What I’m Not Watching This Month

Just for a change, let’s talk about what not to watch on the streamers and nets these days – and haven’t been for weeks.

This is the downside of “peak TV,” a period of content glut that may be behind us now, since the drought of the writer’s and actors’ strikes have left us with pretty slim pickin’s compared to the recent past, and a whole lot of stuff from Korea – have you noticed that?

Still … we’re getting a wave of stuff from literally all the corners of the world, because these subscirber services, like Netflix and Apple and Paramount and Hulu, have to keep us coming back for more, have to stop us from canceling that $12 or $14 or $19.99 monthly charge with just one more thing.

But inevitably, unavoidably, a lot of what they sling at us is just mediocre… and some of it is even not worth watching from the very outset. Not Rebel Moon bad, maybe, but definitely not worth the time.

So! Here are three examples of recent offerings where I couldn’t get past the first few minutes. I would put them at the top of my “Not Worth Watching” list – heh, maybe I should do a newsletter with that name, all the shit you should avoid wasting your time on – and a couple of sentences on why not.

Zorro on Amazon Prime. Now even though I remember the original-ish Zorro from when I was a kid in the Fifties – a black-and-white Disney series starring Guy Madison from before his Lost in Space days – yeah, I‘m that old. But I also know that Zorro was created by an intensely white guy named Johnston McCulley wayyy back in 1901 – yeah, nearly 125 years ago – for a pulp magazine called All-Story Weekly, and he – like a lot of other characters that McCulley created – where among the very first masked vigilante characters, predating Batman and the Shadow by a couple of decades. Looking back now, the Zorro series was painfully stereotypical – not racist, in that the hero was a Latino – Don Diego de la Vega! — but the show was just littered with racial caricatures – like the lazy Sergeant, the drunk Indian, the over-sexed femme fatale. And this new version, produced down in Mexico, somehow manages to repeat many of those embarrassing mistakes in just the first few minutes.

Maybe it’s partly that I – all of us – have gotten spoiled by the great combat choreography of the twenty-first century. I’m serious: the sword fights, the fist fights, the gun battles in even the lowest-rated series and moves are so good compared to what I grew up on – hey, watching the fight scenes in the original Star Trek series, with Kirk’s patented double-fist-on-the-back-of-the-neck move is just painful to watch today, in more ways that one, And really, when you get underneath it, all the attempted revivals of Zorro, even with people like Antonio Banderas and Catherine Zeta Jones, have to work very hard to keep this from looking… well, silly, even compared to the masked vigilante stuff from other sources. And this new version manages to recreate all the worst errors right away. You have the big dumb Mexican soldier getting jumped in one of the first scene. You have a bunch of inept soldiers plinking at innocents with their one-shot pistols – which seem, remarkably, to have extra bullets or balls or whatever? — but when Zorro comes riding in and stops long enough to make his horse buck and look heroic, they don’t unload every weapon they have into him. Nah.. they throw the aside for a sword fight … and if that wasn’t bad enough, it is the slowest, dumbest sword fight I’ve seen in years, where each of the half a dozen guys that attack him politely wait until the guy ahead of him gets bested before he jumps in, and where Zorro gets four swords pointed and him and he just swooshes through them with one very verrrry slowwwww sweeeep, and … *sigh* … never mind. That was as far as I got. Between the ignominious history of the character in this very bad intro .. I was out. And you should be, too.

Hazbin Hotel, also on Amazon Prime. Look: I love musicals. C’maan, I was a theater kid, I ate those things up in high school and college. Hell, I just watched the trailer for the upcoming movie version of Wicked with the awesome Cynthia Erivo and Ariana Grande and I am all over that. But I’m also kind of critical. And as much as I love the musical episodes of everything from Buffy to Strange New Worlds, I am picky about my weekly music shows. The first season of Schmigadoon, and the second to a lesser degree, were great. The last great animated one I remember is the underappreciated Central Park, on Apple Plus with voices of people like Josh Gad and Titus Burgess and Katherine Hahn… and really great songs and dance numbers, week after week. I mean, yeah, not as good at the closing credit on any given episode of Bob’s Burgers, but still …

And I can’t say Hazbin Hotel does try. It does. The production quality is fine, though not awesome. It’s just that it’s all kind of … forced – the jokes and the songs and the character work. Very ‘been there done that’ in a lot of ways. I made it through most of the first episode and then suddenly realized I much I missed Central Park, so I went back to Apple and watched of few episode of that, and … sure enough, I was right. If you like your musicals short and hilarious, go to Central Park but don’t stay at the Hazbin Hotel.

And finally for this week’s wreckage..

Squid Game: the Challenge, on Netflix. Now I admit it, I was late in coming to Squid Game. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming – just a little! — into what I thought was another inept ‘metaphorical world’ like Hunger Games or Divergent or a whole lot of terrible movies about people waking up locked in mazes or cubes or dungeons and trying to get out. Yeesh. And yes, when I finally dove in to Squid Game, I was at first astonished and later pleasantly surprised at all that was going on there, all it had to say… and I’m actually looking forward to the second season later this year. BUT … Squid Game: The Challenge? No no no no no …

Do you remember about, six months ago when Netflix foistd this thing called Zombievese on us? A kind of reality/game show that half-pretended to be in the zombie apocalypse? Oh, we trashed the hell of out this show over on our twisted sister website, Zombie World … because at its very core, at the basic premise… it just couldn’t work. Real people in a ‘real zombie apocalypse? Sure … except in any, any zombie world you have to be able to kill the zombies .. .and you have to see innocent people killed. Otherwise, it’s just a dumb show, with the emphasis on the dumb. All the real stakes, all the real fun, in a weird way, is drained out of it if you know that no one’s really going to get hurt. I mean, I’d rather watch The Floor is Lava, where you know it’s fake, rather than getting up to the edge with slow zombies all around, grabbing at you, and then just… shoving them away. Running. Watching them fall down. And nobody getting bitten and turned into a walker.

A waste of time.

And that’s exactly the same problem with Squid Game: The Challenge. In the original series, there is a genuine sense of shock, of horror, when the participants play that horrible red-light-green-light game, and if they move they get shot down. Not ‘eliminated,’ not escorted out of the arena. Shot. Dead. And the whole nature of the game and the drama changed in that moment of horrified realization. The stakes went way up. But in The Challenge? No. They play the game and people get shot .. with blood squibs, with little paint-balls, and then fall down and just play dead. Badly. There are cushions under the untempered glass to fall on. They are escorted from the arena, non-dead. So … what is the point? We’ve already got a ton of game shows with risky physical challenges – everything from American Ninja Warrior to the beloved aforementioned The Floor is Lava. Doing a bad version of Zombieverse in Squid Game drag? Waste of time. Not an ounce of drama or good humor here. Skip it.

So there you go: three misses you can easily avoid. You’re welcome. And in the meantime, plenty of good stuff you can watch. If you want good sword fights, skip Zorro but go watch … oh, I don’t know, The Witcher, or Dungeons and Dragons: Honor Among Thieves – that was really good! — or even the beloved Princess Bride. If you want short, smart musicals, visit Schmigadoon or Central Park. And if you want bizarre game shows … oh, God, the list is too long, but I’d probably seek out one of the non-American versions of The Traitors and just enjoy the hell out of it.

Because let’s face it: there is way too much good television out there these days to waste your time with anything less. Like any of the aforementioned junk.

Comments? Leave ’em here…

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