02/25/2021 – You Are the Product, You Feeling Discomfort

Irene III, a Steven Seagal Problem, and a tribute to NCIS: New Orleans

In the inarguable blog post for With Eyes East — a feature I’m hoping will equate to semiregular content on this, you know, blog site — I got some problems. Number one being the sexual confusion I experience while watching Steven Seagal movies, but that’ll be our last item because it’s horrifying. First, and only appropriately so, Irene’s movie Double Patty came out (at the domestic box office), and no, netizens are not over “the Irene thing.” Via email alert, I was greeted by this happy headline the other day: “K-pop idols, such as Red Velvet’s Irene, are bombing at the box office as they seek big film careers,” over on the South China Morning Post (or Korea Times?). The article cites a number of idols trying their hands at acting, apparently poorly, but I only recognize Irene here, and as previous posts on this site have well-established, on this I get a little touchy.

The articlist provides a theory to the bombing: “Unlike television series that are able to respond to viewer feedback as they are shot using Korea’s ‘live-shoot’ system, movies can only be evaluated once production is completed.” Yeah, except people also gave Joy shit for her acting in K-dramas. I just think, instead of an article like this, maybe we understand that the world remains in a state of anti-movie theater pandemic precaution? Irene’s movie bombed, yes, but I think the bigger picture is it was a film released in February 2021. Of course, this is what being a fan is, but for me, there’s a different standard for specifically Korean idols. Theoretically, people’s health and wellbeing is of paramount concern in anything, and at the moment, I’m concerned about Irene. It was Seulgi and Wendy’s birthdays recently, and Irene hasn’t been seen or mentioned. It’s essentially Red Velvet without Irene, as if they’re subtly focus-testing Seulgi as leader (no, no, no, let her remain a free butterfly). Maybe I’m reading the situation wrong, but hopefully you can at least understand why.

Onto our next item, let’s extricate from the horrible Eastern world and go south — New Orleans. Now, I’ve been adamant that television stop producing police procedurals since shortly after I started my current job in which I view many, many network police procedurals. A couple FOX shows, but basically everything CBS has to offer, Blue Bloods included. While Blue Bloods is obviously the worst (despite a surprisingly decent turn with the recent season toward the political center from far right), and SEAL Team is the second worst, disqualified only for being about soldiers instead of cops, it’s the NCIS franchise that kills me the most. It’s not that they’re gross like Blue Bloods (though Los Angeles kind of is), but they’re extremely boring. I guess their one twist on the formula is “mundanity,” so we watch these characters sit around an office and talk about their daughter’s recital or a joke they read in the paper. And then they visit a crime scene. Later there’s sort of a gunfight. Then it’s back to the office? Also, they fly onto the scene and constantly shout “NCIS!” as if that means something to anyone apart from the people who bombed the USS Cole.

NCIS is bad, but NCIS: Los Angeles is terra-bad, and it’s mostly down to the characters. We have the two leads, white guy and LL Cool J, who have no discerning characteristics other than they’re snippy. You have the it couple in the office, the woman who co-hosts The Greatest Super Bowl Commercials and the seeming love interest from The Thing remake who actually gets killed halfway through, I guess because Joel Edgerton was there, but Joel also gets killed, spoiler. They’re the worst. Their banter is identically as bad as white guy and LL Cool J’s, but it tends to be punctuated by more terms of endearment. Five years ago, if white guy and LL Cool J were calling each other “Honey,” it’d be a funny not-gay thing. I mean, that’s what this show would totally do were it acceptable to the eight-million CBS viewers (hint: it is). Then there’s the two nerdy bastards, white guy with glasses and white girl. For a show called NCIS: Los Angeles, it’s the whitest. In NCIS, the characters are “uninteresting,” but in Los Angeles, they’re actively bad. Irritable and short with each other, constantly shouting “NCIS!”

The original NCIS does this awful thing where characters are cutely awkward around one another. Like, the resident nerdy bastard Jimmy starts babbling about some nerdy shit and realizes the hard-ass Gibbs wasn’t asking about that and so starts stammering in apology. Hilarious, but they do this literally once an episode, once per character. Then we have the third of the NCISs, NCIS: New Orleans. Originally, I thought this was the worst of the three, but mostly because it featured the guy from The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, whose overacting was only matched by the underacting of the two leads on the now-canceled Hawaii Five-O remake. Those two fucks were stoned the entire multi-year shoot. I’ve never seen lazier acting this side of David Boreanaz on SEAL Team. You’re getting all these references, right? Over time, and by “time” I guess I mean “seven seasons,” holy shit, the New Orleans cast began to shift upward.

