You can probably picture a classic telenovela. It’s dramatic, full of scandal. Cheating husbands. Cheating wives. Sunset romance. Dewy-eyed heroines.
Perla Farías was a telenovela actress in Venezuela, and she was getting bored of the typical story. So when she became an executive at Telemundo in the United States, she decided to try something different. At the time, Telemundo was the underdog in the world of US telenovelas, always in second place behind the giant Univision. But Farías’s shows changed all that. They altered the landscape of Spanish language TV shows—and of all TV shows.
Based on a movie, based on a book of essays by Jean Kerr. Julie and I were talking about this recently — apparently she imprinted deeply on the farmhouse that features in the show.
I’ve been reading “These Are the Voyages,” an obsessively detailed history of Star Trek.
I don’t mean it’s a history of the fictional universe of the Federation — I mean it’s a history of the classic 1960s TV show. It’s utterly fascinating (see what I did there?). It’s nearly an example of microhistory, placing a small event (a single TV show) in a larger context of the history of its time.
I haven’t been rewatching the episodes. But I’ve seen them all many times. So it’s as if I were rewatching as I read.
I had somehow picked up the idea that it was common wisdom that the first season of Trek was the best, the second season was nowhere near as good, and the third season was drek.
But I’m a couple of episodes into reading about Season 2, and I’ve reviewed the episode list. Now I think that was classic Trek’s best season. It had found its stride by then.
Sure, there were a couple of episodes in Season 1 that were Trek at its best, but Season 1 was often pompous (A Taste of Armageddon, The Alternative Factor). And at least one episode that was acclaimed in the past just doesn’t hold up today (Devil in the Dark — we did watch that one recently, it was the first and only episode of what was intended to be a ToS rewatch).
In Season 2, Trek was hitting on all cylinders: Drama (“Amok Time”), high opera (“Who Mourns for Adonais”), and campy fun — pretty much any episode where the Enterprise visits an alternate history Earth.
Yes, Season 2 was Trek at its best.
We’ll just pretend “Friday’s Child” and “The Omega Glory” never happened.
The 80s influences of “Stranger Things” are obvious — Stephen King, Steven Spielberg, the “Goonies” and other 80s movies that appealed to preadolescents of that decade. But Joshua Rothman at The New Yorker finds an older, darker influence: H.P. Lovecraft
The scientific worldview says that the universe is neutral. It doesn’t care if you live or die. But Lovecraft had a different view: The universe is evil. It hates us. And it’s supremely powerful, inhabited by entities who are to us as we are to insects, and are eager to torment us just for giggles. In Lovecraft’s view, the Earth is a tiny little island of relative safety that could open to that wider, hostile universe with a single pinprick of reality. In Lovecraft’s view, the pinprick came from miscegenation — racial contamination — Lovecraft was a full-throated bigot who hated and feared brown-skinned people and Eastern and Southern Europeans.
But Lovecraft has many heirs and imitators today, and they substitute other forces for racial impurity. In the case of “Stranger Things,” the horror is unleashed by US government scientific bureaucracy, as it often is in King’s novels.
Rothman identifies two target audiences for “Stranger Things:” Adults who were children in the 80s and view the series as a big ol’ nostalgia wallow, and children who look back on that era as a golden age before they were born, sort of like the 50s were viewed when I was a teen-ager in the 70s.
I’m from an older generation; I turned 20 in 1981. I enjoyed the nostalgia of “Stranger Things” because the period portrayed on the show was not all that different from the early 70s, when I was the same age as the show’s child heroes. As kids in the early 70s, we roamed freely around the neighborhoods on our bikes and engaged in nerdy pursuits without parental supervision. We didn’t have Dungeons & Dragons; that hadn’t been invented yet. But we played marathon games of Risk.
This idea of the universe being actively hateful and evil is a new one for me. I’m a rationalist, I don’t believe that the real universe is evil. An indifferent universe can be hostile enough at times.
But the idea of an actively hostile and evil universe certainly opens possibilities for fantastic fiction.
Joe Haldeman said that in science fiction, the universe is neutral and knowable through reason and science; in fantasy, the universe is unknowable; and in horror the universe is hostile. (I think he said that — he said something along those lines but I may be misremembering the specifics.) While science fiction and fantasy are usually paired together as “fantastic fiction,” science fiction’s actual closest sibling is the police procedural, Haldeman notes.
Gene Roddenberry’s vision for Star Trek was preachy and serious. Gene L. Coon injected laughter and heart. He also invented the Klingons, and the constant thread running through Trek that hostile behavior often stems from cultures misunderstanding each other.
Andreea Kindryd was an African-American civil rights activist who had worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, and worked for Coon as his production secretary. She was at first “uneasy about working with an old white guy named Coon—especially after Coon told her that his father had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan—but Coon was passionate about injecting anti-racist messages into Trek.”
Sunnydale’s size and surroundings are implausible but justified given its origins — to sustain a human population for supernatural evils to prey upon. The town’s founder spared no expense to attract a populace, and Sunnydale thus contains many elements of a large city — which the show’s writers utilized fully for comic effect and narrative convenience. During the first three seasons, Sunnydale is shown to have 38,500 inhabitants, very few high schools, forty-three churches, a small private college, a zoo, a museum, and one modest main street. Even so, it has twelve gothic cemeteries. These cemeteries are so heavily used that services are sometimes held at night. Sunnydale is divided into five neighborhoods. The first is the entertainment district which contains Bronze. The second is the alleys directly behind Bronze which contain the town’s excess supply of pallets and cardboard. The high school makes the third neighborhood. The fourth neighborhood is filled in its entirety by the large graveyard, and lastly the suburban residential sprawl is the final neighborhood. The abundance of very nice homes is made possible by low property values caused by frequent murder.