Tag Archives: Drama

From BuzzFeed: A Pakistani Points Out Six Homeland Fails

homeland season 4 poster

I’ve already mentioned my frustration with Homeland in an earlier post. Now BuzzFeed is doing the same with the help of Pakistani activist, lawyer, and independent politician Mohammad Jibran Nasir. Given his experiences and pedigree, Nasir is able to pinpoint all that is wrong ranging from the ill-researched (language,clothing) to the downright offensive (naming the big bad after the Pakistani ambassador to the U.S.).

When you depict/reference other cultures in your programming, you owe them the due process of accurate portrayal. In fact, such flaws demote the overall quality of an otherwise well-written show.

Judging by the video, Nasir only viewed the two-part season 4 opener. Things remained checkered at best further down the season. Durban was in no way a suitable stand-in for Islamabad. Ayaan’s girlfriend not only struggled with legible Urdu, but her ‘accented’ English had the most peculiar lilt to it. Conversely, props to Nimrat Kaur who played ISI agent Tasneem Qureishi brilliantly, for getting the performance AND the language down pat.

P.S. Check out Mohammad Jibran Nasir’s initiative NeverForgetPakistan.com

Advertisements

Homeland and Its Constant Misrepresentation of Foreign Cultures.

http://www.movieweb.com/tv/TVNmUkp89AjhQU/season-4-trailer-4

Homeland is an Emmy-winning smash hit, I get that. The pace of the writing is ever-dynamic (save for the middle of Season 3 of course). The he show has a ‘murderers’ row’ of writers according to critics. They include names with The X-Files, 24, Chicago Hope, Homicide: Life on the Street, and Cold Case under their belts. Here’s the problem: Homeland is also grossly inaccurate when depicting foreign cultures. The show is at a creative crossroads. At the end of Season 3, they closed a chapter that was crucial to the original premise. They had written themselves into a corner and couldn’t keep the momentum going. After critical derision and angry viewer tweets, the only plausible way out was to hit the reboot button. This lead to the extreme measure of killing off Brody and writing out his entire family. If only they had applied this philosophy of change to their fact-checking.

Now 24 came immediately after 9/11 and was about a counter-terrorist unit, so seeing a gazillion Arab actors playing variants of ‘Turban and kurta wearing bearded boorish terrorist’ and ‘Clean-shaven suit wearing sophisticate who is secretly also a terrorist’ was still mildly acceptable. At this point though, it’s a painfully cliched action series trope that’s perpetuating a horrible stereotype. There’s enough material to fill another Jack Shaheen book. It’s not that Homeland doesn’t get intricate details right, even the basic facts are wrong. On watching the show’s first few episodes, a friend and I shared laughs over Brody’s ‘prayer’. Seriously, what was that? They had clearly never observed a Muslim prayer before, they came up with a random series of kneels and bends while Brody muttered something in Arabic. And it all went downhill from there.

Laura Durkay got so much of it right in her piece for the Washington Post. A highly experienced team of writers and producers can’t bother to do their research well enough, that is if they do any research at all. From mispronounced names to false imagery of cities. The real Beirut is a vibrant metropolis that marries the traditional with the modern. The Beirut in Homeland is some war-ravaged shantytown where women have to veil themselves while walking on the streets. Granted that SOME Lebanese women do wear the veil as a PERSONAL CHOICE, some don’t. And in a country as religiously diverse as Lebanon, it doesn’t even matter. And where do you even begin with Iran, Syria, and Palestine? These places are so much more than Hezbollah and other terrorist groups.  The ideologies of one radical group should not be the umbrella they think an entire nation takes shade under.

