Category Archives: tv

why dietland matters

Coming off of SaTC week, let’s focus on some very different television: Dietland.  Based on the 2015 book by Sarai Walker, this show tells the story of a “morbidly obese” woman, Alicia “Plum” Kettle, who has put her entire life on hold until she is no longer fat.  She denies herself more than just food: she denies herself feelings, love, sex, socializing, a career, her writing, baking, hopes and dreams.  Her life is limited to a few blocks of Brooklyn (HI PARK SLOPE!) except for days she goes in to her employer, a Hearst Media style publisher in Hudson Yards (which is where L’Oreal is based in reality), where she ghostwrites for a glamourously thin editor played by Juliana Marguiles.  By the third episode though, she’s realizing she isn’t denying herself life because she hates herself.  She’s denying herself life because the world hates her.

Show protagonist Joy Nash – in “normal” joyful clothes as herself, and as the self-denying trying-to-be-invisible Plum Kettle

So far the reviews have been mixed: the show is well written, well put together, and different than anything else on TV, but tries to cram in a lot.  The original material is almost hallucinatory in its surreality at times, so I suppose this shouldn’t be a surprise.  The problem is that the sheer density of the book has resulted in reviews which speak too much to the crowded nature of the show, and fail to notice that this is the first show to openly talk about two important topics.  The first of these is the way American society has, for years, taught women to enable and ignore poor behavior by men, while, at the same time, punishing and mocking women for behaving (or appearing, which seems to be considered a behavior in itself) in non-standard ways.  The second of these is the national addiction to antidepressants, and the impact of long term use and withdrawal.  Selling pharmaceuticals to one in four Americans is so lucrative than I’m genuinely shocked anyone called out that it might not be a good idea.

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First of all, I’m incredibly impressed that this show actually depicts and narrates the constant pressure women feel  in society to allow men to engage in the behavior that makes women feel bad, while simultaneously pressuring us to not engage in behavior that would make anyone else around us uncomfortable.  It is the first time I’ve seen a show on TV that portrays a fat woman being sexually harassed for no reason, and acknowledging that she is reluctant to speak up or clap back because g-d forbid she she should make it worse. Dietland actually takes this a bit further, and not only calls out men’s shitty behavior, but actually tries to show us all how to hold men accountable for it, without putting all the pressure to resist on the women who are the victims of said shitty behavior.  In last night’s episode, when a man harassed a woman in a convenience store, the other women in the bodega banded together to film and shame him.   We do not all have to torture and kill rapists as the shadowy “Jennifer” organization does, but as a society, we do need to call out men who harass women on the street or who slut-shame them in convenience stores.

This is one of the reasons why Dietland matters.  It shows men’s response to women who do not follow a socially acceptable code of conduct, which includes not only behavior, but appearance.   Society should hold men accountable for making choices to “grab women by the pussy”, rather than giggling and infantilizing those choices as “boys will be boys“.  And when a man bro’s out at the expense of a woman, making a comment on her weight or appearance for his own amusement (as a custodial worker does, mocking Plum to his buddy in an elevator), it is the responsibility of the other men to tell him he’s an ass.

The second reason this show matters is that it shows a protagonist going off anti-depressants and the consequences for doing so.  There are many voices of reason that remind Plum she was on doctor prescribed pills, that she should, at the least, wean off them rather than go cold turkey.  But antidepressant withdrawal is a BFD as we begin to discover that it is easy to reap initial benefits from medication, but difficult as hell to get back off said medication when it becomes ineffective.  No one really wants to talk about how awful it is to try to come off antidepressants, a consequence that is not well researched and on which patients are certainly not well educated when they start the medication in the first place.  It’s doubtful that I would have turned down antidepressants in 2005 had i known it would be such an awful experience to come off those drugs in 2018.  However, I was not prepared for how awful the withdrawal would be, nor was I really prepared to face the fact that the antidepressants hadn’t been working for years.  The NYT has been running a whole series on this recently, which is as much about the withdrawal as it is about the fact that no one is studying withdrawal.  To have a mainstream TV show address the idea of antidepressant withdrawal feels extremely timely as we start to investigate what the real long term effects of these medications are.

