Running for the border, in reverse

It’s the height of foolishness to get excited about a new Fox series, but can you really blame me this time?  Christopher McQuarrie — best known for writing The usual suspects — has co-created Persons unknown, and is currently executive producing a 13-episode run, which I expect to begin airing this fall. Truth be told, McQuarrie’s involvement alone would have been enough to get me to watch: if he can manage to give Ryan Philippe a certain dirty, macho appeal, I’m willing to give any McQuarrie project a fair shot, even if it’s going to be relegated to the network with the worst track history in TubaTV’s collective memory.

Sweetening the deal, though, is the curious fact that Persons unknown has been filming less than an hour away from TubaTV’s Latin American office, in the Ajusco Mountain region south of Mexico City.  I’m not thrilled that the show is being co-produced with Televisa — the Mexican analog of Fox, only ickier, if you can imagine — but in all honesty the partnership can only help the otherwise desolate Mexican airwaves.  [I recently spoke with the main stylist on Mexico’s other notable (read:failed) attempt at moving beyond the telenovela format, and she confirmed my suspicions: the second season of Capadocia is going to be much, much shoddier than the first.  Apparently — and understandably — the series’s budget has been slashed, and to make matters worse, its writers have abandoned the entire groundwork they laid in the first season, offering us instead a weak, watery prequel: the life and times of Bambi, prior to her incarceration.  Do they not realize that by the end of the first season, the show’s appeal was resting entirely on Dolores Paradis’s impressive underage décolletage?]

So, viva NAFTA?

In related news, burnout Fox alum Paul Sheuring might be competing with McQuarrie on the big screen, as both appear to be working on remakes of the German film Das experiment.  Personally, I’d favor a McQuarrie effort by a mile, since Sheuring spent a good two and a half seasons beating his own Prison break horse after it had expired.

— J.C. Freñán

Advertisements

TV pet peeve #1: “6 months earlier…”

I can’t figure out if I should direct my ire at scriptwriters or editors for a pox that is infecting contemporary television narrative: the Totally Gratuitous Flash-Forward.  (I do think we can safely blame J.J. Abrams for popularizing chronological monkey business like this.)  An episode begins with a visually or narratively provocative scene, the viewer is presumably overwhelmed by the totally banal question “How did we get here?” and suddenly we cut to a title screen that re-directs us some hours/days/weeks earlier in the story.  The following is a running list of programs that have resorted to this lamest of storytelling devices.

Battlestar Galactica: season 1, episode 4 (no time elapse specified); season 2, episode 12 (“48 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 14 (“48 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 15 (“94 hours ago”); season 3, episode 3 (“1 hour earlier”).  BSG is the worst offender, by far.

Breaking bad: pilot (“2 weeks earlier”); season 1, episode 2 (“12 hours earlier”). I’m otherwise enamored of this show, so it was disappointing to get two consecutive flash-forwards like this.  Season 2 plays with this device a little in the pre-credits sequences, but for the most part it’s not over the top or obnoxious.

Capadocia: pilot (“16 horas antes”).  (Was I really all that surprised?  No.  Not really.)

Damages: pilot (“Six months earlier”).  They built the whole goddamn show on this device.  WEAK.

Dollhouse: season 1, episode 9 (“12 hours earlier”).

Hustle: season 1, episode 3 (“1 week earlier”); season 3, episode 3 (“2 months earlier”); season 3, episode 4 (“a week earlier”).

Prison break: season 2, episode 3 (“12 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 15 (“six hours earlier”).  (Must be Michael Scofield’s brain tumor keeping him from telling time properly.)

Shame should also be directed at the directors of Michael Clayton (“4 days earlier”) and The illusionist for resorting to the flash-forward.  What is this, your seventh-grade Creative Writing class?

*ANY* fucking story becomes provocative when you cut a slice out the middle and show it first. Writers, editors: if you can’t figure out how to make a story compelling without dangling a little taste of what’s to come at the beginning, you’re in the wrong line of work.  The flash-forward is NEVER A GOOD IDEA.

– J.C. Freñán

‘Capadocia,’ or, The unanticipated pleasures of a Mexican telenovela

Reeling from the sad but timely demise of The Wire this past March, I found myself jonesing for a prime time drama that might serve as a kind of methadone, y’know, just to get me back on my feet. I couldn’t bear the thought of investing in another gritty, brutally realist urban crime saga, so you can imagine my delight when I stumbled upon Capadocia, HBO’s first-ever original series developed and produced right here in Mexico City for the Latin American market. A soap opera about a women’s penitentiary? It’s like Oz meets The L Word. Seriously, it’s just like that.

