factual drama is always a complex task. A writer may feel indebted to the reality, and thus reluctant to stray from the truth. Others may adapt, or alter the truth in pursuit of drama and narrative engagement, risking alienating the audience (particularly those familiar with the case). Often, the factual dramas that have been best received are those that intentionally adopt an alternative perspective. Thus, The Moorside, detailing the Shannon Matthews case, chose to focus on Julie Bushby rather than Karen Matthews, allowing the audience an insight into the case, without casting aspersions.
Since moving to online only, BBC Three has focused on generating creative, socially important output. Murdered for Being Different appears to form part of an unofficial triptych which includes the critically acclaimed Murdered by My Boyfriend, and Murdered by My Father.
Murdered for Being Different details the well-known case of Sophie Lancaster. Sophie, and her boyfriend of three years Rob, were brutally attacked in a park in Lancashire by a group of teenagers ten years ago. The media largely focused on promoting Sophie and Rob’s ‘otherness’, highlighting their participation in alternative culture and their Goth appearance. Rob, the only survivor of the attack, has subsequently decried the media’s focus on their appearance, rightly stating that this focus has implications of victim blaming. As Rob has stated in interviews that were held as part of the BBC three production of the event, Sophie was murdered because ‘some arseholes killed her. What can’t we ask what it is about them that made them want to murder someone?’
Dealing with such an event, one which received much media attention, and has had considerable ramifications on both society and those affected, can be problematic. Creator Nick Leather combats this by inviting the direct involvement of Rob. While Rob remembers little of the attack, such were the extent of his injuries, he does remember his relationship with Sophie. These memories, presented as idyllic and almost dreamlike, act as a stark contrast to the aggressive violence that both Rob and Sophie suffered. Rob paints wings onto Sophie’s back, turning her into the angel that he perceives her to be. She reads Harry Potter to him after he purchases the last instalment for her at midnight. Rob has trekked through the night after he is left with no bus money after the purchase.
Wisely, the drama does not attempt to create any sense of narrative tension. There is no need when the audience knows the result. Rather, the drama focuses on the futility and senselessness of the violence, and the tender nature of Rob and Sophie’s relationship. Their first meeting, depicted as taking place in a loud music venue in which the pair are forced to communicate via non-verbal gestures, utilises both music and visuals. Rob spots Sophie across a crowd, and the attraction is instant. Her face, flickering in and out of frame in time with the lights, draws both Rob and the audience to her.
While we are only afforded an insight into their relationship, its depiction created in collaboration with Rob, allows for the portrayal of a meaningful connection, ensuring that the pair’s attack (only truly revealed in its horror at the end of the narrative) is all the more brutal.
In depicting Sophie’s death, the drama does not set out to entertain or create drama. Rather it hopes to highlight the crime, and the impact that it had on those around them. Leather succeeds in this aim, resulting in the creation of an affecting piece. A piece that will stay with you long after the credits have ended.
Given the current political and social climate, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale feels particularly prescient, arguably more so than ever. Taking a recognisable western society and transplanting it into a future in which women are merely used for their reproductive and domestic uses, does not feel entirely removed from our own current reality, and it is that familiarity that makes The Handmaid’s Tale so affecting.
Offred (Elizabeth Moss) is a handmaiden, a woman forced to offer her body in hopes of procreation. In this future, the birth rate has rapidly dropped, leaving those women who have previously demonstrated their ability to conceive to act as handmaidens (or be forced to a short life of painful, debilitating manual labour). Using flashbacks, the narrative interweaves multiple timelines:
- Offred’s life now, placed with the commander and Serena Joy, forced to offer her body to the commander as part of the reproductive ‘ceremony’.
- Offred’s life prior to the full installation of the regime, in which she, her husband and daughter attempt to escape to Canada.
- Offred’s life before the regime, in which she is a happy college student.
- Offred’s life in the early days of her indoctrination, in which she is compelled, through systematic threats and violence, to become a handmaiden.
