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Not Ready for Prime Time

It’s hard to entertain an audience when you go out of your way to insult half of them.

It’s been said that we’re in a Golden Age for television, and with all of the offerings out there—and even more on the horizon, thanks to new streaming services soon to come from Disney, Warner Brothers and Apple—it’s easy to see why. As opposed to movies, which have long since descended into the sameness of superheroes, sequels and reboots of well-established properties, TV has gone in the opposite direction, creating shows that run the gamut from big crowd pleasers to niche programming, presenting audiences with the kind of serialized complex storytelling that you can only get from a multi-episode series.

Which makes it an even bigger shame when you check out a new series that looks like it could be interesting, only to find out that the show’s creators seem to be going out of their way to alienate a good chunk of the potential audience. Yes, I’m talking about the Big Political Stick—which, considering that this is Hollywood we’re talking about, swings most firmly from the left as it aims to beat you upside the head.

The latest cases in point are a couple of Amazon Prime shows that recently debuted. One, The Boys, is based on a comic book series of the same name and is a deconstruction of the whole superhero genre. The other, Carnival Row, is a dark fantasy set in an alternate universe in which faeries and other mythical creatures are real—kind of like a Victorian-era version of JRR Tolkien. Both series boast incredible production values and first-rate talent, and so it’s obvious that Amazon Studios spared no expense bringing them to life. Unfortunately, the same care didn’t go into keeping the showrunners from extending the middle finger to anyone and everyone who doesn’t happen to share their politics.

Of the two, I’m most disappointed in The Boys, because it comes from Eric Kripke—who also created Supernatural, a show that I’ve really enjoyed over most of its decade-long run. The concept is also intriguing: What if superheroes were real, but they were also egotistical jerks? In the hands of a smart writer like Kripke, the possibilities seemed endless. Unfortunately, what we end up with is a pile of nihilism in which one of the chief protagonists—played by an admittedly stellar Karl Urban—is every bit the amoral monster that the worst of the supers is. Now don’t get me wrong. I can get behind the whole idea of the flawed anti-hero—but there has to be at least some redeeming characteristic, so that the character isn’t a complete scumbag. As the series goes on, though, by the time we get to the last episode (SPOILER ALERT) he’s beaten a helpless guy to death and, as near as I can tell, blown up an infant after strapping an explosive vest to its mother.

Gee, Mister Kripke. How exactly am I supposed to feel about this?

But that ain’t all. The show takes a rather bizarre detour in the middle, devoting an entire episode to bashing Christians as a backward, hypocritical lot who are easily duped and can’t think for themselves. Just in case that little twist isn’t obvious enough, one of the supers who goes by the name Ezekiel is a closeted gay man with stretchy powers who headlines a touring revival that is also a front for running dangerous and illegal drugs. And naturally, one of the few good-hearted supers—who happened to be raised in a Christian household—ends up refuting her faith in the end, basically telling everyone that the Bible is hopelessly out of date and it’s pretty much up to everybody to figure this whole path to salvation on their own. That whole Jesus thing? Meh, not so much.

This isn’t to say that I demand all entertainment affirm the tenets of my own personal faith—but it would be nice if a show’s writers didn’t make a special effort to dump all over it, either. Besides, it’s not like any of this stuff even did anything to advance the actual story. Every last bit was simply gratuitous—the same place that gave us Harvey Weinstein lecturing us rubes on what morality really should be. That Christians need not apply seems to be the only point here.

So why even bother? Funny, as I asked myself that very same question after watching The Boys. So much for tuning in for the second season.

Which brings me to Carnival Row. It also looked promising—except that by the end of only the first episode, I’d been paddled by the Board of Wokeness so hard that I got flashbacks to sixth grade when Sister Kevin O’Donavan dealt out some equally rough justice with her ruler. Except that instead of beating kids for playing the pip, as she called it, the creators of Carnival Row turned their show into a ham-handed allegory about immigration.

I won’t bore you with the details—but suffice it to say, you know all the ugly, bigoted people on the show are ugly and bigoted by the way they rail against the faerie creatures for bringing their strange ways with them and displacing all the good, honest hardworking people—who also all happen to be white—out of their own neighborhoods and towns. The whole thing played so much like an MSNBC caricature of a Trump rally that I was shocked that the show’s rabble rousers weren’t all wearing red hats. Pro tip for Carnival Row’s writers: It’s no longer subtext when it leaps off the screen and slaps the audience across the face. Immigrants = Good. Borders = Bad. We get it already.

Of course, this has the effect of taking a complex issue, replete with tough questions and even tougher tradeoffs, and reducing it to a pedantic series of talking points—but who cares about drama when there’s woke scolding to be done? Perhaps there’s some hope that things will become less tiresome over the course of the remaining episodes, but the show’s creators have so squandered my good will that I no longer care to find out. As dark fantasy goes, suffering through Highlander 2: The Quickening again would be preferable to this.

Perhaps I’ll just let Weird Al take it from here.

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