Superstition: A Mixed Bag

Detail of SyFy promotional poster

Burying the dead is just the beginning of the family business.

Superstition is a SyFy Channel series created by, produced by, and stars Mario Van Peebles as Issac, the family patriarch. It’s first season is complete. SyFy streams past episodes on their website, and Netflix has international distribution rights.

The show is about the Hastings family, owners of the only funeral home (and attached graveyard) in the small Georgia town of La Rochelle. They’re also a family of monster hunters who protect La Rochelle from evil Infernals and other supernatural menaces. The series kicks off when their estranged son returns from military service in Afghanistan to rejoin the family business.
Do I have to mention that the Hastings are a Black family? I probably do, sadly, given how few TV series are focused on people of color. This is changing, thanks due to all the artists and creators of color who have not given up, but it’s still problematic.
The fact that the main characters were mostly people of color is one of the things which had me excited about this show. I mean, I’m usually excited for any supernatural/horror entertainment, but I was especially looking forward to seeing it through the lens of a Black family instead of the usual white dudes or mostly white teenagers.
Superstition did not disappoint in this regard. The Hastings feel like a real family (supernatural elements aside), and don’t (to me) seem whitewashed for mainstream TV. The heart of the show is the web of relationships between the main characters, as a family. The main character is Calvin (played by Brad James), who returns to the family after 16 years in the Marines following a bad break with the family, and a good part of the personal drama comes from Calvin trying to rebuild his relationships, which is often a two steps forward, one step back process.
This is where the show does its best work. Not one of the actors turns in a bad performance, the motivations of the characters are clear, and (with few exceptions) they make choices consistent with their motives and characterization. The family is a Black family, but their Blackness is not the point. Calvin’s a veteran returning to civilian life, and the writers deal with that without resorting to overdone tropes about PTSD.
It’s really all about how a family stays committed to each other without surrendering the individuality of its members. It’s about what the relationships that make a family work are, and how the choice to love and support one another means more than blood relation.
The rest of Superstition’s story revolves around the town being a magnet for a breed of supernatural fiend known as Infernals, who possess human hosts and work in secret to spread random evil and forward some kind of plot to dominate La Rochelle. The Hastings clan fights the Infernals, protecting the regular townsfolk and trying to figure out why the Infernals want to control the town. This is where the show falls down.
What performances there are that aren’t great generally come from the Infernals, from the hammy evil of the Drudge, the infernal leader, to the petty evil of his minions. The various actors who play the Drudge (he changes human hosts once or twice) do a good job of reveling in the evil, but it often seems at odds with the more realistic portrayals of the other characters. His minions have two modes: leering sadist or standing, quietly angry. in the background. That’s all.
The show failed to explore its evil in any depth, only barely brushing up against an explanation of why the Drudge is doing what he’s doing. There are no relationships among the bad guys beyond the usual harsh discipline which makes one wonder exactly why anyone takes up a career as an evil minion. As a result, one gets the feeling that the only reason the Infernals were included in the show was to give viewers a break from the low-key family drama.
Superstition missed an opportunity to turn the Drudge and his Infernals into an evil opposite family to the Hastings. The Infernals could have been used to show how dysfunctional the Hastings could have become under the pressure of their secret battle, if they didn’t work hard to keep their relationships healthy. We might then have learned why the Infernals serve the Drudge, and what personal stakes the baddies had in the conflict.
Also, the series commits one of most common horror genre sins: They did not do the research.”Wiccan” is given as the name of the religion Wicca, portrayed as a kind of family cult. Any weird lettering is called “runes,” regardless of what alphabet they’re actually using on screen. Any resonance that could be brought in with connection to real-world occult beliefs is undercut by the plain fact that the writers just didn’t care.
I know, I’m sounding like a physics geek critiquing Star Wars space battles. Accuracy isn’t the point in a show like this, right? Some of this, surely, came from a need to write and produce scripts on a tight schedule. Some was from a tell a fast-paced story without stopping to explain things to the audience. Other shows do the same thing, yeah?
My complaint isn’t (entirely) that the supernatural elements don’t pass an occult geek sniff test. It’s that the portrayal of the supernatural elements that weren’t Infernals is inconsistent within the show. The Hastings can do things in one episode that would be awfully useful in another, but no one remembers how they solved last week’s problem. There is no exploration of how the very powerful magic the Hastings use affects their interaction with their mortal neighbors, or how the existence of other magicians affects the world.
Overall, I enjoyed watching the show. If SyFy brings it back for a second season, I’ll continue watching it. If they don’t I won’t miss it. There’s a lot of potential here, and I hope they explore more of it.