This season shifts focus towards Pakistan. To be fair, there’s SOME improvement. Despite political turmoil, the one thing Pakistan isn’t is stuck in the Dark Ages, and luckily, that’s visible. You do see a technologically and educationally forward nation with young intellectuals. But still, many things are out of place. Do The Powers That Be even know that Pakistan is NOT a Middle Eastern country? You see traces of Arabic cultures everywhere instead of South Asian ones, which should logically be more predominant. So no, there wouldn’t be hookah bars around the corners, and people would not have conversations over cups of black tea. South Asians overwhelmingly prefer ‘dudh pati’, which is a strong tea brewed in milk and sometimes laced with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, or ginger. You would not see a study group not drink that instead over an exchange of ideas.

When it comes to the language, it’s pretty clear they didn’t look beyond Google Translate. In the scene where Ayaan wakes up post-attack to a woman washing his wounds, the Urdu spoken is too formal and literal  while the woman’s delivery is as if she’s reciting a 1800’s poem. It makes the scene too melodramatic where it needs to be tense, and a more realistic situation would use more casual language. When a bustling marketplace in Islamabad is shown (more backwoods than urban obviously), you hear gibberish in the atmosphere, passersby are mumbling words that are a strange mix of Urdu, Pashto, and Arabic.

Believe me, I’m all for the idea of actors playing characters that are not from where they are but are ethnically similar. For example, there are countless Canadian, British, and Australian actors playing Americans on-screen (with most doing a commendable job). Here too, you have mostly Indian actors portraying Pakistanis. However, some nuances just aren’t there. If you saw Life Of Pi, you know that Suraj Sharma is very talented, and has that quiet melancholy that pulls you in. But the accent with which he speaks English has that distinct South Indian tinge you would just not hear on an Islamabadi.

Call me nitpicky, but if they get these details right, it only succeeds in making their good show better. At the same time, they are in a position to rehabilitate an image rather than reinforce it, but they refuse to. Homeland co-creator Howard Gordon is choosing to stick to the Big Bad Middle East version. His new show Tyrant launched this past summer and focuses on, as the name implies, a dictator in a fictional Middle Eastern nation (because why not?) and his US-based extended family. It takes the stereotyping up a notch or two. The fact that the country isn’t real allows him to add any exaggerated detail he wants to. At least this time around he got called out for it with bad reviews.

TV: The New Shows So Far.

A whole bunch of new tv shows are upon us. Perennially in the need for new entertainment, I’ve been viewing various pilots, seeing how they are, what they could work on, or whether or not they would succeed. Here’s the verdict so far (only what I have seen):

Red Band Society: Great premise but way too mawkish. Although the kids are all great,  Leo, has lush, thick eyebrows while undergoing chemotherapy. How? Clearly, research needs to be done there. Post TFIOS, sick children is sort of becoming a tearjerker way of pandering, but such subject matter needs to be dealt with carefully. Octavia Spencer is brilliant but both she and Dave Annable need more material, they sort of get relegated to B-storyline status amid all the teen drama. It needs a few quick fixes,but definitely worth coming back for more episodes.

The Mysteries Of Laura: I’m all for a different tone, but this show doesn’t pull it off. In fact, it seems confused about what tone it wants to project, is it a quirky comedy or a dark one? Relies too heavily on Debra Messing and her “Woman in a Rom Com” antics. Actually, a lot of this show seems like a rom com, complete with that career woman balancing love, children, and work while being pined for by rom com-ready guys.

Madam Secretary: Finally, Tea Leoni front and center in something! You want it to go The Good Wife route, charged with intrigue and drama. Leoni definitely has the chops to pull it off. However, it gets too dry at moments, some scenes linger for too long without a build-up. Overall, it’s pretty good, just needs to not get too stagnant. Barbara Hall is a brilliant writer so I’m sure she’ll figure a way out of it.

Scorpion: A procedural for the tech generation, that’s clearly how they pitched this one. But it doesn’t work. The characters are too cardboard cutout, at times trying too hard with the “Look, I’m a hacker” vibe. Elyes Gabel is a commanding lead though, to the point that you feel he deserves better, and so does poor Katharine McPhee.