Instead of the one-note hardass Gibbs or the nothingness of white guy on LA, leading the New Orleans team is Scott Bakula, who doubles as a bartender and then also doubles as a jazz musician. This is the kind of show this is, but that’s already twice as much character as any I’ve described thus far. I appreciate his earnestness and curious demeanor. Because New Orleans actually takes place in a place (post-Katrina New Orleans), Bakula’s always got a sense of the community, always wants to lend a hand. That’s nice. A couple seasons back, Vanessa Ferlito was added to the cast, and while she doesn’t necessarily add “color,” only playing a Mexican on television, she fills out the “tough girl” quotient not otherwise attended to by CCH Pounder. In this case, Pounder is the medical examiner. I’d be fine with that, but their next cast addition was Necar Zadegan, cool-cucumber Iranian-American actress who faffed about with an exotic accent on 24 once upon a time (as did Ferlito). She’s another tough girl, in a franchise that hates doubling down (two Black guys in LA? Not until 2021), but she adds authority, as a more experienced director-type who actually ran the office while Bakula was out between seasons. And she’s also a divorcee with a daughter — there were shades there (and maybe some recitals).

The most interesting development comes with the most recent and now final season, around the time all procedurals struggled with their subject matter in the wake of the worldwide BLM demonstrations last summer. American sensitivity ticked up one sensotron, and the response was a spectrum. A show like SWAT, with the rare Black lead, tackled things head-on, but tends to lean left regardless (notably, an episode was directed by Lexi Alexander, and its cast is a silly rainbow coalition — like, there’s an Asian guy over there being Asian). Blue Bloods, again surprisingly, dramatized a social worker patrolling with cops, and dealing with mental health crises around totalitarian New York. NCIS: Los Angeles has the new Black kid question what he’s doing before doing it. Comes up short. New Orleans went all-in, plotting out a multi-episode arc about corrupt cops which had Necar and the team outlining the basics of systemic racism — a little cringey, but necessary, I think. In the end, Bakula’s visited by the female Black mayor, who recruits him for a special committee put together to recommend reforms, like cash bail. She wants to rebuild the broken city, and this utopian storyline should’ve signaled to me the end.

Bakula for a fourth of the episode will sit around a conference table with other thinkers, and they discuss important problems and how to potentially address them. Holy shit. It’s not exactly Bunny Colvin, but it’s the network TV version of these kinds of stories, and that’s good enough. It’s great, in fact, considering what its NCIS brethren usually gets up to each week. And now it’s gone, just as it was becoming something more. Could they have sustained that storyline? I don’t know. But the fact it even happened suggests clearer minds behind the scenes. Let’s hope they, and Necar, land safely for the next job. A non-police procedural sort of job. I don’t know that I would’ve watched NCIS: New Orleans on TV, but I would’ve watched Ransom, and that got canceled, too. When I said, “Cancel police procedurals,” this is a start, I guess, but I have a feeling you’re not gonna follow through.

Okay, and now we’ve arrived at lucky number three. If you aren’t mad at me for defending a probably bad Irene performance I haven’t seen and subsequently trashing on American actors (it’s okay — I legitimately hate these people), then buckle up, kiddo. Over on Questions: We Don’t Have Answers, Donovan and I did a commentary for Steven Seagal picture The Glimmer Man, and we talked about how he was the last American action hero because he ruined it. Both of us are simply fascinated by the man, and we’re hardly unique there. For Donovan, watching the newest Seagal is a tradition he shares with his brother, and truly, watching him kick that country music guy out the window 12 times in a row is a gift best enjoyed in the company of others. For myself, it’s no good. It’s no good.

If you end up listening to the episode, there’s some missing context, an allusion made that goes nowhere. I mention that my interest in action movies is based on “power,” and even dominance. I realized not long ago that when I watch action movies, I subconsciously substitute the inevitable male lead with a theoretical actress. “That would be a cool move for Julie Estelle to do.” This has been going on my whole life and I didn’t really notice. And as a few wayward commentators have suspected, re: the Julie Estelle video, it’s kind of a sexual thing. Steven Seagal is a grotesque blowhard, but there’s something very appealing about his cinema violence. The fights are so uneven, entirely about physical domination — even humiliation. He may look silly flailing about, but it’s the way he reduces people to broken, screaming, smaller versions of themselves. And this is it: what Steven Seagal does to people here is what I want Julie Estelle to do to me. Or to anyone in movies, but you know. I’m not in movies. And yes, I’m certainly uncomfortable with how close that puts me to attraction to Steven Seagal. Now you know this and have to live with it forever.

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