Sunday, October 5, 2014

Is TV Ready for a Polyamorous Relationship?

I was binge watching Nashville at the recommendation of a friend recently when I came across this scene. I was impressed with the song, but more fascinated by the serious amount of eye fucking going on between Avery (Jonathan Jackson) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio). Not to be left out, Zoey (Chaley Rose), also isn't shy about casting her gaze in the direction of her two sexy guys. If you watch the show, then you know the relationship dynamics of these three characters, but when I watched this scene, I couldn't help but to wonder if we wouldn't be in the market for a Polyamorous triad to take shape. This kind of chemistry and these kinds of wordless reaction shots are the basis of fandom shipping. You can't throw a rock without finding a ship that exists just because two characters shared a room that one time, or sometimes based on even less than that. Wattpad has a nice list of ships that seem to exist for no reason at all. But the thing about this particular scene of lustful eyes is that it seems to be another in a line of moments from shows lately that suggest we might be in the early moments of seeing a real polyamorous relationship take shape on the small screen. And I for one think that that would be a great thing for a number of reasons, so I say bring it on.

Disclaimers: I am not in, nor have I ever been in a Poly or even an open relationship. When I do find myself in relationships, they tend to be monogamous in nature. But I don't devalue Poly relationships at all. It doesn't seem like the kind of thing that would work for me, but I fully support it if it works for someone else. So this isn't me pushing forward any kind of an agenda, I wouldn't benefit one way or another from a healthy Poly relationship being explored on screen. My primary interest in seeing this kind of relationship explored is really just about the storytelling implications. Also, I did watch the first few episodes of Showtime's Polyamory: Married & Dating, and while I will say that that's an easy look at real life Poly relationships, I always got the impression that that show was more about having an excuse to shoot hot threesomes than it was about exploring these actual dynamics. I also find the relationships explored in this show to be heteronormative in their dynamics. By which I mean that even the group that features two men is a group in which both men are solely focused on the women instead of on each other. Which is fine for real life, I don't think being in a Poly relationship automatically means someone has to be Bisexual in some fashion. But for the sake of storytelling purposes and exploring deeper character dynamics, I think it would be more interesting to see how a character changes as they inexplicably find themselves falling in love with a person who happens to be a different gender than they're typically attracted to. So, I'm not talking about shows with love triangles, which are a dime a dozen, but shows in which characters honestly find themselves in dynamics in which all three characters can be shipped equally with one another. what's the possible appeal of these OT3s being explored in the canon? First among them has to be the inherent drama that such a thing would create. Sticking with Nashville for an example, you'd be talking about a threeway relationship that would take place between the two ex boyfriends, and one best friend of one of the other characters on the show, Scarlett O'Connor (Clare Bowen). The show already touches on Scarlett's discomfort and uncertainty when she sees these three people who are important to her in different ways performing together and growing closer as friends and performers while she's left out in the cold. Now imagine what that would look like if all three of them were also sleeping together and falling in love. Another character potentially affected by this development would be Chris Carmack's Will Lexington. Will has been struggling with his own homosexuality over the course of the show, and he even made an ill-advised pass at Gunnar early in his time on the series. How might this triad developing effect him?

Speaking of this show's only gay character, imagine what this story could have to say about human sexuality. If Avery and Gunnar (two heterosexual men) slowly find themselves falling in love or being attracted to one another, the sexual confusion would be through the roof. We tend to enjoy watching stories about characters struggling to come to terms with their homosexuality and going through the process of coming out. But those stories are still interested in making sexuality black and white and making the coming out process a bit more linear (Will's story has been an example of this thus far). A TV triad could get us to a point where we're questioning these assumed elements of human sexuality. Can Gunnar, Avery, and Zoey all be equally in love with one another, and equally sexual with one another, and all still claim to be straight? I think the answer is yes, but it would be a lot of fun to see that question explored on screen.

In the case of Teen Wolf's best OT3 (Scott/Allison/Isaac), the reason behind why the show should have gone there is simply that they teased it enough that they needed to get it over with. Teen Wolf is a show that isn't shy about baiting its fans into specific ships, or learning about ships and working to exploit them. Arguably, the show's most popular ship is between Tyler Hoechlin's Derek Hale and Dylan O'Brien's adorable, and probably bisexual, Stiles Stilinski. And since it became clear that fans wanted that pairing, the two's scenes together have gotten more and more shipper-bait in nature. In the case of the threesome issue, the show had been teasing the desire for a televised threeway since that sexy dance way back in the second season. Granted, in context, that dance is a lot less about those three characters being attracted to each other and more about misdirection, but I've always been interested in the closeness and the lustful looks being exchanged between Isaac (Daniel Sharman) and Jackson (Colton Haynes).

