The Year of Tone Deaf TV: Sleepy Hollow, Daredevil, and more

I never really used to watch TV.

This is not me trying to be a hipster and act like I was too cool. From age 7-15 I lived in a place where we could only get satellite, and not the kind of satellite where you could watch different channels in different rooms. No, if you wanted to do that you had to have multiple boxes, so there was one in my grandmother’s room and then one for the rest of the house, and my grandmother controlled hers and my mom pretty much had power over the rest, and god bless her, but most of what she watched was TV land. So a lot of Hogan’s Heroes, Green Acres, that kind of thing. We watched a HECK of a lot of of movies in my house (my mom and I gathered a pretty enviable collection, RIP, VHS tapes) and I read books until my shelves groaned with the weight, so I didn’t so much know I was really missing anything. Aside from TV Land, the news, Saturday morning cartoons, and some random episodes of crappy 90s sitcoms, TV wasn’t big in our house. My dad didn’t watch sports aside from golf, so that wasn’t a thing either. So I wasn’t missing out on media, just on one form of it. So when people are like “do you remember watching Real World?” I’m sort of like “…um. No.” It’s what happens when you live in a house that you can’t even get pizza delivered to. Nope, you had to go pick that pie up. I eventually moved and got proper cable, but even then I still honed in on movies and books and music instead.

So the first show I watched in any real depth aside from my favorite childhood cartoons was Gilmore Girls in college. I took the DVDs on loan from various friends and devoured them, binge-watching before binge-watching was really a term, when Netflix was mostly a service that sent DVDs in the mail and Blockbuster was still in business. I started watching it when it was already off the air, so even if I was disappointed in the narrative I just kept going. I could fall in love with it more easily because I knew how it ended; I wasn’t falling for a TV show that might get canceled at the end of a season, so there was less risk. Plus hey, Gilmore Girls passed the Bechdel Test with flying colors, and you can’t say that about a whole lot of shows nearly 10 years after GG went off the air.

The first shows that I got into that weren’t complete were House, M.D. and Criminal Minds. Granted they were far into their runs (though CM apparently is never going to end and they’re going to keep replacing characters and coming up with even more ridiculous serial killers and forget the relationships at the heart of the show, but. What do I know. I love the characters to the point of naming my cat after one, but I slowly quit watching around season 10) but still, they weren’t over. I watched them make big mistakes, things that made me angry, but I never felt like the writers/showrunners/producers were actively trying to do things I hated. My ship didn’t sail, well. That happens to us all. There was some bad characterization they eventually improved on. A lot of TV shows hit slumps.

After that, well. I slid down the TV slope hard. I blame Netflix and the ability to watch whole seasons of shows in a week. Still it took a while for me to rage quit anything. It took a while for me to feel like I wanted to type out a rant on the internet.

This year though. This year I felt EXACTLY like I, as a viewer, was being well, attacked, almost. A dramatic way of putting it, maybe, but I know I’m not alone in feeling that way. The viewers LIKED THIS, the writers seemed to shout, better do the opposite of it the next season. And I’m not talking again, about ships or narrative choices; I don’t think I, or anyone else would demand the writers do things exactly as we want; fandom exists for the things we don’t like or weren’t expanded on in canon. I saw a lot of complaints about shows I didn’t watch, but that popped up on my Tumblr dash or my Facebook feed. The complaints and the outcry varied, but a lot had to do with representation; shows killing off LGBTQA characters or female characters of characters of color. Apparently the 100 killed off two lesbian characters in one season. Last year, I watched Agents of Shield kill off Tripp, a beloved African-American character. This is not to even touch on Sleepy Hollow (which I’ll get back to later) which literally killed off one of their two leads (who was black and female) and acted as if it was no big deal. There’s been talk of Castle trying to save money by firing all of their female characters. Criminal Minds fired two of the main female characters a couple of years ago and saw so much uproar that they hired both of them back. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

BUT said all the straight, able-bodied white men who never have trouble seeing themselves on TV or in any other medium ever, those things didn’t happen because they were women or LGBTQA or of color, it happened because ~artistic choices~ Okay, bro, whatever you have to say to make yourself more comfortable in your already comfortable world of representation.

Let’s take Sleepy Hollow, again. Because though I’ve been disappointed in a lot of shows this year, this one took the cake. More like 1 million cakes, I have never rage quit a show so fast. Here was this great, inventive show that featured a main pair of a white guy and a woman of color- that eventually totally should have ended up together because as much as a proponent as I am of strong platonic relationships and not everything being about romance, I am just pretty certain they for some reason, in 2016, they couldn’t handle an interracial relationship. More evidence rests with this thesis in the fact that there was a romantic interracial relationship  between Abbie’s sister Jenny and Joe Corbin, and they killed off Joe for basically no reason, whoops. Right up until the end it seemed fairly clear that they were going the Ichabbie route, that maybe they were coming back from the vastly disappointing second season and back around to the stellar first season.

And then suddenly Abbie was dead.

One of the two main leads of the show, a Witness, the character we saw before we even met Ichabod, was dead. Almost without fanfare. She got a bow from Ichabod as he met her in the area between worlds, or something, she said she’d accomplished her mission in life and that she’d just served to help him along.  He wasn’t even there when she died (I’m also pretty sure Ichabod Crane would have stepped right into that box with Abigail Mills and died right along with her, and I’d fight about that) And then, she was gone. Somehow in the wake of that, there was talk of giving the show a fourth season. I felt like I was dreaming and betrayal is the only word I could really think of. There was a great outcry from fans, and it changed nothing, and no matter the countless posts on the internet decrying the finale, even from one of the original creators of the show, it went unheeded by the people who made it happen.