The first episode (“Genesis?” Really?) clues us in on what to expect for the season: following an unfavorable decision by Congress, Cristóbal Saenz, head of a corporation hoping to monopolize the nascent market for private correctional facilities, orchestrates a riot among the inmates at one of the women’s prisons in the Federal District. As all good riots do, this gets out of hand, devolving into a massacre that scandalizes the city. In response to public pressure Governor Santiago Marin approves the opening of a new, private prison – Capadocia. (The name, we learn in an early, forced moment of expository dialog, is mistakenly identified as a reference to “the city where the Amazons lived.”) In an act of shameless nepotism, Marin appoints his ex-wife, Dr. Teresa Lagos, to oversee the operation of the new prison. As head of security, Marin selects Col. Isabel Clave, played by the intimidatingly chiseled Italian actress Silvia Carusillo.

MILFlessons.com?  Workinglatinas.com?
MILFlessons.com? Workinglatinas.com?

The series is unabashedly preoccupied with championing the proud women of Mexico. Teresa Lagos is the de facto heroine of Capadocia. She’s strong. She’s sexy enough to warrant at least one or two appearances on the Bangbros network. She’s committed to improving the lives of Mexico City’s incarcerated women, even when it means extorting corrupt public figures.

The rest of the cast is composed primarily of Teresa’s many wards. There’s Lorena Guerra (played by Ana de la Reguera, Jack Black’s habited love interest in Nacho Libre), whose storyline reads like a direct (if thickly accented) translation of Oz‘s Toby Beecher, minus the public defecation. Then there’s Bambi, a ruthless, psychotic but nevertheless smoking hot inmate who is bent on dominating the other women at Capadocia. There’s Consuelo the Columbian beauty queen and Magos the child poisoner; Marta the drug addict and Angela the murderous home care professional; Antonia the post-op tranny and Sister Marion the drug running nun. Over the course of the season we learn of the different circumstances that mitigate these women’s crimes. Mexican men on the show, however, don’t fare quite so well. They are either irredeemably corrupt (Saenz), well-meaning but weak and morally compromised (Marin), or serious fucking pussies, as in the cases of both Daniel, Teresa’s 24-year-old student and lover, and Dr. José Burian, Teresa’s colleague and other lover.

Don't mess with Bambi.
Don't mess with Bambi.

Sure, such entanglements might seem the exclusive prerogative of a telenovela’s limited imagination. The thing is, though, even in the sprawling megalopolis that is Mexico City, the show’s rapid fire partner-swapping is actually a pretty spot-on representation, at least for the upper class types portrayed in Capadocia and the actors who play them. And, for that matter, those of us who make a living critiquing them. It’s impossible to meet someone in this city who hasn’t been around the block with at least one or two of your friends, coworkers, maybe even a cousin. We all live in the same three or four hip, well-policed neighborhoods. We all cycle through the same, tired circuit of restaurants, bars, parties. It’s no great shock, then, that I should happen to attend the same swanky Condesa gym as Capadocia‘s Silvia Carusillo. Nor should her being married dissuade me for a second from having designs on her

She’s even more cut in person. Hunched over, elbow propped on knee, she catches me admiring her taut, knotted biceps. The corner of her mouth twists up into a smile as she does another curl, more slowly this time. She hesitates for a moment, her mouth a sudden “Oh,” her eyebrows arched in mock surprise as she feints like she’s going to drop the dumbbell. A tiny gasp escapes me. It’s only a matter of seconds before the two of us are crammed into a stall in the men’s room, her hand clapped over my mouth while she rides me like a champion jockey at the Kentucky Derby. Afterward as I creep out of the bathroom she snaps her towel across my ass.

For a good five days I’m too sore to make it back to the gym. Every single part of me hurts. Thursday night rolls around, and I manage to catch the third episode of Capadocia. It’s hard to feel invested in anyone other than Silvia’s character at this point. I’m transfixed, though, watching Isabel heft one of the prison’s newly authorized Tasers, those glossy lips puckered into her signature pout, electricity popping beside her face. Breathless, I grab for my phone to call a friend: “How do you say ‘Tase me’ in Italian?”