In this patriarchal theocratic society, women have no rights, they have no sense of agency. This system of contributing to population growth is clearly loathed by Serena Joy, who feels threatened by the fertile Offred, yet she cannot question the events. Offred is forced to endure this treatment, determined to survive. She affords herself little opportunity to dwell on her situation, recognising that a propensity to reflection merely makes her life more difficult to withstand.
The adaptation takes the wise decision to avoid too much exposition. Thus, the audience is immediately thrown into narrative action as we witness Offred’s attempts to escape with her family. The scenes in which we are privy to Offred’s desperation and clear devotion to her daughter instantly create empathy. The audience is already on her side before we are introduced to the ways of her life now. This empathy is crucial, as it is Offred’s story that the audience is asked to invest in. Without the creation of a successful connection her plight, and the plight of all the women suffering under the regime, would not engage and in turn encourage analysis.
Much of the narrative thus far is formed through Offred’s compelling voiceover. Her description of the world around her, rather than lessening the action, actually invites audience partipation. Linguistic clues are casually used: the domestic housekeepers are referred to as ‘marthas’, Offred refers to people potentially being an ‘eye’, and she notes that Nick, the commander’s driver, is considered to be too low status to be provided with a woman.
As expected, Elizabeth Moss is sublime: her Offred is both vulnerable and utterly determined. Moss imbues Offred with humanity and intelligence as she struggles to navigate her day to day life without allowing its oppression to overcome her. Alexis Bledel is similarly effective as Ofglen, a fellow handmaiden. The pair’s interactions with one another, as they meet each day to complete the shopping for their respective households, convey the suspicion and guarded manner in which they now live their lives. Equally wary of each other, they converse in the regime’s rhetoric extolling the rehearsed lines as a means of protection.
The muted colour palette creates imagery that is both beautiful and horrifying, encouraging focus. The handmaids’ garb of red and white convey violence and vulnerability, consistently reminding the viewer of both the role of the handmaid and the danger with which they exist.
The first episode largely centres on introducing the viewer to this world, introducing reference points for the viewer to return to. We learn of Offred’s prior life, and her friendship with Moira (a brilliant Samira Wiley) as it was before the regime, and their relationship during their initiation process. Moira has existed within this world for longer than Offred, and helps her to negotiate her way through in order to ensure her survival. While we know little of the full extent of the government’s machinations, the first episode begins to imply its cruelty. This is an intelligent narrative device, allowing each detail – the ‘ceremony’, the hanging of those perceived as traitors to the state due to their sexuality or occupation – to resonate, without isolating. It is this level of detail that helps to create the diegesis of the narrative. This is a world that is both far removed from our own, yet presents as a vision of what could happen if those with such political leanings were afforded power.
To the undiscerning, Netflix’s Love may appear, at first glance, to be nothing more than a lazy, clichéd romantic comedy in which the geeky male protagonist improbably forms a relationship with the attractive female protagonist. Starring Gillian Jacobs as Mickey, and Paul Rust as Gus, the series focuses on the pair’s developing relationship, from initial meet-cute, in which Mickey asks Gus to pay for her cigarettes, to their eventual and inevitable hook-up.
Certainly its detractors have pointed out the unlikeliness of the relationship between Gus and Mickey yet to highlight the disparity between the two involves only taking the characters at face value. One dimensionally, Mickey is far more attractive than Gus. She is largely successful in her career, whereas Gus, desperate to write his own screenplay, struggles with his role as an onset tutor (and often does a terrible job). Yet both characters have their unlikeable and difficult qualities which help to both develop and deepen their characterisation.
Mickey is, in part due to her various addictions (love, sex, alcohol, drugs), often selfish and thoughtless. In forming a relationship with her housemate Bertie, she relies on her for emotional support yet, at least initially, offers little in return. Mickey knows that she is often controlled by her addictions, but in turn, recognises that Gus, despite his perceived affable nature, is just as damaged and selfish as her. It is here, in this characterisation of Gus as the supposed nice guy, which helps to elevate Love beyond the standard rom-com and enables it to be both a thoughtful rendering of a burgeoning relationship and an effective depiction of individual damaged characters.
