Friday, August 14, 2009

The End of the World Doesn't Look Like That

I recently watched two and a half episodes of the first season of Jeremiah. The premise is an intriguing one (based of Hermann Huppen's comic written in the '70s): a virus kills everyone over the age of puberty, leaving children to grow up, form values and societies, and basically just survive, without adult guidance. The story takes place fifteen years after "the big death." Electricity is a thing of the past. Canned food is running out. And, apparently, everyone but our hero, Jeremiah, sucks.

I may have mentioned here a time or two that this mass-death, few-survivor idea is one that fascinates my muse. There's so many possibilities to a society that collapses due to an outside/out-of-personal-control element, where a limited number of people are left to cope with what's left...and with whatever few skills they have. Finding Jeremiah was exciting. Two episodes into it, I was beyond frustrated. The third episode I did my own "good-parts" version of and determined it's not a show for me.

The main reason: the blatant, annoying, male-centric thinking of the writer. The series premier features the one "strong" woman, who has made herself into a tyrannical dictator, happy with beating and killing whoever's necessary to get what she wants (and everyone wants to get things back to the way they were before the big death), who has employed all the old nerds to work toward getting electricity working (yes, all the nerds are boys—what, the big death also killed off all the smart women), and she freely and unthinkingly uses women as commodities and "rewards" for good work. All other females in the episodes I watched were dependent upon the men in their lives to protect them, whores, rape victims, or extras to add to the crowd. On top of this, in the 2.5 episodes I watched, multiple characters refer to things their dads taught them, saying from their fathers, and remembered bits of wisdom. Not one mentions a mother, her words of advice, her skills passed on.

The (very close) second reason I stopped watching: the world view was simply too bleak. Much like the reason I had to stop watching True Blood though I love Charlaine Harris's novels, Jeremiah made the world seem too awful. I've imagined what I would do in the event of a massive human-death catastrophe many, many times. It usually involves freeing a lot of the animals stuck in houses, finding a nice herd of horses, hording a bit of food (Costco, anyone?), and heading for farmable land. If gas looked like it was going to stick around, I'd get myself some large vehicles to carry everything in. I'd horde informational books, learn all I could. Put together a team of people with a variety of skills, and basically start a small community as quickly as possible so that we'd have something to survive on while we rebuilt our living conditions.

One of the things I've never counted on, never even thought about, are the people who would be happy to come through and take by force the things that I had built by hard labor and planning. Yes, a bit naive of me, but I had more of a helpful community idea rather than an all-for-one mentality. Jeremiah is populated almost solely by people looking out for number one, people who are dictators, and a surprising number of happy, thoughtless followers who never question their leaders. There wasn't a single whisper or rumor of a community that was making things work without violence. There weren't any women who had banded together to protect themselves and thrive. Even worse, there was no one reading the textbooks and hunting down libraries to find information. There was one old army bunker that had working solar panels and a hydro garden, and they didn't make any attempts to share the knowledge.

When I realized I was more frustrated by the show than intrigued, I stopped watching. The one good thing I can say of it: it made me think. That, and I got to see Malcom Jamal-Warner all grown up and playing a questionable-morals sidekick to the singular man who came through the big death with a sense of what's right and wrong.

(A side note on Mr. Jamal-Warner: he's one of the few actors I feel I can tell what he's really thinking even as he's acting. There are several scenes where he has to pause so the camera can pan away, and I'm aware that he's aware he's supposed to look tough for the fade out. Which led me to guess why this might be and I came up with this scenario: Just before J-M walks onto set, he's completely in character, got his lines so memorized they feel natural again, is taken in by the set, and the cameramen have become invisible to him. And then, right as he's about to shoot his scene, the makeup artist rushes up and cleans a fleck of bird poop off his shoulder. It throws him. He's now wondering, Is there still a little bird poo on me? Can you see it in the shot? but the director is already rolling. His head's no longer in the game, so rather than thinking like the character, he's now thinking, Look tough. Worry about the poo later. Pretend it never happened. Focus on the treeline. You're a tough guy, remember? Anyway, I figure if I have to add in my own humor, that makes a good third reason to quit the show.)

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