The Trouble With Tokens

December 14, 2014 Movie / TV, Opinion, Reviews 20

ABC TV logo next to FOX TV logoMuch of my tweet stream has been annoyed with a male author attempting to redefine the erotic romance genre in his own image. To that I say whatever – when money appears there is always a white guy with an entitlement vacuum right behind it. Nowhere is this more obvious than the land of television. Many of us at LITM have been strong supporters of the show Sleepy Hollow. I have also been pushing Nashville and Agents of Shield. With the mid-season finales having aired, let’s discuss how the entitlement vacuum works.

Sleepy Hollow

Why We Loved It: A badass black female lead with a multicultural cast behind her, Sleepy Hollow was about The Chosen One being a black girl. Abbie Mills had a father figure, multiple love interests, a hot career and a complicated family background. Having played the respectability game until she left everyone behind, Abbie discovers that the system is stacked against her. Ichabod Crane is hurtled forward in time to partner with her in saving humanity. Nicole Beharie’s stunning beauty and formidable talent made Sleepy Hollow a must watch show. Abbie was the center of the show and Ichabod was the sidekick. Brilliantly cast, well written, everything about Sleepy Hollow made for epic television.

What Went Wrong: The show was a hit. Where the money flows, the whitening follows. Suddenly we had Hawley (ok, he’s kind of cool, but we didn’t need a second black market contact, we had Jenny Mills.) Instead of multiple love interests for Abby we had Corbin’s son hating her, Hawley setting the sisters up and all the Cranes. So many Cranes. Cranes as far as the eye could see. Katrina became the show’s focus, to the detriment of both the mission and viewer desires. The Headless Horseman was transformed from a figure of terror into a pouting blonde boyfriend. Captain Irving disappeared and may be dead. Redheads in corsets, white men whining, Daddy issues for days (Abbie and Jenny Mills don’t get a father at all, what with both their father figures gone) and three dead lovers for Ichabod. Ichabod inexplicably becomes the leader, Abby is reduced to an exasperated sidekick, and the show morphs into a vaguely Supernatural mess. Each week brings greater disappointments.

Where We’re Going: Nowhere. This is a dysfunctional relationship we’ll cling to until we can’t take the pain a second longer. Jenny and Abbie Mills deserved so much better, and so did we. Sleepy Hollow threw away greatness.


Why We Loved It: Let’s be honest, this show is a campy carnival about the whitest music genre in the world. We loved it’s super soapy vibe and the Power Coupling of Avery and Juliette. Will, a straight out of the 80’s Afterschool Special, was a nod to modern times as the closeted gay cowboy. Things went wrong for Nashville the minute they tried for relevance.

What Went Wrong: It’s like Nashville never heard of K.D. Lang. There have been at least half a dozen country stars to come out of the closet in her wake, making Will’s bathroom hookups, beat-downs and cover marriage seem even less likely. Black characters have fared no better. An early black lead (the highly principled Coleman) is disgraced and gone. Recent additions included Magical Homeless Negro Terry who exists solely to show how some people just can’t be helped. Having inspired Scarlett rediscover her self confidence and blazing talent, we’ve probably seen the last of him. Scarlett’s best friend Zoey served as a human punching bag. First accused of stealing Scarlett’s man (one she’d kicked to the curb) then Juliette’s career (after she collapsed mid-song) and finally Gunnar’s dream of a family (for wanting to pursue her career) Zoey is seen leaving for L.A., where black girls apparently belong. As a final blow, the talent scout Zoey so desperately wanted to impress says Scarlett is a better fit for Zoey’s band than Zoey was. Little blonde angels stay winning.

Where We’re Going: Nowhere. We have such low expectations for Nashville that as long as Avery hangs out, so will we. Nashville puts the guilt in guilty pleasure.

Agents of Shield

Why We Loved It: Coulson and May. As a man with ethics in an unethical business and the woman devoted first to him and then the organization, Agents of Shield carried us through some rough times while it found it’s footing. Another largely white show, Agents of Shield makes you care about characters it has no intention of keeping. In the pilot there was a bait and switch when we met the half-Chinese heroine Skye (so saintly she makes her own eyes roll) and the black single father Mike. We wanted them to save Mike, but it was Skye who became the show’s focus. What started as a very weak show picked up steam with the revelation of Hydra.