But that dance scene is really just a teaser for the ultimate OT3 to come. When Scott (Tyler Posey) and Allison (Crystal Reed) break up, it opens the door for Isaac to move in, but Allison's door isn't the only one that seems to be opened to the curly haired cutie. Disillusioned with the way that Derek runs his pack, Isaac easily and often runs to the comforting arms of Scott. Their friendship is sweet and adorable and you often get the impression that Isaac loves Scott because he's the first person to be nice and caring to him without wanting anything in return. Isaac's birth father is an abusive piece of shit, and Derek turns him and adds him to his pack more for his own selfish reasons than because of any kind of care or concern for the boy. But Scott, being the kind and loving and protecting hero that he is, looks out for Isaac because he honestly cares about Issac's well being. What fallows as a result are a number of scenes like this one in which Scott expresses a kind of interest and Isaac, caught off guard, is left making moon eyes at him. Add to that the way that Isaac and Allison are slow to get their relationship off the ground, both of whom constantly citing Scott as the reason they're hesitant, or even the fact that Isaac's first choice for a new place to live when he's in need is Scott's place and Scott let's him move in without a second though, and you get the fans feeling like "Alright already! Get them all together and let them have sexy fun times!"
Another example of the ship being so great it can't help but to write itself can be found in Dr. Who's Doctor/Rose/Jack ship. One of the things I like so much about this OT3 is that it has the effect of making them all better. It's clear that The Doctor (Christopher Eccleston for the sake of this article) is a better person when he's with a companion. And the best companions are equally made better during their time with the Doctor (Rose and Donna are the best examples of this to me). When you add Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) to the mix, you get someone who is a far better and more honest person when he's with the Doctor and Rose (Billie Piper), and who has the ability to ensure there's a healthy level of fun being had in the Tardis. The Doctor/Rose/Jack is the triad that comes the closest to being canon. They share the kisses shown above, and Jack is an admitted omnisexual being who flirts and loves everyone he shares more than two words with. Rose is clearly and admittedly in love with the Doctor, though admittedly that's more Ten (David Tennant) than Nine, and the Doctor (again talking about Ten this time) does come as close as possible to admitting his own feelings for her. But the point still remains that the presence and popularity of this triad shows just how ready we are for this kind of story to play out in full on screen.

The last reason that I think a Polyamorous relationship should develop on the small screen is visibility. Monogamy is seen as the norm in this world. As such, most relationships we see are monogamous in nature. Any break from monogamy is demonized, and the solution to just about every love triangle that comes up (and there are way too many to count in TV shows) is that the main character has to choose one or the other, or neither. It makes the storytelling feel hackneyed in a lot of ways. We've seen just about every option played out somewhere or other already. So why get invested in these torn-between-two-lovers stories? But more over, where does a person who doesn't believe they'd be happy in a monogamous situation turn to see their story mirrored back to them? How do we normalize different kinds of relationships if we continually refuse to showcase them as being normal? I think shows like Teen Wolf or even The Vampire Diaries are perfect matches to do this given their distribution to a younger audience. Teen Wolf could have just given audiences what they wanted anyway and started changing hearts and minds that way. Or The Vampire Diaries could have given fans something they may not have known they wanted but might have enjoyed anyway in a Klaus/Caroline/Tyler coupling. With Klaus and Caroline being basically in love since day one, and Tyler and Caroline dating, but Tyler at least being sired enslaved to Klaus, it would have at least made sense even if there were some issues of consent behind it.

I think TV is uniquely poised among mediums to really change, or maybe just spark, the conversation about Polyamory. In much the same way that tuning in to shows featuring LGBT characters on a regular basis has helped to shift public perception in positive ways, I think watching fictional Poly relationships would help to normalize a non-mainstream way of life. And beyond that, I think it would just serve to give us more interesting and unique stories to tell. We've looked at the different ways relationships between only two people can be dramatic; I think we've seen just about every combination and possibility available to such a pairing. Long gone are the days when simply making the pair two people of the same gender is enough to add new dynamics, so why not do something new? I think TV shows have been brushing up against doing this for awhile now. So the only real question left is which show will have the balls to actually just go there already? It doesn't necessarily have to be an established show, either. Maybe there's a new series out there somewhere with three characters who are ready-made to find themselves navigating these uncharted narrative waters. If so, the reveal of this show can't come soon enough for me.