Gotham: WOW! This could’ve been so misguided, so boring, so cluttered. It’s none of that. Bruno Heller & Co. have done a great job with the pace and the dark tone that never comes across as trying to ape Christopher Nolan’s film franchise. The performances are spectacular, Ben McKenzie is at a career best, Robin Lord Taylor and David Mazouz are stars in the making, and Jada Pinkett-Smith is simply a force of nature, stealing every scene she’s in. Danny Cannon’s highly experienced in the action/adventure. He directed some of Nikita’s best episodes and he definitely doesn’t disappoint here either. A possible breakout hit.

How To Get Away With Murder: This one’s the surefire breakout hit. It has the easy position of boasting the Shondaland label and having THE Viola Davis as a lead, but luckily, it never rests on those laurels. Davis is very much a showstealer with her presence and performance, but the rest of the younger cast is equally endearing and each one holds their own excellently. The plot, oh the plot, you’re hooked from the get-go. Like previous Shondaland hits Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, this show combines overarching season-long plot with a case-of-the-week on the side. Creator Peter Nowalk is an experienced member of Shonda Rhimes’ writing staff, so it’s no surprise he used this device perfectly when making his own show. The pilot’s director Michael Offer needs to be the next in-demand name for future pilot seasons because he seems to have a gift.

NCIS: New Orleans: Was another one really necessary? This brings nothing great to the table. Yes there’s New Orleans imagery, and Scott Bakula, and an underused CCH Pounder, but nothing else.

Black-ish: I wasn’t sure if this would be something a post-racial audience wants to see. However, I was pleasantly surprised. It has a very clever take on institutionalized racism and how cultural appropriation changes from generation to generation. It handles its subject matter in a way that’s never heavy-handed. It does fall prey to one tired sitcom trope though: The obnoxious man-child husband and his nagging high-strung wife. That’s not to say that Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross don’t do a great job because they do.

Selfie: That name alone is cringeworthy. So is the Pygmalion-inspired premise. This could easily be dismissed for being another instance of an older man telling a younger woman how to live her life but there’s more. You know those annoying articles about Millennials, the ones that are all “Look at these young people” as if we’re a weird alien species that’s too self-absorbed and doesn’t play by their rules? This is the comedy version of that. Everything is soooooooo exaggerated in a “This is what kids are doing nowadays” manner. Do any of us Millennials with a functioning brain (the vast majority) not realize that our thousands of Instagram followers are not the same as our few close friends? It breaks my heart because of how much I love both John Cho and Karen Gillan, but this does nothing for them.

Manhattan Love Story: At least 10 years too late to the small screen. Every cliche character trope from the countless romantic comedies about young singles living where else but in Manhattan, is rolled into one show. The gender differences don’t seem humorous here, they just seem pigeonholing and at times even offensive. Women are always too emotional, men are always too horny.The two worlds don’t understand each other. Let’s have another piece of entertainment indoctrinate the same set of stereotypes in our minds yet again. Who thought this was a good idea? Did they come via time machine from 1989? (The year Harry met Sally).

A to Z: Read the above. Swap the internal monologues with whirlwind sexual encounters. This one does feature voiceover from the flawless Katey Sagal, but the novelty ends there.

Marry Me: Read the above yet again, because that couple is now in their mid-late 30’s and is trying to get married, how else but one mishap at a time.

Stalker: When Kevin Williamson tried crime procedurals with The Following, it was a huge letdown (but still worth watching from time to time for a Kevin Bacon dose). He redeems himself with Stalker! Very well executed, and Liz Friedlander is beyond underrated as a director. It refreshingly captures the West Coast setting far better than most shows, and stars my future wife Maggie Q and my dude crush Dylan McDermott as co-leads with chemistry so good, it’s Fillion/Katic intense!

Bad Judge: Much like “Laura” above, this show seems confused about its tone. It’s actually a disappointment for the most part. You really really want it to be good but it just isn’t. There are some redeeming points, the story arc with Kate Walsh and the kid is quite touching, but then it feels out of place with where the rest of the show is going. Hopefully the writers can pull together the structure in time.

More new shows will be reviewed as they air.