What Went Wrong: Bringing in new characters was a smart move, but Agents of Shield has a rigid One Black Guy At A Time rule. First Mike – a mutant – was turned into a terrifying machine that harms his friends on command. Mike can never return to his son and is off the show, at least for now. Next came Tripp. Tripp is a legacy Shield agent and a potential love interest for more than one of the female leads. He dies trying to save Saint Skye because the show recently added Mack. (Please see the One Black Guy At A Time rule.) Mack was turned into a terrifying machine that… well, you know. He appears to be on the show for now but he’s a love interest for no one and it’s been strongly hinted he plans to betray everyone. If he was a white guy he could be Ward, who has tried to kill everyone, betrayed the team, permanently altered at least one of them, murdered his brother and kidnapped Skye more than once. Ward remains as a sympathetic core character and love interest to Skye, even if May has kicked him to the curb. The show has four to six white guys at any given time so Ward isn’t going anywhere. While Shield has May, Skye and Mack, Hydra is looking pretty white except for Reina – the untrustworthy street girl with a heart of self interest. I love Reina for her refusal to put anyone’s survival above her own. Hail Hydra.

Where We’re Going: Agent Carter is starting soon. It’s allegedly got more than one minority character and a female lead in a period drama. It could be worth watching. We’ll find out. In the meantime, I’ll likely come back to Agents of Shield for Coulson, May and Reina but the DVR stacks up three or four episodes before I bother to watch. Not a good sign.

Once Upon A Time

Why We Loved It: The show started weak but clever casting and the promise of more kept us tuning in.

What Went Wrong: Any character with a bisexual or gay slant is out. Characters of color are evil or unimportant or put in place to stop the heroine (Regina) from her happy ending. Regina is a genocidal sociopath, but hey. That’s the deal with OUAT –  on this show everyone is a good guy. Stack as many bodies behind you as you like, you can still cry in your coffee about love. Once Upon a Time went extra pale with a Frozen parade this season, hammering home again and again that no family is too dysfunctional or murderous to try and save. Love means never having to say “I won’t kill you.”

Where We’re Going: After barely hanging on through the mess that was Oz and being bitterly disappointed by Pan it’s evident that Frozen has shut the last ember of interest we had down. We’ve been watching for Hook, a romantic lead to rule them all, but given the arrival of Cruella and Ursula it’s time to go. Good luck, OUAT fans, we’ll be thinking of you. Let us know when Gold finally beats Belle to death. (It’ll be okay, I’m sure he’ll feel really bad about it.)

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Meoskop's first non-compulsory book review was in 1973. Although a hit with the 3rd grade, concerns raised by the administration necessitated an extended hiatus. Reviews resumed in 1985 but the concerns are ongoing.

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20 Responses to “The Trouble With Tokens”

  1. Seressia Glass

    Yes, yes and more fucking YES. And the tone deafness of exec producer Goofman on Sleepy Hollow is breathtaking. I’m going to watch the second half, but if it’s more Crane Family Drama Hour (which Goofman has assured us it will be) I probably won’t make it to the season finale, which will more than likely be a series finale.

  2. Roslyn Holcomb

    After the fuckery that is Person of Interest, nothing, but nothing surprises me anymore. I knew there was no way Abbie would be the lead on SH. Katrina’s only purpose is to keep a black woman from being the lead. They have a similar character on Grimm. I guess redheads keep these white dudebros dicks hard or something. I have no idea what the problem is, but I won’t watch another show with another redheaded woman on it.

  3. lawless

    Coincidentally, I complained about the deaths of characters of color on network TV on my LiveJournal recently. If anyone wants to comment, please note that if I remember correctly, I have anonymous commenting enabled but screened, meaning any such comments won’t be visible until I unscreen them. If you do comment, using the name by which you’re known here would be helpful but is not required.

    @Roslyn Holcomb: I share your frustration with PoI (see above); I’ve avoided the fuckery with Sleepy Hollow because too many of the first season episodes I saw bored me for reasons having nothing to do with the characters. (More than a few seconds of camera time spent focusing on a pentagram or some other mystical/witchy symbol or event hits my “impatient with things that don’t advance the narrative” button pretty hard.)

    But what is your problem with redheads and what does that have to do with racism in media? There is no redhead in Grimm. If you’re talking about Juliette, she’s a brunette with red highlights (which I was back in the day too despite being a PoC), she’s at least part Hispanic, and there is no black woman on that show to be kept from being the lead. I don’t even remember Katrina on Sleepy Hollow being a redhead.

  4. Meoskop

    @lawless: Katrina goes redder as the show progressed – beside your point, I know. I’ve been meaning to try Blackish – picked up Jane The Virgin in it’s place but dropping OUAT gives me DVR room. Brooklyn I hear great things about – loved Andre B in Apt 23. Just couldn’t get into it. Didn’t like either of the first two episodes. Anyway, great post – will comment on Lj later.

