In which something works the way it’s supposed to

My biggest sin as an educator– other than my cynicism, anxiety, various and sundry mental issues, and recent conviction that society will not be around long enough for an education to actually help any of my current students in any meaningful way– is that I am terrible at parent contact. I’m good at email, but a lot of my parents don’t use email and it can be difficult to collect email addresses that work via any method other than brute force. I despise calling parents on the phone to complain to them about their kids. Absolutely hate it, and I’ll do anything to avoid doing it– including just continuing to put up with shitty behavior when it’s possible that calling home might actually help. Does it always? Of course not, and unfortunately the kids with the most issues most frequently come with parents who aren’t going to help me out. Not always, but frequently.

Yesterday was rough as hell. Everybody in the building was in a bad damn mood all day, and every single one of my classes was substantially more poorly-behaved than usual. I sent more kids to the office yesterday alone than I have for the entire first, what, four weeks of the year combined, including three from my seventh hour class, which is far and away my roughest group, to the point where the other five barely even register in comparison.

My principal emailed me and asked me– ha, asked, he says– to contact the parents of the three and let them know what had happened. Which I dutifully did, hating every second of it, but for two of the three I had a decent conversation with a parent and the third I left a detailed message.

Today was a better day across the board, and there was a notable improvement in behavior from all three of yesterday’s miscreants. And I should point out, to be fair, that two of the three are rarely problems, and in fact those two often help to rein in the third, who is more prone to having issues. They just didn’t yesterday, and each of them being dismissed from the room one at a time did not help things. But, point is: today all three gave me no trouble at all. So not only did the two parents I spoke to talk to their kids in a meaningful way, but apparently so did the third, based only on the voicemail message.

I pulled them aside at the end of the day and gave them the option of a second phone call today, one passing on that today featured good behavior, and all three of the boys seemed pretty excited by the idea and said I should do it. Which meant that I got the exquisite and fairly rare pleasure of calling three parents in a row– because this time the voicemail parent answered the phone– and savoring that first moment where they’re pissed off because if I’ve called two days in a row it must be because somebody fucked up and then giving them good news instead.

It’s not something I get to do often, but I enjoy it quite a lot when I do.

In which I recommend something problematic: on THE BOYS

Trigger warning. For, like, everything. If you’re the type of person who has been helped by a trigger warning in the past, don’t bother reading this post and avoid this show like the plague.

Let’s get some stuff out of the way right away about the first season of The Boys, the Amazon Prime adaptation of the Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson “What if superheroes were all fucked-up assholes?” comic series of the same name:

  • Not one but two male characters’ prime motivation is to avenge the death of, respectively, a girlfriend and a wife. The girlfriend is fridged within fifteen minutes or so of the start of the first episode.
  • While the lone female member of the “good guys,” such as they are, is never actually referred to as The Female as she is in the comics, she never talks.
  • This is an insanely graphically violent show; at one point an infant is used as a weapon. Multiple people are murdered with– not by— a baby. That is not a joke. That’s a thing that happens.
  • While it doesn’t happen on screen, and in fact it’s toned down from what happens in the comics (“toned down from the comics” is a recurring theme) the main female character is raped in her first episode.

There is, in other words, a lot of lazy, sexist writing in this program, particularly in the initial episode. And I would not for a second get on the case of anyone who looked at those four bullet points and went “Nope, not for me.” Honestly, had I not been familiar with the comic series from when it came out, I probably wouldn’t have made it past the first episode either. But I was curious about how they were going to adapt the series (12 graphic novels, so not at all a small amount of source material) to television.

And here’s the thing: all of the stuff in those bullet points is in the comics, and in general this is a pretty loose adaptation of the source material. All of the decisions that the television producers made– every change that they introduced– kind of blunt the bullshitty edges of what happened in the comics. They certainly don’t turn away from how over the top The Boys was, but this isn’t Game of Thrones, where they took a series with a bunch of sexism and rape and decided the best thing to do with it was to add more sexism and rape. And the show is independent enough from the comics that by the end of the first season I have no idea where they’re planning on going with it next season. That, for me, is always a win for an adaptation.

