Thanks to a brilliant suggestion from one of the writers here at Pussy Pop Culture, the wildly talented Joey Maqueda, we have decided to start a biweekly tradition of posting an article where all three staff writers quickly detail what entertainment texts have captured their attention and why. We also want to encourage you all to let us know what entertainment texts have been on your radar; so, please join our community and comment! We are eager to see what y'all have been consuming!
Joey's Pick - Carnival Row (available on Amazon Prime)
I spent the better part of the last couple of weeks watching Amazon’s original series Carnival Row, which presents an alternative universe that differs from most renditions of the magical realism genre in an immediately obvious way. While the fantastical aesthetic is positively alluring, the focus is never superficial, as the look of the show is merely a vehicle for deeply human stories. Using the Critch (a catch-all term for fairies, pucks, and other fantastical creatures) as a stand-in for immigrants and ethnic minorities, Row is a pointed allegory for racism and exploitation in Western society, especially as it relates to immigration. The Critch are refugees of a brutal war in their home countries, only to face horrific prejudice in the Burgue, the US/UK analogue. The heavy-handed political backdrop quickly makes way for more insular storylines, featuring a privileged, naive socialite being introduced to a Puck (tall goat person) who attains wealth by mysterious means and is rejected among the upper class due to his race.
There is also political intrigue, as we get an intimate look at the Chancellor of the Burgue himself as he maneuvers through the political machinations of the parliamentary system that runs the city. In this context, we see obvious parallels to the current political discourse. To me, the most interesting subplot is a string of murders of Critch, bearing a strong resemblance to the panic surrounding Jack the Ripper, and drawing similar comparisons to the treatment given by police to crimes in poor and ethnic communities. I’m a sucker for a good murder mystery, and this show feels like throwing fantasy creatures into a Sherlock Holmes novel (which I’m sure Doyle himself would’ve loved). Ultimately, Row tells fairly straightforward but poignant human stories using an enthralling setting. Despite relatively wooden acting from Orlando Bloom, the cast delivers a strong performance throughout, especially from co-star Cara Delevingne, and the ever superlative Jared Harris. The end of the season is somewhat unsatisfying, which is remedied by the knowledge a second season has already been approved. The world-building takes a back seat to character development, and I am most interested in seeing if they can successfully maintain the focus on the characters while expanding the universe for the audience’s benefit.
Kevin's Pick - River Monsters (available on Hulu)
Enter Jeremy Wade, fishing expert. The love child of Jason Statham and Anderson Cooper, Wade makes his way through parts unknown investigating attacks by mysterious aquatic creatures and damn it all if he doesn't try and catch every last one of the slimy bastards. Fluent in multiple languages and armed with stoic charm, an uncanny ability to treat people with respect and get this, empathy, Wade interviews and investigates locals and their stories all around the world in order to get to the bottom of what really is lurking underneath the water. Combining investigative journalism and a discovery channelesque nature documentary, River Monsters delivers a unique cultural experience into the lives of those affected by the attacks and an always exhilarating climax of catching a real, live monster.
Lizbette's Pick - Marianne (available on Netflix)
This original Netflix French horror series is absolutely phenomenal. While the plot, like any plot these days, is a relatively familiar one, they tackle it in such a way that makes it stands out from anything it might be accused of imitating. It seems to combine both an American and Spanish horror aesthetic in terms of the types of characters, scares, color pallets, and music it utilizes; I’m reminded specifically of Pan’s Labyrinth, The Exorcist series, Secret Window, Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, and El Orfanato. Nonetheless, the quick and brutal wit, conversational openness, cultural references, and relationship dynamics leave no doubt that the series is a piece of original French televisual excellence. The show follows Emma Larsimon, a successful horror novelist who must return home after basically being forcibly exiled by the community. Emma fits the trope of the angsty, alcoholic writer; is this derivative? Yes, but it has a purpose in terms of character development and is even addressed by a teenage Emma during a flashback. The circumstances surrounding her exile are initially unclear, but the revelation is worth the wait and completely changes your perspective not just of Emma, but also of a few of the other characters. I can honestly say, that this is the creepiest horror series I’ve come across; the details of Emma’s stories and the mythology behind Marianne are terrifying. Of course, this may have something to do with the fact that the mythology in Marianne is primarily rooted in Catholicism, and I identify as Catholic; the fear of God and the devil has thus been burned into every fiber of my being.
The show also has a bit of a light, dare I say campy, murder mystery angle; Inspecteur Raunan, who is assigned to investigate the deaths in Emma’s hometown of Elden, provides much of what I would consider comic relief. Lastly, Marianne is reminiscent of a number of 80s horror/sci-fi/fantasy classics which follow the adventures of close-knit groups of outcast childhood friends such as IT, E.T., and The Goonies. Upon returning home, Emma reunites with her childhood friends; back in the day, they used to call themselves “The Shipwreck Kids.” Emma and her friends end up in a demonic battle à la “The Loser’s Club” (IT) and Stranger Things, trying desperately to rid the world of the vil embodied by Marianne. Overall, the best thing about the show is that it is NOT tragically predictable like most new horror films and series; the fact that it is not American surely helps. That is not to say that American horror series are bad or less than foreign ones, only that they are my, and many others’, modus operandi here in the good ol’ US of A. Therefore, this original foreign series is a breath of fresh air for any horror fan looking for something different and excellent.
That's it for this week; catch ya in a fortnight!
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