  5. Roslyn Holcomb

    katrina is so redheaded she’s almost fluorescent and Juliette is definitely a redhead. It’s not the redheads themselves it’s that the writers seem to have done to redheads what they used to do to blondes. They put them in as eyecandy and do nothing else with them. Juliette is perfectly useless in Grimm. Not only is she useless, she’s an annoying, petulant brat. Much like Katrina on Sleepy Hollow. I think the dudebro writers think they’re hot and that’s all that’s required. Much like Nolan’s fixation on Shaw as his “catwoman.” It’s like television has been taken over by hormonal teenaged boys, or I guess it’s always been that way and I’ve simply had enough.

  6. Seressia Glass

    Roslyn, I suggest you don’t watch The Librarians on TNT then. One ethnic character (Asian and a thief, but I like his attitude) and the special snowflake is a redhead. Still, it gives me something to watch on Sunday nights.

    Mesokop, I was really angry about Tripp. I didn’t think that was necessary at all. Do the cameras start malfunctioning in Whedon productions when there’s two ethnic characters in the same shot or something? Then again, that happened on Buffy and Angel as well. (Remember the principal? And Kendra the Vampire Slayer?) I thought it was so cool to see two! good black male characters on a superhero show, but when they introduced them, I immediately thought one was gonna die or end up being a betrayer. So disappointing to be right.

  7. lawless

    @Roslyn Holcomb — We have entirely different perceptions of Juliette on Grimm, then, both in terms of personality and hair color. Ditto Shaw on PoI. I’ve been a Sarah Shahi fan ever since she appeared on Life with Damian Lewis.

    Also, if Shaw’s ethnicity is the same as Shahi’s, she’s not Arab, as I classified her on my Livejournal, Shahi is Iranian (or Persian, which is not Arab) and Spanish.

    @meoskop — I missed that progression in Katrina’s hair color. I guess she must have access to a stock of henna, then.

    To me, red hair is what Nicole Kidman used to have. Strawberry blond like Damian Lewis’ hair also can qualify as red. Everyone else has red highlights.

  8. lawless

    Forgot to mention: Brooklyn Nine-Nine can be uneven and for some reason its premiere episodes, both this year and last, were weak. Each subsequent episode this season has improved on the previous one, pretty much.

  9. Roslyn Holcomb

    I knew Shahi was Persian, but I don’t think Shaw is an “ethnic” role at least not as far as I could discern, but since I found her character unbelievably annoying and haven’t watched the show since they fridged Carter in order to elevate Shaw to Catwoman status I could be offbase there. You’re the first Shaw fan I’ve encountered. Interesting. Nolan said he had to elevate Root and Shaw or the women writers on the show were going to start killing male characters. Interesting so you kill a black woman in order to elevate a white woman and a white appearing woman. If ever we had any doubt that black women aren’t seen as women, well, I don’t think we had any doubt.

    Katrina’s hair looks as though they mixed up a huge vat of Tang and cherry Koolaid and marinated it for several weeks. Not sure why it’s gotten redder as the season progressed. I’m married to a man’s whose hair used to be a similar color (naturally) and has faded with age. So yeah, I’m very familiar with the hue. And don’t even get me started on the corset and heaving bosom. It’s a sad state of affairs that her breasts have a more crucial role in the show than her character.

    I swear Seressia, there’s seriously something up with the damned gingers. No, my television watching is very limited and getting moreso with each season. I used to watch POI, Grimm and the Vikings were pretty much it. I dropped POI last fall and picked up Sleepy Hollow, but now that they’ve bait and switched it to the Cranewreck Family Hour, I’m thinking not so much. So that leaves me with Grimm and the Vikings. And Grimm is about to put us through another pregnancy story arc and I’m gnashing my teeth in irritation. The one with Adalind was actually interesting. Adalind is a good character. I like the complexity of her relationship with Renard and can’t wait until she finds out Mama Grimm has her baby. And of course, Mama Grimm and Renard’s oddly youthful mom are going to make for interesting television too. That’s what’s so odd about Grimm; they manage to make every woman on the show interesting, except Juliette. I wish Juliette would turn into Adalind permanently, because I really like Adalind. I think Juliette was an afterthought and now they don’t know what to do with her.

    Speaking of the Vikings, why oh why can’t regular television writers write women the way they do on that show? I just knew when stupid azz Ragnar dumped Lagertha there’d be a catfight. But no, Lagertha is above that. Now Ragnar is still in love with her and so is his wife! Just delicious.

  10. Elinor Aspen

    I was so disappointed in Agents of Shield. After seeing what happened to Mack and Tripp, my first thought was that black Shield agents are the new redshirts. Even Nick Fury is out of the picture for the organization these days. WTF?

  11. Seressia Glass


    It seems like most of Katrina magic was expended turning her hair red. I swear it was the color of a stop sign at the mid-season finale, it was that bad.