I do wish Dietland addressed the proven fact that antidepressants rarely remain effective for more than a few years.  In the book and TV adaptation, Plum is on Y, an antidepressant that seems to have successfully repressed her feelings ever since she began taking it to cope with rejection from a man she trusted with her feelings.  The show addresses the ready willingness with which we sacrifice joy to avoid despair, the way we are encouraged to embrace antidepressants out of emotional risk aversion.  It does not address the real challenge, which is that if an antidepressant is prescribed for real depression, we are very likely on borrowed time with it – and we must take ownership for hacking our own brains in anticipation of the day it no longer works.

So for these two threads alone – Dietland matters.  It’s got its clunky parts, and can be jarring and unfinished in places.  The reviews are not wrong in that it is trying to cram a lot of plot and theme into a single hour long episode.  However, I believe this is important TV.  The more we portray these issues in television, the more we address the way we, as a society, still choose gender inequality.  This show reminds us that as women, our inequality is constantly reinforced through the beauty and body image standards imposed on us, both by men and by ourselves. The more we show the methodology in which women are made lesser, the more we can find ways to make us equal.

 

 

 

happy 20th to impressionable women everywhere

Parts of the Internet this week have been celebrating Sex & The City: The 20th Anniversary, since the show debuted on June 6th 1998.  These articles and discussions seem to be based in one of 3 major streams of discussion:

  • The show is fantastically dated, in a way that makes it a time capsule of (white, middle-class) Manhattan at the turn of the 21st century.  It is from that parallel dimension of existence, modern life without the Internet or smartphones or even widespread email.
  • The show was both forward and backwards for its time.  Forward in its focus on female relationships and for its lack of judgement of pre-marital sex, backwards in that it only includes LGBTQ+ characters as caricatures and punchlines.

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#WokeCharlotte is the BEST 

(There is a good post up on Jezebel illustrating the blinding whiteness of the show, btw)

  • THE MEN ARE ALL GENUINELY AWFUL.  In hindsight, every single one is terrible.  Except Harry.  And Smith.  But it took the show until season six, five minutes before ending, to come up with these grown ass man characters who could be in genuine equal partnerships between a man and woman.  (Also, no one should be Team Big because I agree with the Dirtcast podcast that he is likely a Republican BUT THATS OK BECAUSE NONE OF THE GIRLS EVER VOTED LOL WTF)

The show, however, did apparently inspire an entire generation of women to move to New York City and live fabulous, SaTC type lives.  This mostly applies to women my age, women who were in our impressionable 20s when the show was at its height, who then went on to use it as a model of sophistication and worse, a model of potential for what life should look like in a big city.

I actually think the portrayal of New York City was limiting to what is possible here.  This city is a kaleidoscope of experiences, and is never the same two days in a row, a constantly shifting myriad of possible experiences and storylines told through the eyes of millions of people from thousands of cultural backgrounds.  If anything, Sex and the City had blinders on to the majority of experiences possible in the city, limited as they were to their stratum of society, their parties and galas and balls and weekends in the Hamptons and only the most two-dimensional of art.  It calls into question how one should define sophistication: should it be familiarity with a conventional white upper-class culture, or should it be the ability to know one’s city from multiple perspectives?

However, I didn’t pick up my drive to live in a big city from SaTC.  I’ve wanted to live in a big city since I realized there were big cities to live in.   What I did absorb was a lot of  modeling for heterosexual relationships with emotionally immature men.  This is fine when you are 24 and you are dating a Jack Berger type and you need a framework with which to understand what the hell his problem is.  This is not fine when you actually find the love of your life and find yourself actually afraid to express emotion because you have picked up too many bad lessons from a TV show.

It’s this latter point that worries me a bit about Sex and the City.  Are there other women my age who use the show’s storylines as one way to map out our experiences with males?  By creating characters for a dramedy, could Sex & the City have inadvertently have given us a set of male character references that we’ve internalized by mistake?  Did the show contribute to the normalization of emotional immaturity in men by providing us with those models at a vulnerable time in cultural history?