This has been done with female characters before, but I’m not sure it’s ever been done with such a massive disrespect for the show’s own canon, at least in my memory. From the beginning we were told about the TWO WITNESSES, and no matter what they say about “putting Abbie’s soul in someone else’s body” that isn’t going to fly. Throughout the show we saw Abbie’s journey right along with Ichabod’s, and the idea of her feeling like she was “done” is ridiculous. And yet despite completely understandable outrage from viewers, the showrunners felt as if it was completely normal to do what they did. Despite the crater it dealt to everything they’d ever done in the show. And not only that, they dealt a blow to what people loved about the show; the relationship between Ichabod and Abbie. Even when the show was struggling, people still turned in for that. It’s true that Nicole Beharie wanted to leave the show, but if that’s the case (and it’s because she didn’t get the respect she deserved) then the smart thing to do would have been to end the show on a high note, have them save the world and ride off into the sunset. And if you couldn’t bring yourself to do that, then kill off both Ichabod and Abbie and start over with two new leads. Don’t separate them. Don’t make a show that was built off the two of them built off one. It won’t last because you’re insulting this wonderful female character of color, and you’re also spitting in the face of your entire show’s canon. You can’t retcon an entire show and go on, but apparently they’re going to try.

I’m not the only one who’s said it, but herein lies a big part of the problem; a show would likely never think of killing off it’s main, white male character and continuing on like Sleepy Hollow says they will if they get renewed. Here was this diverse, interesting show, and they simply blew up anything anyone loved about it and shrugged their shoulders. Not only is there the continuing issues of women or characters of color being sidelined or killed, it’s somehow taking the heart of the show and stomping on it. Sometimes it seems like TV shows are more about how many shocking moments can fit in instead of a story people will love.

Sleepy Hollow was the most devastating disappointment of the season, but it wasn’t alone. Marvel’s Daredevil swept me up in oh, the first five minutes or so of the first season with Matt Murdock’s lapsed-Catholic aesthetic and tussling with questions of violence and tackling things like gentrification and poverty and corporate power. Tailor-made for me and part of a universe I was already heavily invested in. The first season (aside from Ben Urich’s death) was stellar. Even the first half of the second season was pretty good, and then everything sort of…fell apart. I saw what they were trying to do, but the heart of the show-the relationship between Matt, Foggy, and Karen- crumbled, replaced with constant personal drama and amping up Matt’s self-flagellation. The issues that made the first season so compelling were largely replaced by over the top torture levels of violence with the Punisher (who is an interesting character!) and what seemed like a fairly racist plot with stereotype Asian ninjas and Elektra, who deserved much better. Plenty of shows falter in their second season so I’m definitely not quitting Daredevil, but how could a show fall so far from what people liked about it in the first place?

Marvel’s Agent Carter, another favorite (with a STELLAR first season) had a really great second season on so many counts until nearly the end. Here was a show where a female character was front and center, that wasn’t afraid to tackle feminist, and in the second season, racial issues in the 40s. And so too in the second season we saw more female characters, a character of color, and we saw Peggy get to kick ass and still be a fully-developed person. We saw her vulnerable in moments with Jarvis and we saw her be smarter than the men in the room even as they demeaned her. We saw her find a love interest in Wilkes, an African-American scientist, and they bonded over the way society treated them; Peggy as a woman in a male-dominated field, Wilkes as a black man being rejected for scientist jobs because of his race, no matter his credentials. And then, somehow, a love triangle got shoe-horned in. We were expected to root for a relationship with Sousa, a character featured in the first season who was at several points, a jerk to Peggy and who otherwise who put her up on a pedestal. We were expected to be invested in a past relationship between them we never saw, even in flashback. And right up until the end of the season, we wondered who she would choose. First off, Peggy Carter deserves better than a tired trope, and second of all, they put her with Sousa and cast Wilkes aside. Why? Who knows what was going through their minds, but you can’t ignore that it was a chance at exploring an interracial relationship in the 40s down the tubes. Sousa isn’t a bad guy, but it can’t be denied that Wilkes was the more interesting character.

It’s so massively disappointing to see shows with such incredible potential, shows with front and center female characters, shows with characters of color and shows that tackled issues incredibly relevant to issues going on in the real world, could fall so badly. That the people creating them couldn’t see what made people love them in the first place when the internet is right there, filled with things to show them. Of all the shows I watch, only Once Upon a Time and Black Sails didn’t disappoint. Once Upon a Time is kind of bizarre in nature, but it KNOWS what it is, and it owns that. Black Sails, meanwhile, came as a total surprise to me; the first season lacked a little, but the potential was there, and the second and third seasons fixed all the issues and made a truly incredible TV show that was well-written and well-plotted and character driven. Not to mention the representation; the show has LGBTQA characters, female characters, and characters of color, and it doesn’t apologize for it. Trouble is, it’s on Starz, so you have to shell out the money to buy the DVDs or a Starz season pass, so to some it might not be as accessible as Netflix or network shows, but it was easily the best thing on my list this year.

I accidentally fell into your arms TV, so here’s to hoping next season is better.

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