Advertisements
Archive | tv RSS feed for this section

A thing about encouraging the media to do better

11 Jan

Y’all see that Trump presser today? Where he threatened BuzzFeed, argued with a CNN reporter, and basically called everything that doesn’t praise him fake news? Meanwhile, reporters there to ask questions seemed flumoxed on how to proceed — asking too many things at once, allowing Trump to weasel out of questions, not taking up the deeply salient questions of a reporter when he was ignored by Trump, and struggling, often on whether to soften questions in hopes of potential increased access. A lot of reporters tried valiantly, but on the day after  a day with ninmajor breaking stories and with a confounding entertainer who does not adhere to U.S. political norms, it was sort of a hot mess.

And that’s just one day! How do we make sense of a news media that covered an FBI announcement about Democratic emails that amounted to nothing, but has seemed to go soft on Trump and Russia in the midst of an oft confusing and hostile relationship between intelligence services and and incoming administration? Everyone is screaming about Fake News, no one can keep up on the real news, and Americans have largely lost any understanding on what journalists can and should do (hint: when interpreting, interpretation should be clear; the ideal of neutrality is not a real thing; journalists are not stenographers but must contextualize facts; audience service does not mean providing audiences only what they want to hear). Journalism is a risky profession that helps to safeguard democracy around the world. Good journalism is aggressive in investigation, thoughtful on possibilities,  and cautious — but not timid– in conclusions.

Anyway, a friend just texted me asking how to encourage the media to do their jobs in a political climate that is rapidly violating all sorts of norms. The answer to that is really long and involves multiple types of action, so I said I would write this up.

Context to the below is I’m a former AP journalist, with a degree in journalism, who also has a day job related to media analysis. I speak only for myself.

What you can do as a consumer of news media without talking back to the news media:

1. Stop saying “Mainstream Media” when discussing news content. No one knows what this means anymore . Some people use it to mean liberal bias. Some people use it to mean print media. Some people use it to mean non-cable TV media. Some people use it to mean non-Internet media. No one can agree on what it is, so when talking about the media critically, don’t use the term, just define the specific media or category of media you mean, otherwise the stuff you’re saying isn’t super helpful.

2. Stop saying “Fake News.” Say what you mean — satire, propaganda (foreign? or domestic?), doctored email, leaks, rumors, lies, websites pretending to be for newspapers that don’t actually exist, opinion outlets, partisan think tanks. Be prepared to say why something is what you describe it as.

3. Get your news from multiple sources. This includes from multiple platforms – TV, print, internet, and as widely across the political spectrum as you can stand.

4. Read foreign English-language news about the U.S. and the rest of the world. This doesn’t just mean going to BBC.com, this means foreign language news media with English language editions. You can find these on every continent. I rotate through English language editions of papers in Germany, France, India, the Middle East, and Africa over the course of the week. Google is a wonderful thing. (If I make a list it’s going to be wildly incomplete and I don’t have time. Google. And if you make a list let me know and I’ll add a link to it).

5. Trace stories back to the original reporting. Okay, so you found out about something from a partisan newsletter, a friend’s Tweet, or even a Wall Street Journal article that references another media source. Google the original reporting and read that. Media can be a game of telephone. Get the first story. Read follow-on stories that go more in depth across other media, but don’t rely on tertiary sources.

6. Understand the actual media relationship with objectivity/neutrality.  Media in the U.S. are not legally required to be unbiased. In fact, the idea of “unbiased” reporting is a convention of network TV and big-5 American newspapers in the mid-late 20th century. Historically, and in the 21st century, American media and those in many democracies around the world have specifically been organs of particular viewpoints. For heaven’s sake, The New York Post was founded by Alexander Hamilton to talk trash about his rivals. Media neutrality is not, and cannot be, a real thing. What is the neutral viewpoint? That of a white straight cisgender Christian man with a traditional U.S. university education? Are reporters from other demographics less considered neutral? To consume and evaluate news you need to know: 1. Your own biases, 2. Our cultural biases in defining neutrality, 3. The actual objectives of any news organization which can range from “as neutral as possible” to extreme partisanship.