I do not hear my friends actively making statements like, “oh, he’s just being like Big” because a) they’re not idiots and b) that reference is two decades old.   Still, could the idea of Carrie and Big’s relationship dynamic, where he is an emotional man-child who sabotages all her other relationships to keep her attached to him, and she still ends up with him as a reward for his bad behavior – has that permeated our culture as acceptable?  Could the idea of these insecure men like Steve or Berger, men who couldn’t accept high earning women (and yes, I know Steve got over it) have entered our brains as an acceptable thing that we should just put up with and make excuses for?  Has SATC reinforced these behaviors as acceptable or did it just reflect our own inter-gender dynamics back to us?

I am afraid I can’t answer this through my own experience: I’ve been with my husband since I was twenty-seven, when the guys I was dating were also in their late 20s and early 30s, and were all still emotionally immature.  My knowledge of male behavior by men over the age of 30 is therefore limited to third-hand insight: pop culture, advice columns, and the tales of my friends.  Therefore, the idea of this kind of poor male behavior being normalized may be a pop-culture stereotype.  But as we begin to hold men accountable for their immaturity and entitlement , we have to re-evaluate what behavior women have normalized and internalized over the years as part of heteronormative dynamics – and SaTC may be one of the sources we have to question.

Still.  Happy birthday to Sex & The City, happy 20th to all of us for having the show, and all its modeling of women, their friendships, their sex-positivity and their ability to pursue vocational callings in the big city.   Even if their characters still couldn’t figure out how to use a smartphone (aaaaaaaargh) in 2009, we still should celebrate Miranda having a BlackBerry in 1999, buying her own apartment and being an unapologetic “Esq”. We should still celebrate Charlotte eventually recognizing that Harry’s love and devotion to her was something special.  And we should celebrate the merciful death of the movie series thanks to Kim Cattrall, whose Samantha was the best of the characters, not because of her sexual independence, but because she was a business owning badass who loved herself more.

For that, and for silly women everywhere, happy 20th.

 

 

passiviTV

I have been watching more TV lately.  This started when I realized how much content I could download to my phone or Kindle to watch while in transit on the subway.  This was initially great!  I could immerse myself in television programming any day of the week, not just the one or two days when a favorite show came online.  I started picking entire series to watch, starting with Parks and Rec and adding Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.  I watched a huge chunk of the first season of Outlander while traveling to and from Toronto.  And I could keep watching all the weekly shows that come up in “real time” like Divorce, so long as I watched them on the above ground bus to work in NJ.

Then the TV watching time began to creep up.  I started watching episodes of TV at home, on an actual TV.  I would watch two or three episodes at a time.  Suddenly, entire hours were disappearing.  I would look up and realize I was looking at a screen still at 11pm or midnight, throwing off my sleep schedule and my body’s ability to stay asleep due to the light suppressing the melatonin production I need for a good night’s rest.  I’d make up for that with a melatonin pill, and then I’d wake up groggy and start compensating for that with caffeine.  Which, as I learned last fall, I can only consume in moderation as well.  TV is both a bad influence and a bad habit.

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It isn’t as if I’m watching crappy TV even!  I’m watching a lot of consistently smart, female led, well reviewed content.  CexG , for example, is an extremely smart show, digging into its characters motivations and human frailty and mental health and changing sense of identity with a great sense of compassion and insight, sometimes expressed through musical numbers.  Parks and Rec is one of the best comedies ever, mostly based on the strength of its ensemble.  Neither show relies on gender tropes to build their characters.  Neither is based on laughing at its characters, as some sitcoms consistently do.  They are both well written, compassionate programs.  But they’re also passive content, and as long as I’m sitting there consuming the content, I’m not engaging in anything else.

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend: the only show to compare our mammary glands to the density of white dwarf stars.

