Over here at Trash Talk! we’re going to take a look at pop-culture through an artistic lens, more specifically exploring the dichotomy between high-art and low-art in movies, TV, comics, and video games. What’s fine cinema, and what’s trash? Sometimes the line may be thinner than you think.
We all knew those kids from school that wanted to sit front and center in class. If a question was asked, they had an answer, and they were always the first to hand in their homework. Were they teacher’s pets? Who cares, they might as well have been. Me, I always liked the back corner. Maybe it came from all those years in grade school being last in line (if you lined us up by last name alphabetically, or from smallest to tallest, I was usually at the end), but I’ve always liked being in the back. It gives me a clear view of everything that’s going on in front of me. Besides, the expectations are lower. Front row students are expected to be just that, at the head of the class. Meanwhile, when you sit in the back, and keep your thoughts to yourself until they’re forced out of you, you have more wiggle room to surprise the one handing out the grades.
I’ve found this can apply to media as well. I remember when I heard that they were making a TV show based on the Terminator movies. I couldn’t think of a dumber idea. TV shows based on films are rarely a good proposition, let alone a movie franchise that should have ended with its second installment. But when the show finally came out, I heard good things. Probably from sheer disbelief I decided to give it a try, and lo and behold I fell in love. I expected a cheap movie cash-in, what I got was a surprisingly intricate story of a future war fought in the past. Truth be told, if the show had been the knockoff I thought it was going to be it probably would have done better (and I probably wasn’t the only one that wanted to write it off initially, which couldn’t have helped). It was cancelled after its second season and I’m still sore about it (just check out my bio on this site).
For a more recent example, just look the CW’s Arrow. This was another show I didn’t have high hopes for. For one… Green Arrow. Not exactly one of my favorite characters growing up. Besides that, channels like FX and AMC have spoiled me to the point where I can hardly stand network TV. And if Arrow had aired on either of those stations (not that it would) it’d land like a lame duck. The CW hardly has as stellar a pedigree as the FX’s and the AMC’s of the world, but in Arrow’s case that only works in its favor.
Sure there’s the schmaltzy romances and of-the-moment pop band music cues that we’ve come to expect from C-dubs (that’s what the kids call it right? I desperately want to be hip and relevant), but there’s also a conflicted hero at its center. A true vigilante, Ollie (our protagonist, who still doesn’t have an official codename in-show) doesn’t have Batman’s no kill rule, and he’s already wracked up quite the body count, which hasn’t gone unnoticed by those who would call themselves his allies. Speaking of which, the show has also taken its time to flesh out the world around its title character, as he slowly builds up a network of allies, along with the growing number of enemies. This show isn’t a straight procedural (thank the heavens), and uses its serialization to add a surprising amount of depth to what is essentially a superhero beat-em-up. Oh, and a couple episodes back Ollie’s mom shot him as he stormed into her office (in full vigilante gear) and interrogated her. Yeah, the show’s willing to take risks. Not even done with its first season, the show is at a very different place than when it started, the status quo shifts frequently.
If I had been told that Arrow was the next revolution in televised narrative, I’d have been sorely disappointed. Instead I expected gratuitous shots of the lead’s abs, and a lot of lingering glances. There’s a fair amount of both, but it packs on enough solid story-telling to make it forgivable. It may not be gunning for the Breaking Bads or the Game of Thrones of the world, but it’s consistently entertaining and more daring than a host of its network brethren. It also trots out a fair amount of characters from the comics it hails from. So it knows its core audience. To go back to my class analogy, Arrow may look like a C or a D student, but its been pumping out solid B’s, with even the occasional A.
Its important to give the underdogs a chance, because they have no where to go but up, and they just might surprise you. Forrest Gump may have beat Pulp Fiction for the Best Picture Oscar in ‘94, but which one is still relevant to the conversation of cinema? People hailed Avatar as film revolution, but if you’ve seen Duncan Jones’ Moon (also released in 2009) you know James Cameron’s billion-dollar Pocahontas pales in comparison to Moon’s modestly budgeted subtle intricacy. Dredd bombed at the box-office last year, but is by far one of the best comic book movie’s I’ve ever seen (Avengers can suck it). And of all the new shows I checked out this year, Arrow is the only one I’m still watching. So, if you’ve written off Arrow, I challenge you to give it a try (it hits screens again this Wednesday).
Agree, disagree, or other? Please comment below and let me know your thoughts! Also, you guys can now follow me on Twitter and Instagram, @djtalkstrash. Do that, and I’ll reward you with pithy banter of 140 characters or less. That’s a bargain!