Gus, despite his apparent niceness and largely positive interactions (he has a plethora of quirky friends) is, in actuality, pseudo-nice. What makes his ‘niceness’ all the more damaging is the fact that he believes it in so earnestly. He truly believes that he is a good guy, who deserves to be recognised for his niceness. He doesn’t understand why his first girlfriend found his thoughtfulness and sincerity so suffocating. For Mickey, his congeniality is, at least initially, refreshing when compared to her past relationships, but she quickly realises that Gus’ presentation of himself belies his true nature.
Much of Gus’ life feels set up and constructed, down to his comical interactions with his students, to his ritual of writing movie theme songs with his friends for songs that don’t have theme songs (Carlito’s Way for example). This concentrated construction stops Gus from confronting his true desires, and when approached by an attractive co-worker, he finds that he is unable to resist the opportunity at playing another role. It is this that makes Gus and Mickey so ideal for one another. They bring out the truth and reality in one another, and only then can they begin to accept who they are. This is not to suggest that Mickey and Gus are reliant on one another in the manner of a co-dependent relationship, but rather, that their relationship with each other affords both the opportunity to try out different roles for themselves without the fear of being judged or treated differently.
In fact, despite Gus and Mickey’s attraction to one another, they spend much of the series apart. Indeed in one episode, Gus and Mickey make plans to see one another, but due to work commitments and social interests, the pair fail to see one another, showing that their characters can and do exist independently from one another. Gus and Mickey don’t need one another, they want one another, and this is an important distinction to make. It is this assertion that helps set Love apart. It features two protagonists who are fully realised, and developed in their own right. Each leads interesting and entertaining lives, and while many of these events mirror each other (with both struggling with issues at work for example) they are separate.
Season two of Love is released on the 10th March 2017.
Stranger Things is great. A wonderful nostalgic series that creates its own original narrative that never feels derivative nor clichéd. The series has garnered much praise since its release on Netflix last month and rightly so, with many critics pointing towards the characterisation as being especially strong. Certainly the interactions between the young friends is believable and engaging, and the series has gained attention for its well-rounded and developed female characters.
For me, it is Nancy Wheeler’s character in particular that is worthy of praise. Her character begins the series as a seemingly archetypical love struck teen. The attentions of Steve (Joe Keery) apparently leads Nancy (Natalia Dyer) astray, at least, that’s what Jonathan Byers (Charlie Heaton) believes when he remonstrates that Nancy is pretending to be someone else in order to gain popularity and Steve’s consideration.
At this point in the narrative, the viewer could find themselves siding with Jonathan’s assertion. While Nancy’s interactions with Steve, in which she readily mocks and laughs at him, have hinted at a more developed character, her rash actions and willingness to let Steve dictate her actions have indicated otherwise. She is, at this point in the narrative, seemingly another addition to the devoted, desperate female trope.
Her response, in which she angrily reasserts herself and tells Jonathan how wrong he is, is not only an indicator of great writing, but highlights just how brilliant Nancy’s characterisation is. In her diatribe she is simultaneously telling both Jonathan and the viewer that she is far more than first appearances may indicate. She is her own person, and she is making her own decisions. She refuses to allow Jonathan project his own fantasy upon her. Jonathan has clearly created a sense of who he thinks Nancy is, one that fits into the fantasy that he has of her, yet Nancy refuses to allow anyone to tell her who she is or how she should act.
It is Nancy, who after witnessing the monster, is determined to act in order to save her best friend. She willingly teams up with Jonathan, proving herself to more than adept with the typical masculine pursuits of shooting and tactically planning.