It’s addicting to consume passive content.  It’s addicting to have an entire entertainment feed directly into my brain.  I have always read so much that I’m used to what Jasper Fforde called the “imaginotransference” process in the Thursday Next books.  To have multiple senses provided for me, without having to use any imagination myself, is fantastic.  It is so much richer an experience to see each nuance of a character’s facial expression, to see their setting, to hear their voice. This is why we all universally love television and movies, after all: they are a full display of storytelling that shows us a full, exacting vision, without relying on our brains to place the information in context or create our own visuals.

So as much as I try to justify my consumption of television, I also know I’m being lazy when I watch.  And I also know that as long as I”m watching, I’m not creating anything of my own.  I’m not blogging or writing.  I’m not practicing piano.  I’m consuming someone else’s creation, and as smart as that creation may be, the only good it does me is to be entertained by it.  I’m not thinking my own thoughts when I’m consuming passive content.  Sometimes, that’s OK, because I need a break and it’s nice to be entertained and heartwarmed by someone else’s vision of, say, Pawnee, IN: a place full of hope and positivity.  Other times, it’s just consumption, and it’s just taking up my time…and, to an extent, my energy.

Am I judging passive content?  No.  I’m judging how easy it is to be passive when consuming media.  With the infinite access to entertainment that is Netflix and its counterparts, one can access the cream of the art form of TV, the best comedies that are out there.  Even those of us with very specific comedic preferences (“Female Driven Sitcoms With Women Who Swear A Lot“) can find hundreds of hours of our preferred content on these platforms and watch those hours all at once.  Yes, I’m sure passive TV watching happened before this, but it didn’t happen to me.

I have to figure out more balance in this area.  Still, I enjoy watching these shows.  I’ve rarely watched much TV.  Doing so now opens up my ability to participate in more conversations around what makes a good vs. bad piece of video content.   And it’s also given me a whole new respect for the writers who make their visions happen in the long run.

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From symbolism to symbols

There is a moment, in the First Sex in the City movie, where Carrie realizes that Big isn’t coming to their wedding venue (because he is a ridiculous man child, obviously, who only showed devotion when he could buy his way out of it BUT I DIGRESS) Carrie, panicking, asks for a phone. Samantha throws her an iPhone. She looks at the screen, covered in the first generation of apps, and says, simply, I can’t use this. I don’t know how.

Thinking of that scene, it seems so quaint. How could anyone be so clueless as to not be able to use a smartphone? How could anyone have lacked the intuition to grasp the technology, driven as it is by pictures and icons? It is a moment made for empathy from the audience, as if to say, see this confusing technology? It’s OK not to understand it! Even sophisticated New York women cannot efficiently use this newfangled geek device from Silicon Valley!

Now, at the age that the character was in that movie, I think, how did we manage to grasp all this technology? How is it that most of us swam so smoothly into the tide of all of this change? All of these smartphones, all of these computers, all of this digital existence? How is it all of us, all of my generation, managed to transition from the first days of a text-only Internet, to the bright icons, shapes, colors, all of the wordless material that makes up the apps and pictures on our phones? How did our brains transition from having the information, in the format of words that we were used to for centuries, and just suddenly seeing it flow through in a completely different interface every few years?

Look at all these tiny pictures!

In the world of today, I feel fortunate enough to be from a unique generation. I remember A World Before the internet, but only barely. I am still able to see the internet as something miraculous, a conduit that allows for a flow of information and communication we never could have imagined in the past.

That, however, was words. The smartphones are all about images. They are a new way of looking at information, full of symbols. There are the pleasingly aesthetic squares of apps, the shortcut sentences of emojis, the flash of lights on the phone itself to represent a message from another person. My phone speaks to me in a code of shortcuts.

This is why I had to delete the Facebook app off my phone: the notification icon babbles at me otherwise.

How did the Xennials all learn this so quickly, changing the way we interpret information in so few years? How were we poised for this absorption of information? Words alone, I get – Western culture prizes ourselves on our ability to absorb words and change them into images and emotions in our brains. We have done that collectively for half a millennium, since the printed, widely distributed word accelerated the ability to read. The Internet as it was in 1995 makes perfect sense to me. The way we choose to communicate now though, it goes around the words. It is a direct transfer of simple information, including emotions, without the need to take in words and change them, in our brains, to a concept.