7. Bias your news exposure towards outlets that provide access to source materials/documents.  This allows you to evaluate news interpretation for yourself.

8. Observe and note patterns of portrayal Who discusses what issues on a given program? Are people impacted by a particular issue given the opportunity to speak to a particular issue. Is crime framed on a racial basis? Are women relegated to discussing only lifestyle issues?

9. Make sure you consider local news too. I don’t watch a lot of local news, but I’ve started to recently. It’s helped me understand the sentiment so many people have of America facing lots of problems even as crime has dropped and employment has gone up. Local American news is about fear on every axis imaginable. Just like fashion magazines sell women products they don’t need lest they fail to get a man; local news sells us fears only they can solve. Yes, it’s true, “if it bleeds, it leads,” but news doesn’t have to be like this. I’d encourage you watch this video from Ulrik Haagerup on the “constructive news” approach he implemented in Denmark. Constant fear-based local news reporting in the U.S. contributes to the extreme polarization we face on race, politics, and the urban/suburban/rural divides, and it’s something we need to address.

10. Read journalistic review and criticism, such as Columbia Journalism Review to understand how the media is struggling with itself right now.

What you can do as a consumer of news media by interacting with the news media:

Okay, by now, both from reading this and your own experiences with the media, you probably have a sense of what you’re watching and what you want the media to do. But how can you encourage the media to do those things?

1. Social media makes news outlets and journalists accessible. Misleading headline? Tell them. Unclear writing? Tell them. Need more details on a thing? Tell them. Like their work? Tell them. Learned something new? Tell them. Have gratitude? Say thank you.

2. Most newspapers and broadcasts have a public editor or ombudsman, whose job it is to evaluate coverage and determine if the publication is meeting a public need. Think coverage is unclear? biased? or inadequate? Contact this person via email, phone, or snailmail. I have looked and looked for a comprehensive list of these people/contact addresses and can’t find one. If you’re aware of one or create one, please let me know and I’ll add a link here. If you cannot find a contact for a public editor then just contact a more generic point at the media outlet.

When contacting about coverage, be specific. “Your coverage is biased” is not helpful. “I watched the PEOTUS press conference today and felt your news outlet could have asked tougher questions” or “Many people don’t know what the Alt Right is, please make it clear in your coverage this is a loose affiliation of groups that support white supremacist agendas” is helpful. You must clearly articulate what’s wrong, what you would like them to do, and what action you might take (will you unsubscribe? will you subscribe if coverage improves? Do you own a business that might stop advertising with them? Do you teach a class that uses news sources in the curriculum and you might go elsewhere?).

Be aware that the contact that takes the most effort is the contact taken the most seriously. Email doesn’t take as much time out of an employee’s day as a phone call or paper mail.

3. Support media you like with $. Let them know why you subscribe and what you think they are doing right.

4. Are you an expert? Join the mediaI mean it. If you know about a thing, make sure you’re registered with a speaker’s bureau. Write and submit op-eds (you get paid for those, unlike letters to the editor). Realize expertise is a broad concept. Make yourself relevant based on demographics, where you live, your creative life, a thing hat happened to you, your day job, whatever. ACA saved your life? You’re an expert. Have family that has fled fascist governments? You’re an expert. Have a disability? You’re an expert. Been harassed because of your identity? You’re an expert. Scientist? Expert. Teacher of any sort? Expert! Religious professional? Expert. Author? Expert. Super into Star Trek? Expert on pop-culture and the future we envisioned vs the future we’re getting. Everyone is an expert on something. If you can’t figure it out, ask your friends, they totally know what you’re an expert in. Write stuff and submit it. This is another case of, someone else needs to make relevant lists here — let me know and I’ll update this document.

Got stuff to add? Or stuff that’s relevant? Comment/link and I’ll add as appropriate. Thanks!

 

Advertisements

Talking about American Horror Story

29 Oct

For those of you who couldn’t make it out to Bonnie & Maude’s “All of Them Witches” at The Bell House, my talk on AHS: Coven is now available as a podcast. The rest of the presentations from that evening are also in the process of being rolled out and you can and should grab them all (there are two up right now and more are coming).