Addendum: I realized something that has come to cause me a great amount of shame lately: all of these OT3 pairings are male-male-female. While I will admit that given the taboos within our society about male sexuality, this dynamic is the one I personally find most interesting, I don't mean to make it seem like that's the only place TV will be able to find drama and compelling stories. To those ends, I would like to point out what MTV's Faking It is doing with Amy, Karma, and Liam. It's hard to include this three-way in this article because I don't think it's the best way for the show to go. This story feels like it works out best as being the story of Amy figuring out her sexual orientation. But the show isn't shy about there being bumps along the way to Amy's eventual probable destination to Lesbos island. Both of the girls have already slept with Liam, and Amy and Karma are clearly better together. So while I don't really think the Amy, Karma, Liam triad works best in the long term, I certainly think it could make for an interesting dynamic for a season or so. I can't think of any fully same sex poly groups, but if you have any, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

TV Review: Red Band Society: "Liar Liar Pants on Fire" of my favorite side stories in Queer as Folk is about Hunter, the young HIV positive street urchin that Michael and Ben adopt. When he's first introduced, he tells the pair that the reasons he's homeless and hustling is because his father is dead and his mother is in prison for killing him. Come to find out, his mother isn't in prison at all. He's actually a runaway, but the reason he left and the reason he lied is because his mother is horribly abusive. She actually got him started in hustling by pimping him out to guys so she could take the money, presumably for drugs. It makes the moment when she tries to come back into his life and take custody from Michael and Ben very tense. But she's a bad mother and a bad person and Hunter's fear and hatred of her makes perfect sense. It was revealed this week that Jordi's mother isn't dead after all, she's just a bad mother so he's been denying her existence. By bad mother I don't mean that she molested him, or that she allowed other people to molest him for money, I mean she likes to play poker and had parties where other people came over to play poker with her. She doesn't seem to abuse him, she doesn't seem to take these men to bed while he tries to sleep in the next room, she doesn't even seem to neglect him to an extreme extent. Sure there are nights when he has to cook dinner for himself, but in the flashback we see him doing so, he seems to be old enough to do it. So what it all boils down to is that Jordi doesn't feel as though his mother loves him as much as he thinks she should have. I'm not going to say that that's not scaring in and of itself, but I will say that it makes for a significantly less compelling story than Hunter's story with his mother. And for the record, the fact that his mother is the same woman Dr. McAndrew slept with last week doesn't make the story interesting, it just makes it melodramatic and soapy.

So that's the intro to this particular episode which left me with one overall feeling: I don't think Red Band Society is going to make the cut. I've been talking the show up to myself for awhile now because I really do want it to be good. I want to like it for many reasons, but the fact of the matter is I'm just not sure. I think there's a good show in here somewhere, but how deep is it buried, and how long will it take for the writers and producers to find it?

I don't know what the answers are to those questions, but I do know the answer isn't after 3 episodes. Which might be as it should be, 3 hours isn't necessarily long enough for a show to have found its footing, TV is a marathon and not a sprint. But how many missteps can a show make over the course of first three hours before it's acceptable to move on from it?

This week shows us that episodes in which Kara shows no kind of depth leave her seeming less than one dimensional. In the first two episodes, there were brief moments of honesty between her and one of the other characters, but this week the hour is just full of her being awful. And the more she does drugs and screws around in spite of her doctor's orders, the more I think the only reasonable outcome for her story is death.

This week shows us that there's an even worse use for Charlie's voice over than we'd known before: Charlie takes elements of the story that are implicit but obvious and makes them explicit in a fashion that tells me that the show thinks we're too stupid to figure out for ourselves. Charlie is a lot more active this week. It's almost as if without someone falling unconscious and heading to the inbetween space, the show is looking to justify the actor's presence on the show. Which leads me to wonder is Griffin Gluck some kind of big deal I've just never heard about until now? Is he the top billed actor on the show? Because the writers seem to put him to more use than they do Octavia Spencer.

Speaking of which, after three episodes, are we any closer to figuring out who Nurse Jackson actually is? She worries this week that if she can't figure out something redeeming about Kara, then it's possible she'll just let her die at some point. It's a worry, and I understand that, but I don't think we've been given anything to suggest that that's honestly possible, so it doesn't feel like a real character development moment so much as a weak justification for a large portion of the episode.

The only storyline within the episode that felt real and organic to me was the story about the jealousy between Dash and Leo. The strongest element of the series thus far has consistently been the kids trying their best to just be kids in the face of everything they're dealing with. And the connection between Dash and Leo seems to be the relationship that brings that storyline out the best. So Dash getting jealous of Leo's new friendship with Jordi makes perfect sense.

I said last week that I was going to stick with this show until the end, or until I decided to stop watching all together, and I was assuming at the time that the former was more true than the latter, but I'm honestly not so sure anymore. There's a lot I can take from a show, or from any other story medium for that matter, but there were a lot of moments this week that had me rolling my eyes because the show (Charlie specifically) felt the need to tell me things I already knew. I can take a lot from a show, but when you start talking at me like I'm an idiot, I lose patience very quickly.