Here’s some more good news: the acting, across the board, is absolutely phenomenal, and one of the cool things about having a show where damn near every character is a deranged mess of a human being is that it gives every actor something to really dig into with their character. Karl Urban’s Billy Butcher and Antony Starr as the Homelander are particular standouts– I don’t know what sorts of acting awards someone on this program might be eligible for, but Starr in particular needs to be up for something for this role. Chace Crawford’s portrayal of The Deep is also worth mentioning– although, as the rapist mentioned above, the fact that he sort of gets a redemption arc, or is at least eventually portrayed as a sympathetic character complete with his own sexual assault, is also … skeevy.

And the thing is, everybody is fucked up in this show. All of them. There are no characters without some damage to them in The Boys, and there are no underwritten roles, either– even The Character Previously Known As The Female has some interesting moments, and watching the cast inhabit this world is tremendously compelling– and that, to me, is more than enough to make overlooking the more troublesome and lazy aspects of the show and its premise possible. Plus, again for me personally, I first read these books when they came out in 2006 and so nothing about the problematic aspects of the story is new. Which, I think, might make me a bit more likely to look past them than some other people.

Your mileage, obviously, may vary. And with Amazon Prime at $99 a year I’m not about to tell you to subscribe in order to watch this. But if you already were, and you were on the fence about the show? Definitely give it a couple of episodes and see if it grabs you.

On my other kid

Pictured: not my kid, my kid

I just dug through a month’s worth of posts from five years ago to determine that, probably because she was a minor at the time and isn’t actually my kid, I didn’t mention that a former student stayed in my house overnight before the last Washington D.C. trip I chaperoned way back in the day. Technically she probably shouldn’t have been on the trip, but she’d signed up before moving to Arizona and I literally had her mom assign me temporary legal custody of her and just didn’t tell anybody about it.

I took a picture of her sitting on my couch, and I remember posting it to Facebook with a caption something along the lines of “Why is this in my house?,” which entertained a number of her other teachers who I was friends with at the time.

She is 19 now, and is back in town again, and I picked her up at the airport last night, and she’ll probably be here tonight too before spending the rest of the week with other family and friends. And last night, as we were driving back from the airport, she got a text message from one of her friends directing us to visit her at her job at Arby’s. The friend is also a former student.

So were two other employees at that Arby’s, including another kid who had been on that same DC trip. All four of them were in the same class, which was hands-down the best group of kids I ever had. And I had them twice, first in 6th grade and then when they were 8th graders. So it happened that I, a grown man less than a month from his 43rd birthday, found myself in an Arby’s at 10:15 on a Friday night, after the lobby had closed, at least nominally hanging out with four nineteen-year-olds, three of whom were at least technically at work (and one the manager) and none of whom seemed to think it was remotely weird that 1) I was there in the first place or 2) I was the person who had been assigned the duty of picking this kid up at the airport, a job that one might think would have gone to, like, actual family, but we all have our priorities where they should be apparently.

And I spent about twenty minutes bouncing back and forth between this is at least a little creepy and hey, Hacienda is right across the street, do you guys want to go over there for a while after you get off work? Because age difference or not this really was a great group of kids and it turns out they have not gotten less interesting as they’ve aged into young adulthood.

And I’m just gonna leave that thought there, because I’m not sure I have anything else to add to it, but yeah: last night was kind of surreal.

(About the picture: the boy didn’t remember her from her last visit, which wasn’t surprising, but as soon as he discovered she was wearing Psyduck socks she became his favorite person ever.)

On explaining gay people to your presumably straight kids

This just happened.

THE SCENE: We are watching the final episode of Season 2 of She-Ra. It is revealed that a character (no spoilers) has two dads.

THE BOY: Two dads?

MY WIFE: Yep.

ME: It happens.

THE BOY: Oh, okay.

End scene.

Creepy Children’s Programming Reviews: #SHERA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER

Y’all.

I had He-Man toys as a kid.  I grew up in the eighties; it was inevitable.  I didn’t really pay a hell of a lot of attention to She-Ra because … well, I was a boy.  And She-Ra was for girls.  I also watched the He-Man cartoon, and I have very detailed memories of being very angry with WGN because at some point or another they chose to commit the cardinal sin of pre-empting an episode of He-Man with a Cubs game.  