Meanwhile, I spent a little bit of time waxing poetic about my surprisingly emotional response to AHS: Freak Show. One o the things I didn’t have a chance to talk about there was the genius of the anachronistic song choices the show has been using. Freaks — as used in this show to represent a range of marginalizations through camp, queerness, and disability — are, as the show frames them, the canaries in the coal mine when it comes to art both art and violence as consumers, victims, and perpetrators. This is one of those shows audiences are going to have radically different responses too, but it hits me — despite the horror elements which are the least interest to me — in a place of sorrow and wonder and loneliness like I’m still struggling to describe.

Pop-culture, witches, and fame @ The Bell House, October 13, 2014

9 Oct

witches

This coming Monday, I’ll be one of the presenters at  BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES, a live podcast recording and variety show at The Bell House in Brooklyn.  I’ll be talking about American Horror Story: Coven and what is has to say about notorious women, witchcraft and fame.  (Hint: Fame is the worst).

The event has gotten some press on Gothamist and other high-traffic sites, so I do recommend getting advance tickets.  While this is not at all a book event for me, I will have a couple of copies of Starling on hand in case anyone wants to grab one after. If there’s something else from my catalog you want, please drop a comment here so I know to bring it with me.

 

BONNIE & MAUDE PRESENTS: ALL OF THEM WITCHES
MON, OCTOBER 13, 2014
Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
The Bell House – Brooklyn, New York
$8.00 / 21+


Tickets available online and at the door

“All Of Them Witches” is the third in a series of live variety shows by Kseniya Yarosh & Eleanor Kagan, the hosts of the Brooklyn-based film podcast, Bonnie & Maude.

Sure to boil the blood and alight the brain, join us for an exploration of witches as seen in movies, television, and pop culture. From green-skinned, be-broomstick’d villains to benevolent sources of high female power, from goddesses of nature to Satan-worshippers, to actual practitioners of Wicca…celluloid representations of witches are contradictory, to say the least. Scholars, artists, and film enthusiasts from all walks of life will toil up some trouble, and revisit favorite on-screen moments of witchcraft in Bewitched,Buffy, The Craft, Hocus Pocus, Black Sunday, Suspiria, Rosemary’s Baby, and more.

Presenters: Tom Blunt, Lyra Hill, Eleanor Kagan, Racheline Maltese, Rosie Schaap,Tenebrous Kate, Cassie Wagler, Kseniya Yarosh

Music throughout the show will be performed by Brooklyn-based chamber pop singer AK, and the 8-piece, all-female a cappella group Femme Rhythm.

Red Band Society = Glee + The Fault in Our Stars – music

17 Sep

Red Band Society is basically Glee + The Fault in Our Stars – music, except the music is still sort of there thanks to an absurd number of unearned montages and a dude with an acoustic guitar.

Its infuriating as a show, because it’s a brilliant concept. I mean, talk about riding a wave of tested (the hospital drama) and phenomenon (Glee and TFioS), but putting a bunch of stuff in a blender doesn’t make it new or innovative.  There’s a reason you’re told never to pitch a project with mathematical formulas based on other people’s projects.

But the biggest problem, really — and I hope this is just typical pilot problems — is that the show doesn’t trust its audience.  Instead of using Coma Kid to be hilarious, they use the character to explain things that are already obvious.  This combined with various platitudes about the soul and survival — it’s hard to take.

If it’s going to be things beloved past (Glee, because lets admit it’s largely lost the critic’s love) and present (TFioS), then Red Band Society needs to trust the audience to draw those connections on its own.  It also needs to trust the audience to draw its own conclusions about who the characters are.

Finally, and most importantly, it needs to accept that most of us took high school literature.  And whether or not we love analyzing pop-culture, we’ll likely grasp the irony of the vicious cheerleader needing a heart transplant without this being explained to us, repeatedly, in very tiny words.

Trust.  You have to trust the audience to come along with you.  Always.  Even to places that it’s scary to go or aren’t always well-illuminated.  Because if you want the audience to connect to the bravery or cleverness of your characters, you need to let that audience feel brave and clever too.

Exciting word related things

20 Jun

td-lakeeffect1400This weekend, Erin and I are in the deep edits from our publisher on Starling.

