Monday, November 21, 2011

Grimm: Lonleyhearts, a Review

At its heart, Grimm remains a show about plastic people and synthetic monsters, a show that promises a creepy, off-beat look into the fairy tale world and instead delivers a vaguely plotted, predictable procedural.

This week's episode, Lonelyhearts, combined "Bluebeard" with the legend of satyrs, in what I admit was a clever touch--one of two bright ideas in the interminable forty-three minutes of show.

The episode opens with a woman running(1) down a lonely road. She swerves into the path of an oncoming car and is (surprise!) hit. A bystander comes out of nowhere, barks at the driver to call 911 because she's still breathing, turns to the woman, and for no particular reason, smothers her, thus giving us our obligatory opening murder. It's never really clear why he does this since subsequent events make it clear he lets women go all the time, once he's through with them, and that she would be quite unable to identify him if he did.

Somewhere in there, a Reaper comes to town to kill Nick. Unfortunately for the Reaper, Captain Renard doesn't want Nick killed, and makes that quite clear, in French, no less, with the additional fillip of cutting off the Reaper's ear, just to help him remember. And here we have the show's second clever touch(2). Renard is shaping up to be an intriguing antagonist, and I find myself curious about who he is and what is he up to. Another Grimm? But the Reaper recognized him as something fearful and not-Grimm. A different creature? What sort? Why does he want Nick "on our side"? Where is he on the sliding scale of evil? When will Nick learn? What will he do?

At which point in my musings, everything crashes into one of the show's biggest problems: Nick has all the personality of a Ken doll. The strongest emotion on screen so far has been mild frustration, which is probably what he'll display whenever Renard reveals his Cunning Plan.

Meanwhile, the Lonelyhearts mystery plays out. Monroe, who is starting to catch Nick's emotional excess, looks mildly annoyed when is called away from his quiet, cultured life to once again serve as Nick's walking encyclopedia and spare sidekick. With his help and Hank's fairly liberal interpretation of "probable cause" to enter someone's house, the three narrow the field of suspects down from one to  one. Yes, their first suspect is also their last, a rapist-abductor who lures women to him with the help of pheromones and then keeps them locked in his basement under the influence of hallucinogenic gasses until they are pregnant, after which he releases them. Oh, and he also eats rare toads to boost his abilities. Quite why this works no one knows or cares. I strongly suspect it has more to do with the viewer's expected response of "Oh, gross! Toads!" than any well-thought-out plot point.

The pacing is pathetically slow. With only one suspect and only three minutes' worth of subplot, no one has anything to do. The villain strolls to a bar. Nick strolls after. Monroe has a beer. Hank climbs through a window. The music and lighting do their valiant best to make all of this exciting, but with nothing much at stake, it doesn't work. Even some character development might have changed things: Does Hank climb through the window because he's  a constant risk-taker and bender-of-rules? Is he breaking his first rule out of concern for the women he believes trapped inside? Is he as bored as I am? With no real facial expression, I can't tell and I'm fast ceasing to care(3).

The show also managed to be offensive. Hank and Nick have just rescued three women who have been held captive in dog kennels and raped. The two seem appropriately horrified, (within the range of their designated emotional spectrum), but then Hank asks how the rapist managed to attract women in the first place, Nick suggests it's the toads, and Hank remarks that he needs to get some. Um--what? I suspect it's supposed to read as "Cops letting off tension after a horrific case" but--it doesn't. It reads as "People making tasteless jokes at exactly the wrong time."

And, yet again, Grimm wastes its fairy tale premise. Sure, the idea of combining Bluebeard and the satyr is moderately clever, but the execution leads to a tawdry, sordid, horrible tale of a man luring women into his house and raping them. That doesn't need special pheromones (unfortunately), and once the villain has them in his house, he no longer uses the pheromones, turning to cages, cellars, and gas (How did he get his house fitted up with those? And does he have permits for keeping an endangered exotic loose on the property? Doesn't that make it hard to change identities when he moves? How many people apply for permission to keep rare toads? And if he hasn't applied, shouldn't one or the other of his visitors fuss?), so why bother with a separate species bursting with super-pheromones in the first place?

The creative team behind Grimm seems to have put lamentably little thought into their fairy tale creatures in general. It's not clear what they are, where they come from, or why they are different from regular human people, or to what extent. It's also not clear that anyone has thought of this. They can breed with humans (as we just rather regrettably saw this episode), so why haven't they bred themselves out? Can they breed with each other? Can they help what they do? If so, how much? Monroe calls himself reformed and plays musical instruments etc, but he also casually tosses off information about other fairy tale beings as though he were discussing the breeding of foxes or toads ("Oh, he's a herder. They're very rare."). The bears beasts had a clear culture and choice, but they also had bear faces--so what's going on? And the show creators really should have thought very, very carefully before they set up a story where a whole race of beings had the nearly irresistible urge to rape people. Or, earlier, an entire race dedicated to kidnapping and killing little girls. Are they saying something about criminality as a whole? Are they thinking at all about text and subtext? Are they thinking?

Less vital to the show's function but still part of the not-thought-out process is the uneven use of technology. The bee-beasts used cell phones. Nick's aunt, on the other hand, keep all of her stuff in a locked trailer? Oh, yes, the book really looks cool, but, come on, she was a librarian, she knows all about scanning books into computers and uploading them onto the internet where she or her nephew could look them up quickly and easily on those phones we keep seeing the camera display ever-so-lovingly.  Sure, those ancient weapons look cool, but a gun seems to work just as well, so why is she keeping them?

One more episode. Just one, and I'm through. Maybe not the next episode, either. Maybe I'll give it a week or three to mature a bit--or wait till after the holidays. Maybe I won't get back to it at all. I'm wildly bored, mildly offended, and thoroughly frustrated by their waste of a good premise.

Edit to add: A friend who hasn't watched the show read the review and asked, "Is it even remotely possible they're trying to bring visibility to violence against women?" Sadly, no. Those weren't women, those were plot tokens. I actually considered writing about the way dehumanizing the women made things even worse--When I said there was nothing at stake, I meant just that: The women were null objects, standing in for the "at stake" element. This adds to the offense value, given how serious rape is(4). Then I decided that, given how lackadaisical the show was in its entirety, and how bland every element was, it wasn't worth spending more time on it. But she asked, so now I am elaborating.
(1) Jogging, really. Raw panic is not one of those things Grimm excels at portraying. There is creepy music playing, though, and the lighting is doing strange things. Lighting and music are asked to make up for a lot in this show.
(2) No, not having the monsters speak French. That was just so-so. It did give the conspiracy an international flavor, which can be good, but it also added subitles which seemed, frankly, precocious and overly cute.
(3) Between Hank and Sergeant Wu (I looked his name up), Grimm ought to get points for being multicultural, but since the all came out of the same Sears catalog, it hardly seems to matter.
(4) It's not that I like to watch grim and gritty shows about the emotional and psychological impact of rape. I don't. However, if a show does decide to deal with a serial rapist, then they should deal with it, not make it part of some glossed over blandness. There is no good way to tell a "light" tale about rape. Grimm either needs to grim up or lighten up.

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