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Pretty sure this means something filthy IN PHONE SPEAK

Maybe this is how we moved so quickly to smartphones and this image and metaphor laden technology. It isn’t that we went forward, it’s that we went backwards. Most of what is done in smartphone communication is images and symbols because it is too cumbersome to pull together a coherent set of words. Going without words entirely may be more efficient on this device, but it strikes me as lazier .

I’m actually typing this on a smartphone, using it as a small computer. It isn’t efficient, but it’s how I write on the subway. The concepts I’m trying to express, I want a reader to interpret through the nuances of words. There are no cookie cutter symbols that can replace original paragraphs. Maybe there are images, but I’d rather forces a reader to create those themselves. It’s effort for both the writer and reader this way.

Oh and that smartphone Carrie caught in the movie? Thrown to her by Samantha. Who is ten years older than the other girls. Proving, of course that anyone can learn this nerdy new tech, especially when it helps them run their successful small business. And I am sure the writers would have forced a gratuitous use of a series of sex icons like the ones above in lieu of dialogue on the extremely well spoken and articulate Kim Cattrall if the 3rd movie had taken place, proving my point about laziness as well.

wednesday recap: morning TV housework

Wait, it’s Wednesday already? I woke up today and seriously thought it was Tuesday. FOUR DAYS TO PITTSBURGH!

My day today kind of flew by. I’ve almost stopped watching TV in the mornings again. There was a novelty to being able to watch Today and The View the first few weeks of unemployment. Watching those shows made me feel like life was simple, like all I had to worry about was cooking dinner, preparing my lawn for winter, and knowing what purse trends would be hot for fall. Then I realized that I didn’t WANT my life to be that simple. I chose to care about different things than what the morning shows focus on. I choose to get my food from a farm collective, to live in a big city where I couldn’t afford a lawn, to never carry a purse with faux-fur on it, even if it’s supposed to be “hot”. I choose to care about the kind of bands that headline Bonnaroo or Coachella, instead of the artists who win American Idol or are weirdly popular despite being formulaic. And then that was the end of the morning shows…except maybe as background noise while I’m sifting through email or running reports. I admit, I kind of like some parts of “The View”, because I enjoy the discussion and commentary on the tough, thorny issues they choose to take on.

Today, I admit, I did watch some morning TV – but I did it while tackling today’s Major Project, the Pantry Re-Organization And Inventory. Because I’ll be gone for five weeks, and Paul will be here on his own for most of that (sometimes alone, sometimes with Ben), I decided to re-organize and inventory the pantry area so my husband would be able to find things, and would know what he had available. Also, I am tired of spending money on things like peanut butter, just to find that there were two jars already hiding in among the salsa and pickles. So I pulled everything off the shelves – over a hundred items, by my count – and entered each item, by category and sub category (for easy spreadsheet sorting), with the item name and the expiration date. Now everything is in a Google Doc I can access, if need be, while at the store. I’m not usually that OCD, but in this case, it was sorely needed.

Also, our pantry was a disaster area. I felt like the “before” case in a Real Simple article…only with more dirt, dust and spillage than any article would ever show. So I pulled out all the open bags of sugar and flour and put them in airtight storage bins, where they would keep and wouldn’t spill. I dumped out the bins of random snack foods and bulk food items, and sorted them out by category. I put what I could into jars and Oxo storage containers, washed and re-organized the bins, and dusted all the shelves. I threw away the expired foods, the almost-empty bags, the things that had gone stale…and the flour with moths in it (which explains our moth problem). The whole project, including cleaning up the floor afterwards, took over 3 hours…done in three one-hour stints, because at one point, I looked at the piles of miscellaneous stuff, and got totally overwhelmed. I can handle stacking eight jars of pasta sauce or five cans of Pixar-branded chicken noodle soup, but I lost it trying to figure out what to do with all the small stuff. At one point, I looked at the floor, covered in Miscellaneous Items that had been living in random bins for the last six months (kiddie Clif bars, single-serving bags of cookies, packages of instant rice pilaf, small amounts of bulk-bin legumes, a half-empty bag of raisins, individually wrapped loose tea bags, airline snacks I save for Ben, etc., etc), and almost short-circuited trying to organize all the items so they would be easily found and eaten. Finally, I put all the grab and go snacks into a bin, put all the bags of nuts, dried fruit and popcorn in a “Some Assembly Needed” snack section, found enough jars and containers to neatly combine and put away all the bags of kidney beans and split peas, put the rice pilaf in a bin with all the other types of rice and put all the tea and coffee together in a separate section. I’ll go through the whole thing today with my label maker, and hopefully, my husband will be able to feed himself and our son in the limited time he has available to do so before Ben starts whining for attention.