Meanwhile, our short story “Lake Effect,” is out from Torquere Press.

When Kyle and Daniel return to their hometown to get married, they find themselves facing an obstacle course of family drama and small-town misadventure in their quest to make it down the aisle.

Misbehaving relatives and a reformed high school bully, along with an ill-advised hookup in the wedding party and a weird late-night meal with a cabbie and his ex-wife, leave the happy couple doubting whether they want to get married at all. But a hot quickie before their walk down the aisle helps remind them that the most important part of getting married is being married.

You can purchase the story as a standalone at Amazon, Torquere, or any number of other major retailers. Or you can purchase it as part of the They Do M/M anthogy, which is also available at Amazon, Torquere, and lots of other retailers.  If you choose to purchase from Torquere, the code PRIDE will give you 20% off everything in your cart until the end of the month.  Please remember, this story does contain sexual content.

Next up, is a thing I can’t announce yet, but will be able to any day now. The information is floating around the ether, and I found out through a Google alert on my name.  I love the future!

Finally, I continue to blog at Romance @ Random, but this weekend I switch from the Penny Dreadful beat to the True Blood beat.

As soon as I can catch a moment (once these Starling edits are in), I plan to catch up here with pieces on Penny Dreadful, the Broadway show Matilda, and another bit of thought on House of Cards.

Blogging about this whole romance author process thing is happening regularly on Avian30, and if you scroll through the last few posts there, you have the chance to win stuff, so you might want to check that out.  Erin and I also have some readings announced in NYC and elsewhere during the Fall and Winter, so you can take a look at that, although I will update the information here once I catch that mythical moment.

The Normal Heart, Penny Dreadful, and prepping for BEA

26 May

Thanks for all the kind words about Pretty Kitty in various social media.

Now that I’ve had a week at home, it’s been an intense media week. I’m finally up to date on Game of Thrones again and am still apparently all about Littlefinger, no matter how creepy he gets or how broadly Aidan Gillan’s accent wanders.

I also have my latest recap of Penny Dreadful up at Romance @ Random. Last night’s episode was more information dump than action, which served me well, as I actually wrote that recap after watching HBO’s The Normal Heart.

If you follow me on Tumblr, you probably know I’m still in a place where I can’t really talk about The Normal Heart which basically felt like 2 hours of PTSD for me (complete with dizzy spells), even as its events are those that mostly take place right before my own stories about being a teen in New York in the 80s.

But it was interesting to watch that film (A film, in which, by the way, every performance is astounding, and regarding which I would like someone that has complaints about Ryan Murphy’s admittedly unsubtle direction to explain me how on earth you’re supposed to go subtle with that subject matter and with a script penned by Larry Kramer. Please use very small words.) and then follow it up with a Frankenstein-heavy episode of Penny Dreadful in which everyone monologues on love and responsibility and abandonment and the ways in which brutal experiences make us brutal.

Certainly, it is not news that we use SF/F and horror content to speak of the world as it is. And that vampires, zombies, werewolves, and the Creature have all been long used to tell stories about contagion and the search for love when othered. But the juxtaposition was so direct, at least on my own laptop last night, that I’m still reeling from it a bit.

For those of you who don’t check in regularly at Avian30, where Erin and I blog together about our co-written works, there’s a bunch of new content up. Of the most interest to readers here is the Paley Center event I went to featuring Ken Burns and Beau Willimon.

Meanwhile, BEA starts Wednesday, so it’s another business and seemingly endless week around here.

What are you watching? What should I be watching? And what books and booths must I absolutely track down at BEA this year?

Penny Dreadful: Dicks not tits

12 May

I’ve always wanted to write a headline like that.

So…I’m now writing a weekly recap of Showtime’s Penny Dreadful for Random House’s romance and pop-culture blog, Romance at Random.

The show is interesting in a very unfunny Abbott & Costello Meet the Wolfman sort of way: Every horror trope/monster you can think shows up in one surprisingly well-constructed universe. It has some problems — a few scenes that don’t go anywhere and casual racism that’s, as you’d expect, offensive and tedious — and it may not be for everyone. There are a lot of spiders and the gore is pretty intense.

