Saturday, November 30, 2019

Howie Balaban: Pop Culture As a Way of Life

If you’re at all active in social media – and by active, I mean you have an account on any of the platforms – chances are you’ve seen a meme, a gif, or noticed how there has been a trend in recent years of a significantly decreased “grey area” on a number of subjects. Among those subjects are tv shows, movies, the people cast in those forms of entertainment, how to watch those forms of entertainment, and politics.
For the sake of all our sanity, I’m NOT talking politics here.

Instead, I’d like to talk about pop culture and how much of it we consume and enjoy or, if you’re a cynic, how much you consume and complain about. Or, perhaps you fall into the category that complains about the stuff other people complain about despite not having watched or read such stuff on your own. Plenty of people do make up that last category, and there are occasions when their pomposity shows through in their comments. Reading through their flowery words, though, it also becomes pretty easy to tell that many in this category are either misinformed, uninformed, or have missed the point entirely.

Since I last graced this space, one of the consuming platforms added to my household was Disney+. Yeah, we took the leap. 
As a living example of how great nostalgia can be, I stayed up late the first night we had it and watched a cartoon that I hadn’t viewed with any regularity since high school: Gargoyles. After the streaming service rolled out, I noticed how many people were taking to Twitter to complain about their issues with it. However, I also noticed that there were also a number of nostalgic folks in the ether who didn’t care about having to deal with typical roll-out glitches. They chose to see the beauty in having almost all of their childhood available at the touch of a button.
I also noticed a hashtag that begged viewers to “keep binging Gargoyles” in the hopes it would lead to a reboot or revival of the series. I clicked on that to see what others were saying about the show.
Some were watching it for the first time, and were absolutely loving it. Others were simply reliving it.
Some went so far as to recommend none other than The Rock as a live action version of Goliath (the main character in Gargoyles), and while a few “liked” the suggestion, I disagreed (politely). If you’ve seen the show, you know The Rock can’t be Goliath, especially since the original voice of Goliath is still around and vibrant enough to do it. That said, The Rock would make a perfect Broadway. Tom Holland – the current Spiderman – would be great as Lexington. Graham McTavish is ideal for Hudson. And The Flash’s Candice Patton seems a great fit in the role of Elisa Mazza. (I know, I know. I spent too much time – all of 5 minutes – thinking of this, and I still couldn’t come up with a good actor for Brooklyn.)
The point of that trip down the nostalgic rabbit hole was to show how easy it is to possibly start an online argument about pop culture. If someone were to disagree with my ideas, they could either say so, or they could call me every name in the book because my choices were not their choices. 
Thankfully, none of that happened. It seemed people were just happy to have an old favorite available to watch.
The pop culture rabbit hole, though, is deep on Disney+. One need only watch the first episode of The Mandalorian to see how deep.
As the first episodic show on the streaming platform, the Star Wars universe story had a lot to live up to in terms of both story and design. It also had a fandom that has become simultaneously the best and worst group of people who have ever followed anything. 
At first, I had not considered watching The Mandalorian. When I noticed it was released weekly rather than in a binge-esque batch of episodes, I realized I could give it a shot. Going on a show binge is time consuming and having done so a few times, I find it less satisfying than watching a weekly show. (I’m probably in the minority on that.) Watching The Mandalorian proved – to me – that my feelings were justified once the big bounty was revealed in the first episode. (I won’t spoil it for you in case you’re fortunate enough to have not had it spoiled yet.) When it ended, I was able to carry on with the rest of my day while wondering how the story would continue when the next installment dropped. As of this writing, there have been two ensuing episodes and each one has built upon the last, but there are still questions.
They are questions people will eventually get answers to, and perhaps right in time for next month’s big movie event. Talk about synergy, right?
Meanwhile, on broadcast TV, the CW channel has now managed to reach a point with its superhero batch of shows that I’m sure leaves even a few Marvel studio folks jealous. Yes, the culmination of the Avengers movies happened earlier this year with Endgame taking theaters by storm. The amount of time one would have had to devote to every movie since Iron Man kicked off the Marvel Cinematic Universe back in 2008 is, in a post-Endgame world approximately 50 hours. By comparison, the world building payoff that is happening in about two weeks on the CW is happening after roughly 250 hours of TV since Arrow premiered in 2012. 
The “Arrowverse” as it has come to be known includes Arrow, The Flash,, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow, and this year’s new addition, Batwoman.
Looking back, I was hesitant to jump onto this bandwagon with other fans because, honestly, the Arrow character didn’t interest me. In fact, it wasn’t until he was introduced on the Smallville series that I even knew he was a superhero. For me, I entered the fray with The Flash, which seemed much more upbeat in tone and style. When I learned how The Flash was introduced in an episode of Arrow, I realized that there was plenty of crossover potential. And the CW didn’t disappoint.
Eventually, when Supergirl premiered, since it was on a different network (and struggled by comparison on said network), I watched with the hope that it would eventually switch networks. It did. And in its first season, The Flash crossed over not only shows, but networks, when he visited Supergirl’s earth. 
A season later, Supergirl and Legends of Tomorrow joined the CW lineup and the Arrowverse had four shows sharing the same universe. Since I’m more of a casual fan of the comic source material, I enjoyed spending free time seeing what crossover possibilities there were each season. And each season the shows have built upon the prior ones with their story lines. This season, though, is the payoff many didn’t realize was happening so soon.
The Crisis on Infinite Earths story line, which has been teased since the first episode of The Flash five years ago, is fast approaching. And not only is it going to mesh all five current shows, it is bringing in so many other actors and actresses from prior DC shows and movies that fans are mostly excited. (Like anything, there are a few exceptions. I’m sure someone somewhere is thinking, “Ugh. More superhero team-ups? This is silly.” I ignore those people.)
Among the actors being brought on board for the this crazy event are Burt Ward, who played Robin in the 1960s, Kevin Conroy, who voiced Batman in the 1990s animated series, Tom Welling, who was Smallville’s Clark Kent, and John Wesley Shipp, who was the lead in the 1990s version of The Flash. 
Brandon Routh, who is a current actor on Legends of Tomorrow, is reprising his role as Superman from the 2006 movie Superman Returns (a continuation of the Christopher Reeve storyline). Erica Durance, who was Lois Lane in Smallville, is also back. Durance, though, is also the actress who plays Supergirl’s mother on the current show of the same name, so with both her and Routh playing different characters, I’m really curious how they’ll respond if they “see” each other.
Also back is Ashley Scott, who played Huntress in the shortlived series Birds of Prey. Meanwhile, one of her fellow castmates from that show, Rachel Skarsten, is currently the villain on Batwoman. 
In other words, lots of possibilities for lots of fun viewing starting December 8.
So, with the holiday season officially kicking into full gear this week, there will be a chance for us or our kids to sit back and enjoy some fun viewing experiences, either by binging something or watching a few shows on a DVR. 
Watch what you want, and if you decide you want to see what someone else thinks about it, go for it.
Just understand there will be some out there who will insist on trying to rain on your parade. Don’t let them. 
Happy viewing!

Howie Balaban wishes he looked as cool as the Mandalorian…but he knows he’s about as imposing as his bounty in the first episode, and he’s ok with that.