None of this should be that difficult, but I absolutely suck at organizing clutter zones. I have to go through a Clutter Zone as a whole, dumping everything out and re-evaluating each item. Places like the baskets on my desk, the pantry, the bookshelves, my dresser…they all turn into Clutter Zones quickly. I’m proud of myself when I clear through one of the Zones though, because organization is such a learned skill for me. Now, we can see everything in the pantry, and even if we can’t, Paul has a list so he knows what’s in there. Soy sauce? Check. Mustard? Check. Juice boxes, granola bars and jars of applesauce? Yep. Farro, quinoa and lentils? Check. I just need to make a list of what’s in the freezer, and he should be all set to be a single parent for a couple weeks…without having to waste time grocery shopping.

I was going to write more in this entry, like about the hardcore Pilates class I did this morning, or about More Goth Cliche Observations done at MODE:M tonight, but I just realized, I’m tired. It’s time to go to sleep. G’night everyone!

the tudors s4e1: introducing john doe as rapey mcstabberson

Last night, it was with great joy that I welcomed back a fresh installment of The Tudors. I read a lot of Alison Weir and Phillipa Gregory because I love historical fiction, and The Tudors combines that with a lot of very pretty scenery. I love the scenery and settings, appreciate the soundtrack, and I completely covet and look rapturously on the costumes. There’s not a lot of historical accuracy left in the show, outside of the scenery and music and costumes, but it’s so well put together that I can’t help but genuinely appreciate and enjoy it.

However, I do feel that Showtime is stretching it a bit (NO!) this season. Usually, they wait at least three minutes before showing ladyparts; this week, I think they made it less than two into the actual show. Hey, look, there’s a naked teen girl covered in rose petals! Yes, we get it. Henry VIII is shtupping a child, who is lacking in “honor, cleanness, and maidenly behavior”, and whom he openly makes fun of in court when he introduces her. We’re going to continue along this theme throughout the episode, how Henry is sexually enthralled by this child-woman, but bears her no respect as a person.

Chapuys has been given better lines this season at least. First, he gets to make a quip about the only mourners at Thomas Boleyn’s funeral being the ghosts of his children; then he gets to make snarky comments about the King of France’s reaction to Henry’s marriage to a teenager. It seems the Spanish ambassador’s role is larger in this show as the controlling hand behind the dwindling and confused Catholic faction. He continues to encourage Mary, and act as a surrogate father to her. It’s hard to tell if his interest in Mary is genuine, or if it is for the political end – but then, that would have been a question in history of any confidant for any of the women around whom the religious and political factions gathered.

We also get to meet the charming Earl of Surrey. Just in case there was any doubt, he immediately announces his ambition and his relation to the current Queen. Immediately, we’re to make parallels and understand his place as the replacement for the old Duke of Norfolk, Anne Boleyn’s uncle. I have wondered why, if the Norfolk/Howard/Boleyn faction was so despised, as they must have been after Anne’s destruction, so many of them returned in high positions at court. Surrey just seems to wish to introduce himself as This Season’s Sneaky Slimeball, complete with attempts at seduction of Lord Seymour’s wife.