But one thing that really sets it apart is that the pilot contained no female nudity whatsoever.  However, we were treated to a man’s bare ass during text, and full frontal nudity on several male cadavers and Dr. Frankenstein’s creature.  In a cable media landscape where we’re still talking about the rape-factor in Game of Thrones, this is a completely unique viewing experience.  It’ll be interesting to see if they can keep it up, and how it impacts the narrative, the viewership and the reviews.

Please go check out my first recap and get yourself caught up for next week’s episode.  Penny Dreadful‘s first season is only eight episodes, so it’s not a huge time investment for you to play along.

House of Cards: Of saints and stories

28 Mar

My birthday is October 4th, which is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi.  I’m not a Catholic, but my father is, at least sometimes, and the talismanic nature of saints have always interested me.  Among other things, St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals.

A few weeks ago, I was in Rome on a brief weekend holiday while in Europe for my day job.  Rome, however, was a research trip for a writing project, and I anticipated being tightly focused on documenting things once remembered about the city in preparation for a project that is set mostly in Rome and Southern Italy. To a certain extent, I was successful.  But I was also distracted by the things that always distract me in Italy: Great food that is surprisingly often gluten-free, and the gloomy, less visited churches that are barely even footnotes on the tourist maps.

One of the things the eclecticism of my religious upbringing (if you missed it: Dad changed religions a lot, my mom is Jewish, and my childhood was a sea of hippie oddities) is actually really helpful for is pulling apart pop-culture.  And so sitting in a church so blackened with soot that the interior was nothing but ominous, I started turning over House of Cards‘s Francis Underwood — his name, his faith, and the structural function of each in the narrative both of the show and his own life — over in my head.

And I came back, in that dark church, constantly to saints.

Because Francis Underwood is, absolutely, also a patron saint of animals.  When we first meet him, he puts a dog out of his misery, with his bare hands, and doing what is possibly the right thing has never seemed quite so unsettling.  It’s one of the great moments in scripted media ever.  It jumps off the screen, because of how spectacularly it jumps off the page.

But the motif of animals, blood and murder, certainly doesn’t end there.  Not with the way Francis makes a bloody x by swiping his finger across a newspaper photo of a rival after eating ribs, and not when there is so much discussion of in S2 of who is whose dog .The hacker Gavin Orsay, goes to his knees and barks to both show he understands and loathes his place, while businessman Xander Feng is essentially held hostage in what becomes a slow death by politics not-unlike the slow, illegal, bleed supposedly performed on the pigs served at Freddy’s BBQ.  Everyone is an animal in House of Cards. As one of the key promotional lines of S2 constantly reminded us: Hunt or be hunted.

The thing is, there are a lot of saints named Francis. St. Francis de Sales, for example, is the patron saint of writers and journalists.  Our Frank Underwood puts some of those out of their misery too, doesn’t he?  And his victory at the end of S2 is won, quite significantly, by his writing a letter to the president on a typewriter that bears his other name, Underwood.

It should be unsurprising.  After all, Frank Underwood says in S1, “I pray to myself for myself.”  It is perhaps one of the most shocking moments of the show thus far, at least in a nation that places so much value on religiosity both in politics and pop culture. This statement of Frank’s, however, is, I believe, less atheistic than it first appears and more gnostic or Thelemic in nature.  If it reads as a rejection of, as opposed to a oneness with a god, it does so largely because we’re supposed to consider Frank Underwood a very bad man.

While he is no villain I ever wish to be, and I view his schemes as a constantly cautionary tale (never come up with a plot that is dependent on the other parties involved doing what you think they are going to do; people will always surprise you and you’re never going to be as smart as you think you are), I find a great deal about Frank, and his wife Claire, profound and useful to me as I navigate my own relationship with the world.

Frank’s moment in the church, and his saints names, remind me, in spite of all his sins, the we each carry within us remarkable power, terrifying resilience, and peculiar affinities that allow us, if we’re paying any sort of attention, to write the story of our own lives through the living of them.  These possessions of Frank’s also suggest tantalizing clues as how the series may progress through S3 and perhaps beyond.