The next day, still sore but newly tumescent, I make a special effort to hit up the gym. After what I saw last night, I’m desperate to be pinioned between Silvia’s strong arms again, to be slick with her sweat. She’s not in the weight room, though, not in the pool, not in one of the yoga studios. Fuck. I go about my workout half-heartedly, ceding the lateral press after only two sets, skimping on my reps on each of the machines. I don’t even bother to shower before swinging by the gym café for a shot of wheatgrass. And there she is, reading some new script over an espresso, cheeks just barely hollowed from that perpetual pout she wears. She looks up as I approach, shoots me a sly smile, invites me to sit. “I saw you on TV last night,” I say by way of a greeting. She shrugs, replying a little snottily that she didn’t bother to watch the broadcast. We discuss the show a bit – I’m wary of provoking her ire, knowing what she could do to me – before I work up the nerve to suggest that we could watch an episode together.

So two Thursdays later Silvia and I are on her sofa. (Black suede. Classy.) A third of the way into the season now, we roll our eyes in unison at the show’s frequent overindulgences: the lite, post-Amores Perros Mexican soundtrack , the overproduced flashbacks. In one of these I think I see the Governor nailing someone on his desk? Silvia has gone tense beside me, her powerful hand gripping my thigh. But now a jilted Daniel is onscreen, entertaining the possibility of avenging himself by deflowering Teresa’s scandalously

¿Qué onda, nena?
¿Qué onda, nena?

buxom daughter; now Consuelo is being secreted out of prison to tryst with Saenz while a frantic Bambi is put down with Tasers. At this Silvia’s hand moves up my leg to grip my balls roughly. She’s onscreen now – Silvia/Isabel, that is – sauntering away from the scene of the Tasing, thumbs hooked rakishly in her pockets, wearing an impractical but incredibly sexy Laura Croft thigh holster. And here on the couch Silvia’s face is next to mine, her breath hot on my ear. “You wanna see my gun?” She grabs me by the hair with one hand, shoving my face into the arm rest, while with the other she fishes around under her coffee table to retrieve an enormous black strap-on. I have trouble following the rest of the episode.

A couple weeks later I realize what had motivated Silvia’s sudden assertiveness. Capadocia has admitted a couple new prisoners. Consuelo manages to escape during one of her late night visits to see Saenz. Lorena begins working for Bambi, cutting coke. And Isabel, it turns out, is fucking the Governor.

I feel betrayed. Silvia and I have been seeing each other almost daily – or I guess I should say she’s been seeing me, as I’m usually wearing one of those leather masks with zippers over the eyes. But whatever, I feel like we’re really starting to build something together, so it’s hard for me to see her frittering away her screen time with that fat, Viagra-popping piece of shit. Especially tough is a post-coital hotel scene: Silvia’s wearing just a thong and a bra, caressing the Governor’s curly gray chest hair as they make plans for a future together. I can’t tell which disgusts me more, his corpulence or her tenderness. I find myself scrutinizing every second they’re onscreen together, watching each episode of Capadocia On Demand again and again, looking for any indication that Silvia and Marco Treviño (the douchebag who plays the Governor) might be harboring secret affections for each other. Was he hard when they shot those sex scenes together? Did they do any rehearsals? How many takes before they printed? For real, did they need more than one?

The wait between episodes is growing unbearable. I need to know what’s going on with Isabel. I can’t help but feel as if she doesn’t take this seriously, as if all those scheiße films we’ve made together were just some momentary distraction from the boredom of her marriage. I feel like Silvia’s avoiding me. She isn’t frequenting our gym the way she used to. Things finally come to a head when she catches me parked in front of her apartment on an ill-conceived, coke-fueled stakeout. Cutting an impressive silhouette even in her bathrobe and slippers, she storms out of her building to inform me in no uncertain terms that if I don’t cease and desist immediately – and of course the juridical language gets me hard – she will upload our videos to Youtube, and she will link to them on Facebook.

With my coke-goggles on, though, I’m not easily daunted. And in fact Capadocia has taught me a thing or two about how to be creative in the exaction of my revenge. Already I’ve got the wheels of my righteousness in motion. In Mexico it isn’t hard to get a scrip for estrogen supplements. And I’ve got an appointment at a well-seasoned salon in Historic Downtown for a mani-pedi and a weave. Oh, you will rue the day you ever sodomized me in that public bathroom, Silvia Carusillo. Rue the motherfucking day.

– J.C. Freñán