I will say that the actress portraying Catherine Howard is brilliant in her portrayal of that queen as a silly, shallow twit. Even for seventeen, she seems young – more like a fourteen year old in today’s era. I can’t figure out if this is because her backstory calls for her development being stunted by her time in the Dowager Duchess’ household, or if it is because the writers just need to exaggerate that character. There’s a lot of giggling and flurries of teenagers, and genuinely immature behavior that is written to be completely at odds with her sexual maturity. Lady Rochford looks on impatiently, seeming like an old matron compared to the fluttering and laughter. I love the moment when Catherine saunters off her throne in one of her first scenes without Henry, when she gathers her ladies around her and makes them all swear to “dress in the French fashion”. When Lady Rochford comes in, even Catherine quiets suddenly in front of the older woman, and then she remembers that she’s the Queen, and sashays over to collect her letter like a teenager on My Super Sweet Sixteen.

And then we meet the poor unfortunate Lord Culpepper, the silly boy who will end up being beheaded for treason: having sex with the new Queen. Whether before or after her marriage to Henry, I’m not sure history has ever proven. Here, he’s played by UBC alumni Torrance Coombs, who is previously known for playing John Doe on the CBC’s jPod. Apparently, John Doe has learned to turn up the smoulder a notch or two, because it’s extremely clear by the way he looks at Queen Catherine that he lusts after her, in a way that suggests he knows exactly what he’s lusting after. We can only imagine what terrible things will happen to him for lusting after the Queen – after all, the Tudors has already exaggerated much torture of Anne Boleyn’s lovers. But, just so we don’t feel TOO bad about poor Thomas Culpepper, he immediately goes out with his posse of boys, rapes a local woman in her own barnyard, and then kills her husband when he threatens to call the squire. Oh, Showtime, did you have to ruin John Doe’s innocence? At least he only has a few more episodes to go around raping and stabbing before he gets executed for nailing the Queen.

It’s also interesting watching Tamzin Merchant playing a seventeen year old meeting Henry’s children for the first time. Mary, of course, is less than amused at having a young girl as her stepmother. Elizabeth I, by contrast, is charmed. While Catherine is flustered at dealing with the austere and serious Mary, she is on better footing with the younger children, and is able to conduct herself with authority with Edward and Elizabeth. The latter, especially, by all accounts, was smart enough to play up to whoever was in her father’s favour at the time. The girl playing Elizabeth actually looks a bit like the paintings of the future queen, and conveys the brisk, serious manner of the character Alison Weir depicts in her Lady Elizabeth. I hope they continue to develop and bring out Elizabeth – it will be interesting to see how Showtime approaches the future queen (Hey, there’s a spinoff in the making!)

But Showtime is banking heavily on their almost underage Catherine this season to turn up the softcore factor. From the suggested lesbian teenage interlude with her friend (and subtle blackmailer Joan), to the end scene of the young queen dancing in the rain in a see-through gauze nightgown, there’s no question that Showtime wants us to understand the sexual thrall that Catherine holds Henry in, and the palpable tension she creates that makes it easy to see how the entire court understood his decision to marry a teenager. Whether they need to push it so far to convey her unsuitability as Queen to the television audience, I’m not sure. Yes, we get it – she gets in mud fights, and throws rose petals, and giggles and acts silly and uses sex like a child would use any other manipulative tool. Whether the real Catherine Howard was so childish and sexual, there’s no real way to tell. By all accounts, she was a good deal plumper, at least. Perhaps Showtime chose the slender Tamzin Merchant to convey a more childlike character – breasts and hips would convey a stupid woman, not a Lolita figure. But it’s more likely that they chose the actress to match an overly slender modern ideal of beauty, because the writing that defines her character as silly, vapid and childlike is heavy handed enough to make her seem more immature than any seventeen year old of that era had any right to be.

This season will cover a lot of the plot of the Boleyn Inheritance. Having read that book does make this season easier to understand. I wonder if it will continue past Henry’s death at all. It’s a shame this will likely be the last season of the Tudors – there could be at least a few more to be had out of the reigns of Mary and Elizabeth, and the wars with France and Spain they fought. I suppose those are being saved for made-for-TV movies…or Showtime feels they have already been covered by the movies with Cate Blanchett. For now though, I’m glad to have my historical smut back.