The Kids are Allright

One of the lessons I’ve learned for 2017 is that part of the deal with life and mortality is that, eventually, one has to accept that the next generation is taking over (whether one likes it or not), and one’s contribution to the future shifts away from working one’s own will on the world to assisting the next generation in working their will. It’s about ceding history’s center stage with grace.

Fear of a a future that does not include oneself is a prime mover in the relative chaos of such a transition. Fighting this shift, refusing to yield power, is exhausting and damaging. It does not stop the world from changing, but it weakens the ability of the next generation to enact positive, lasting change.

It will be different, in some ways uncomfortable. But it doesn’t have to be hostile, unless hostility is all we old coots contribute to the project.

The future will be safe in the hands of our (metaphoric, if not literal) children. Let’s not break it while resisting handing it off, yeah?

National Coming Out Day

logo_ncod_lgI’ve long identified as bisexual, but it is (of course) more complicated than that. The long version goes something like this:

AMAB, AFAB1, intersex, cis, trans, nonbinary, whatever. I’m more than happy to play with any parts you like that make you squee and moan and cry with pleasure. I suppose this is really more pansexual than bi, but I have a twelve-year-old’s sense of humor, sometimes, and I see images of people gazing lustfully upon kitchenware whenever I hear “pansexual.”

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We Can Imagine a Better World

That we can imagine a better world is enough to begin.
We do not need to validate our desire to make a more just world by appeal to a mythic past when things were better, nor claim the endorsement of any god, nor assert an essential, objective concept of justice. It is enough that we agree with each other–especially those of us on the margins, those at most risk–as to what justice entails.
Form there, it is a matter of will, strength, humility, and compassion. Will and strength do the work; humility and compassion keep the work true.

My Love/Despair Relationship With Game Of Thrones

I was initially going to title this post “My Love/Hate Relationship With Game of Thrones,” but hate doesn’t quite cover it. I don’t hate the show; seeing it doesn’t fill me with anger or make me want to throw things.

Who died this week on GoT?

Who died this week?

It’s more like Charlie Brown and Lucy’s Football.

I know that the characters I’m rooting for are going to lose and die and worse, but I keep watching because, every once in a while, a character I care about does get a brief, glorious win.

A little background might explain why I keep going back to a show that seems to delight in pulling the football away.

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What’s Going On Here?

It’s about the triumph of Intellect and Romance over Brute Force and Cynicism

Craig Ferguson said that about the enduring popularity of Doctor Who in his musical tribute to the show. While Ferguson was talking about the themes within the show, I honestly can’t think of a better approach to life.

I’m a cynic by habit, which means that by nature I’m a romantic; a romantic who is frustrated by the continual failure of people and the world to live up to their true, highest potential. Honestly, who wouldn’t be frustrated by it, if they had even a shred of hope for the better nature of Humanity? So much pain and suffering is caused by ignorance (willful or not) of the effects one has on others, by refusal to see others as valuable in themselves, by denial of one’s responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions.

It can get pretty dark in here, at times. So, to remind myself that there are things to love and be inspired by in this messed-up world, I created a blog where I can think about them and try to share what I see with others.

The “intellect” part of Intellect & Romance refers not solely to reason and rationality. Reason and rationality are good tools, but they are means, not ends. More significant, to my thinking, is the ability of a person to build models of the world in their imagination, to explore reality by asking themselves, “what if?” and being open to the possibilities discovered thereby.

The “romance” part refers to my conviction that the world is alive and full of beauty, and that engaging that as fully as one can is the end to which all those mental tools should be put. Every person is more complex than the good guys and bad guys described in our increasingly polarized public dialogue. Diversity is valuable in itself, and creates much of the beauty of life. Romance is about hope, and joy, and believing that things will get better, if only we can figure out how to work together more often than we work against each other.

And the tagline? We’re storytellers, all of us, even if we aren’t writers or artists. We tell stories to connect the events of our lives into a Life. We tell people stories about ourselves to others, so they know who to think we are. For that matter, we tell ourselves stories about ourselves, so we know who think we are. We tell stories that aren’t real, so we know what’s true.

So let’s talk about imagination and romance and stories. Let’s talk about humanity.