    You watch Sleepy Hollow this season and you wouldn’t even know that, as it was introduced to us, Abbie Mills is supposed to be the main character and it’s supposed to be about her discovering there’s more to her town that putting Otis in the drunk tank. She was a well-rounded but imperfect character making the bests of the decisions she’d made. It was fascinating, refreshing and even aspirational. This season she has become a “help mate” in the worst possible way and having her mirror what her slave ancestor went through with Katrina made me redline.

    I’m not one the few who isn’t an Ichabbie shipper. I like them as comrades in arms who have a deeper relationship, willing to die for the other, and be each other’s emotional rocks. Unfortunately we got none of that this season. Ichabod became whiny, brooding/distracted over his family and ordering Abbie about like she was the one thrust forward in time. Irving’s arc was painful and pointless and there’s no reason for Hawley to usurp Jenny’s place except that the writers wanted a love interest other than Ichabod for Abbie, so of course give her Jenny’s ex. ‘Cause sistahs do that. :rolls eyes: At least they listened to the fandom on that.

    Katrina is Juliette on Grimm, Laurel on Arrow and whats-er-face on Shield: writer/producer fascinated with the character and the audience can’t understand why when they’re so bland compared to the other females on the show.

  12. Tina

    Oh God, the Sleepy Hollow fuckery! Or what I like to call, How to Ruin Your Once Great Show in Less Than a Season.

    It is interesting because not only fans are outraged but so are critics. And the criticism coming from both camps is remarkably similar.

    Mo Ryan had a great piece on the Huffington Post where she really asked Goffman some hard and to the point questions about the problems in this season. He danced more than Fred and Ginger combined around those questions. It would be one thing if he was just trying to save face, but he really doesn’t seem to get it.

    During Comic-con, I would venture to guess that nearly 50% of the comments/questions they got from the audience was in praise of or had something to do with the diversity in the show. Not tokenism, but actual diversity where the characters of color had their own stories, background and importance to the arc of the show. How can a response like that from hard core genre fans not give you the clue that this is one major aspect of your show that resonates mightily with people even across color lines? And then to fritter that away by making two of your characters of color completely disappear for swaths of the season, sidelining your lead so that her voice becomes irrelevant, and then killing off one in one of the most pointless and emotionally arid developments?

    And to top it all off, let’s make our Horsemen of the Frickin’ Apocalypse!! a pair of woobs who are sooo conflicted by their love of Katrina. A character so poorly conceived, deployed and acted (let’s face it, Katia Winter is a block of wood) that even people who have been her defenders finally had to throw in the towel and concede she just isn’t worth hanging your show on.

    Goffman’s tunnel vision when it comes to her is ruining the show. And honestly, I think the doubling down on Katrina’s presence (and dear God putting her in a frickin’ Corset & Skinny jeans) is a way to offset a lot of the fan reaction to the chemistry between Mison and Beharie. They don’t like the positive reaction to the two best things about their show, so they decide to scuttle it. Not very smart.

  13. lawless

    With a first name like Sameen and a Persian/Spanish actress, Shaw does not read as “generic white person of European descent” (and thus non-ethnic) to me. Her name might as well be (and is a homophone for) Shah but for the unfortunate connection with the Iranian hostage crisis — and, possibly, the connection often made between Middle Easterners and assassinations/political violence.

    Could I be reading more into this than the producers intended? Maybe. But this is an argument we make (and have) over books all the time — that readers see in them things their creators may not have (consciously) intended.

  14. Roslyn Holcomb

    Oh, I’m sure you’re right Lawless, because as I’ve said, all I wanted was her off my television, so I paid no attention to her first name and only remember her second because they pounded it into our heads with such ferocity. To what I saw of her on the show, I doubt the average viewer read her as anything but as a white woman. Indeed no one discussed her as a woman of color until people started questioning the fridging of a black woman to elevate two white women. I think they’ve lost roughly half their viewers at this point, so presumably this pathetic little show will soon run out of steam, and with any luck Taraji’s new show will be a major hit.

  15. Sharon Cullars

    The red-haired “wench” discussion is interesting and puts me in mind of another derailed IR couple on OLTL when a red-haired interloper (her name escapes me at the moment) came between John and the beautiful Evangeline, illogically rendering their romance null and void. It seems that in most shows where a black woman is initially introduced as a desirable love interest, she invariably becomes just a “flavor of the month” (or more like a fortnight) before she is eventually devoured, spat out or thrown up and is replaced with someone not so melanin-enhanced.

  16. Meoskop

    @Sharon Cullars: ah yes, the missing twin – I give OLTL some credit for (eventually) having a solid black family, jewish family, and rich white family making up the corners of the show. They were also more interracial in their pairings than other ABC soaps (Team Angie Hubbard 4eva) although for a long time the characters were too easy (Hank & RJ)

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