I don’t think I ever watched the She-Ra cartoon.  I remember that she said “For the honor of Greyskull” instead of “By the power of Greyskull,” but I think that’s cultural osmosis and not an actual memory.  I could not have told you the names of a single member of her supporting cast prior to this week.

Honestly, I only decided to watch the show because it seemed to be pissing off a bunch of whiny manbaby manchildren, and I like it when those people’s feelings are hurt.  If that makes me a bad person, I can live with it.  

I probably shouldn’t even make this part of the CCPR series, y’all, because I loved every second of this show.  The three of us watched the first two episodes together and we had to force our son to go to bed at his bedtime because he wanted to stay up and watch more.  We watched the other eleven episodes in two big gulps over the next couple of days.  This is absolutely 100% unequivocally the best show I’ve ever done one of these pieces on, and I’m only not calling it my favorite animated series of all time because I feel like the second I hit Publish on this piece I’ll remember what my favorite animated series really is and I’ll feel dumb.

I’m not gonna lie: a large portion of my affection for this show is somewhat political.  I love what this show is as much as how it is what it is.  But before I get into that, I want to be super clear about something: the show is hilarious and touching and action-packed and the voice acting is superb and even before we get into any of the representation issues it’s a great show.  My son loved it so much that he’s created his own characters inspired by the show and he’s been drawing comic books about them and creating statues of them in Minecraft all day.  My son does not love the show because of politics.  My son loves the show because it’s awesome.

To wit: when She-Ra first turns Swift Wind, her horse, into a … pegacorn?  Unisus?  Rainbow horned wing-beast thing, the horse’s reaction to its new wings and horn had all three of us laughing so hard we could barely breathe.  Sea Hawk’s insistence on setting his ships on fire was a running joke that never got any less funny.  The relationship between She-Ra and Catra– an invention of the new series, from my understanding– is complex and heartbreaking, especially for a show where friendship is such an important theme, and it feels real.  Adora’s fish-out-of-water reaction to … well, virtually everything after leaving the Horde is great.  I love even the minor characters, with Mermista, Entrapta and Scorpia being particular favorites. The animation style, which got a lot of unnecessary abuse, is exactly appropriate for the show, and the facial expressions are worthy of The Amazing World of Gumball.  It’s phenomenal, all the way through.

But yeah.  Let’s talk about the cast.  This is what She-Ra’s cast of characters used to look like:

I mean, the two on the outside are both purple…

This is what the cast of the new show looks like:

So straight off the jump we’re in a better place here.  The cast of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is deliberately and intentionally diverse, both in the appearances of the characters and the actual voice cast.  Glimmer is actually kinda chubby, and Spinnerella is flat-out fat,and it’s never once remarked upon by any of the characters.  That’s just what they look like.  It’s heavy on women characters, as a show with the words Princesses of Power might be expected to be, but it’s not just a palette swap with typical cartoons, where the women have less agency and less characterization.  Bow may be the only male of the three principals with Adora and Glimmer, but he’s a solid character on his own right and his relationship with Sea Hawk is hilarious.

(A moment, please, to just appreciate the He-Man style of naming characters.  This show features a sorceress character called Castaspella, mercifully called “Casta” most of the time, and a character who throws nets whose name is Netossa.  And in case “Netossa” is too subtle for you, she actually explains it onscreen.  The character named Perfuma is once represented by some random object while the group is making a plan and she insists on being represented by a perfume bottle.  The names are ridiculous.)

And, oh, guys, it’s so gay.  So very very very very very very very gay.

This show is so gay it makes Queer Eye look like 19 Kids and Counting.

Bow wears a midriff with a heart on it.  At one point he needs to wear a tuxedo for a ball.  His tuxedo has a cummerbund on it.  He tears off the cummerbund so he can continue to rock his abs in his formalwear at the ball.  Which he attends with a girl, but oh my God his reaction when he realizes Sea Hawk is there.

The bad guys are literally wiped away by a giant rainbow wave of love in the final episode.

Spoiler alert, I guess.  I mean, if you didn’t know the good guys win at the end of the season.  You probably coulda guessed.  

Oh, and the goddamn horse ends up being a socialist.

You need to watch this show.  If that means you need to get Netflix, do it.  It’s great.  I can’t wait for the second season.  Neither can my seven-year-old son.  If my recommendation doesn’t work for you, take his.