Because without House of Cards morphing into a totalitarian horrorscape, Frank does not have much more to achieve.  Other than reelection as president, he now can only fall. But as a saint of animals and writers, and as his own god who writes himself into being (praying to himself for himself), he must necessarily also write his own fall and achieve it too as a victory.

To that end, I would suggest keeping your eyes on Claire.  Frank is in so many ways her mentor and in so many ways she is surpassing him.  It is my very strong suspicion is that Frank’s final victory can only be his own written and wished for demise at her well-trained hands.

American Horror Story: Wounds as weapons

7 Nov

Sometimes, I feel like the loneliest person in fandom.  When Tumblr asks Who in the Glee cast would you most like to have lunch with? I always say Ryan Murphy.  That’s not just about avoiding the awkward about cute boys and the intensity of various fandom factions.  I really, really am a huge Ryan Murhy fan, which is a little bit like being a Russel T. Davies fan if you watch British TV — people wonder what’s wrong with you, even as they’re all watching the guy’s show(s).

Being a Ryan Murphy fan and being someone who struggles with the horror genre is, however, particularly frustrating right now.  Because he’s definitely doing some of his most intellectually interesting and uncomfortably confronting work on American Horror Story.  The problem is, I can barely watch it. Not because it’s gory, but because his imagination brings my deepest, darkest intrusive thoughts to visual life with far too much regularity.

I still haven’t, despite strong personal interest, watched AHS: Asylum because of the degree to which medicalized punishment for Otherness is pretty much the one narrative place I don’t quite have the endurance to go.  Mainly, because even if it didn’t happen like that, it still really happened.  It still does.

AHS: Coven, which I am watching, is by Murphy’s own admission, a campier, funnier show.  But it’s still horrifying — and again, not for the gore. This is particularly clear in the way it showcases a litany of female focused horrors: self-injury, deceitful competition between women, the non-metaphorical links between sex and death, the false redemption fame and objectification are meant to promise us.

At its heart, of course, all of Murphy’s work is, arguably, about trauma survivors.  It is as clear in Gabourey Sibide’s Queenie on AHS as it is in Chris Colfer’s Kurt Hummel on Glee.  It’s hardly surprising.  After all, Murphy is also working on bringing The Normal Heart to HBO.  Because while marginalized people are always, arguably, trauma survivors, the tight generational bond some of us share because of queerness and AIDS and activism is particularly illustrative.  It is one of the other things that often makes me feel lonely in fandom; I burst into tears every time I see the All My Friends Are Dead dinosaur, and yet when I try to talk about these experiences I often get the message — from myself as well as others — that I shouldn’t.

Weirdly, however, Murphy’s obsession with trauma and its transformative nature may be something he most clearly articulated during the nearly unwatchable, often annoying, and now cancelled reality TV show The Glee Project, in which contestants competed for a role on the FOX show.  With the exception of Alex Newell, the most interesting performers didn’t win (I’m looking at you, Charlie Lubeck).  But in the sea of all that, one interesting thing Murphy always seemed to ask the contestants, over and over again, was What is your wound?

Most often, this generated people talking about the things in their lives and the reception of their identities and experiences that most hurt.  It led to more than a few Tumblr conversations where people tried to identify and craft elevator pitches for their own wounds.

But last night, when I watched Queenie slash her own throat and dip her hand in a glass of acid to inflict the wounds produced on others, I finally understood.  When Ryan Murphy asks his potential actors What is your wound? what he means is How are you going to kill me?

Vikings: Death, faith, and politics… also, threesomes

20 May

Last night, Patty and I, as a chaser to Game of Thrones, finished History’s first dramatic series, the 9-episode Vikings.  By turns exceptional, terrible, and delightfully baffling, it was worth our time far more than I anticipated. And even if it probably taught us nothing reasonable factual about Vikings (more on that later), a fictional series with a few fact-like tidbits on Vikings strikes me as far preferable to many of History’s “non-fiction” offerings: Aliens, for example, did not build the pyramids (despite a t-shirt Patty owns that illustrates this concept with the note teach the controversy).

Below are nine great reasons to watch Vikings that highlight all the ways in which its first season is filled with great responses to our current pop-culture moment.