Most importantly, it is Nancy’s function within the narrative that is so impressive. She is not there to serve as a prize to be won. While it is clear that Jonathan has feelings for Nancy, his feelings are inconsequential. Nancy is friends with Jonathan, but she does not allow her romantic or sexual feelings to be dictated by others. She is firmly her own person.
Take the scene for example, in which Nancy asks Jonathan to stay with her after her experience in the Upside Down. A lesser writer would have used this scene as an opportunistic chance to introduce a sexual relationship between the two, reducing Nancy to a female foil for Jonathan’s male character. Instead, it is a moment in which Nancy is once again able to assert herself. Jonathan, seeking to comfort Nancy, tells her that the monster will not be able to attack them in the safety of their own home. Nancy, having been the person to actually see and interact with the monster in the Upside Down, quickly informs Jonathan that there is no way of knowing that, and that ultimately his comfort, while well meaning, is relatively useless. Nancy knows that the only way that they can be safe is to challenge the monster, and defeat it.
It is notable that in the scene in which Nancy enters the Upside Down, there is clearly a sense of gender role reversal at work. Typically, we would expect the male character to be the one to willing enter the sphere of danger, but here it is Nancy who takes the risk while Jonathan has to wait. Certainly Jonathan aids Nancy’s escape, but his help doesn’t extend to his entering the Upside Down himself.
Finally, it is Nancy’s role in attempting to defeat the monster that fully emphasises the development of her character. Purchasing various equipment, including guns and traps, with Jonathan highlights that Nancy is fully ready to undertake an active role in the monster’s defeat.
She is shown to be an equal; helping Jonathan and working with Steve in order to injure the creature. She doesn’t require rescuing, nor does she panic. She is level-headed throughout. She became involved in attempting to defeat the monster due to her friend Barb’s disappearance, but even though she now knows that this futile, she continues in the attempt. Nancy is truly an impressive creation: a developed, complex female character.
As evidenced by the recent vitriolic reaction to Ghostbusters nostalgia is a powerful thing. It is interesting that, for some, any sense of homage or reboot is offensive, altering their happy memories of a childhood experience. For others, myself included, a homage when completed by a writer or director who genuinely feels affinity for the era or source text, can be wonderful. J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is, for example, a sublime exercise in both playing reverence but also creating a new, original piece of work.
Stranger Things, one of the more recent Netflix efforts, has, thus far shown itself to be the latter. A well constructed, engaging series that has clearly been created out of love for the era which inspired it.
Two episodes in, and I am already in love with the character interactions, the setting, and the unsettling tone. While I may have been born towards the end of the 80s, I grew up watching the films that clearly so inspired the Duffer brothers; E.T. was the first film I ever cried at, and as such, left an indelible impact.
The narrative of Stranger Things may not be hugely original, featuring the disappearance of a young boy and the subsequent search to find him, but it is utterly enthralling. This is largely through the fantastic cast, as well as the wonderful soundtrack that has proven so popular that it is gaining an official release.
Will (Noah Schnapp) the young boy whose disappearance serves as the series central conceit is, despite his brief screen time, entirely affecting. It is his lack of screen time that in turn, makes his absence so notable. His mother Joyce’s agony and her subsequent desperation is completing believable. I have seen some criticism of Joyce’s characterisation, largely in regards to her already frazzled stated before Will is missing. While I understand that this might lead to Joyce’s character feeling one note, Winona Ryder’s performance allows Joyce to develop. She is struggling to keep herself afloat, and her youngest son’s unexplained disappearance could lead to a complete breakdown and yet, her determination and her belief that he is still around simply because she feels it, helps her character to transcend any sense of trope.
The interaction between Will’s young friends, Mike (Finn Woldhard), Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin) and Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo) is clearly reminiscent of Rob Reiner’s Stand By Me and like Reiner’s characters, the group of young boys is both humorous and emotional without any sense of overwrought sentimentality.
The series thus far has successfully created a truly disconcerting tone, helped by the atmospheric soundtrack that aids the nostalgic tone without detracting from the immediacy of the story.