1. Vikings is smart enough to make its central drama not just about family, but about many different types of families.  Romantic love, sibling rivalry, parent-child, and chosen family narratives in multiple forms thread through all nine episodes, guaranteeing something familiar and emotionally engaging for pretty much any viewer.

2. Vikings goes out of its way to show joy even in desperate, difficult, and violent times.  This is why so many people are watching it after Game of Thrones where joy seems merely a concept outgrown or a feeling vengeance occasionally briefly evokes.  (Look, I love Game of Thones, but its name is Despair).

3. Vikings gets that sex is part of who people and cultures are.  Mostly, it avoids falling into the sexposition trap HBO’s programming is often chided for, and instead integrates sex into the narrative as consistently but passingly as food, except when someone’s sexual choices becomes a major plot point.  But often sex is just sex and it’s talked about like the weather.

That said, can anyone tell me what was up with all the threesomes? I’m not being snarky. I’m just trying to figure out if the multiple offers (some declined not) of threesomes and moresomes were supposed to tell us something about Viking sexuality or represented the results of market research regarding fandom in general and Tumblr in particular.  The prevalance of F/M/M moments particularly generates this question, considering that History historically has a much larger male audience than female audience.  Who did they think was watching this?

4. Vikings has great female characters.  From political cunning to battlefield skill to domestic excellence these women are all accomplished in radically different ways. The desire to have it all is clear in many of them, and the fact that that’s not easy is just as present.  They’re heroes and villains and, most importantly, almost never plot devices. If you have a thing for political power couples, this is your show.  And while rape is present in the plot, we also see rape averted, punished, and addressed as a community concern.

5. Speaking of fighting, the fight choreography on Vikings benefits from being well-done and relatively realistic (fight choreography never truly realistic, because in order for it to be visible, people have to take wide swings so you can see it — in a real conflict that gets people killed).  Fighting styles and weapon choices tell us things about characters on Vikings, and the ways in which women fight acknowledge that geometry is all, but if you get into a bad corner, size and strength can and do matter.

6. Since we’re talking about fighting, let’s also talk about death.  Vikings is obsessed with death, and does a fantastic job of presenting a culture that has a completely attitude about death than our own.  It does this three-dimensionally, through diverse situations (death from sickness, the desire to die in battle, the religious use of human sacrifice) and a lot of fantastic acting that allows the characters to exhibit sorrow and fear even in the face of deaths both revered and glorious.  The way Vikings handles death is one of the most harrowing, interesting, and moving things I’ve seen on TV this year, and worth it for that alone.

7. All the death content means we get lots of material on faith as well.  This could have been full of annoying Christianity vs. paganism cliches. Instead it’s murky and complex all the way around.  People question their faith constantly and are seen taking refuge in it as often for truth belief as for community and the comfort of habit.  This is an accessibly, and appropriately, modern worldview that makes the characters deeply relatable.

8. At its heart Vikings is about ambition and its consequences.  It offers no firm answers, but suggests that ambition is both a disease and a gift that can neither be eradicated or refused. This isn’t just compelling, but freeing. Because while the ambition feels familiar, odds are you aren’t losing sleep over not having raided England yet this season.

9. Finally, Vikings is populated by characters with widely varying types of intelligence, not all of whom are as skilled as estimating their abilities as they think. This allows the audience to do work, characters to fail believably, and everyone to be treated to Travis Fimmel as Ragnar Lothbrok’s delightfully sly grin.

Vikings is certainly imperfect.  While the acting from most of the leads is exceptional, some of the actors in minor roles are unable to conquer the show’s often clunky dialogue.  Historical (and I’ve been told geographical) accuracy, while better than “aliens built the pyramids,” is deeply dubious.  Some episodes are intentionally strangely paced (e.g., episode 8, “Sacrifice”), and the show’s choices around illustrating the language differences and communications difficulties between the Vikings and the English are nearly impossible to divine the rationale behind, despite being central to one of the show’s plot devices.

That said, it’s only nine episodes, which is a perfect bite-sized introduction to a surprisingly thoughtful, yet strangely produced, basic cable curiosity that largely gets by on charisma, momentum, and ambition alone.