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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

This Year’s Streaming Shows Aimed for Wish-Fulfillment

For those of a certain persuasion, one thing becomes very clear in the pilot episode of Amazon’s series A League of Their OwnThis show is gay. Not just gay but, like, queer as hell. It’s also far less white than the 1992 Penny Marshall movie from which it takes its lead. That film, if memory serves, had exactly one Black woman, and she had no lines. As for queer women, it had Rosie O’Donnell in a central role, but no one in the women’s baseball league of the movie’s title was an out gay character. No one was trans or gender nonconforming. Yet the film was always beloved by LGBTQ+ audiences—many of whom, in 2022, finally got to see the League of Their Own they’d always dreamt of. 

Not that everyone dreamt of it. Soon after the show’s premiere, cocreator Abbi Jacobson (Broad City) said during a fan Q&A on Twitter that she had “seen a lot of people angry and mad at our inclusion of more experiences [people of color, queer women of color, queer], and that anger (aka fear) has only made me more sure that this reimagining needed to be made.” Jacobson stuck to her guns, and in doing so fulfilled the wishes of a fandom that had been longing for a League of their own for a long time. 

Amazon’s series wasn’t the only one. Over on AMC+, Interview With the Vampire gave a far different interpretation of Anne Rice’s 1976 book than Neil Jordan’s 1994 gothic horror flick. In the new adaptation, Louis—a white plantation owner in Rice’s novel who is played by Brad Pitt in Jordan’s film—is a Black man (played by Game of Thrones’ Jacob Anderson) who owns a brothel in New Orleans in the 1910s. Lesat (Sam Reid)—a bisexual French socialite in Rice’s book played by Tom Cruise in the movie—is still all of those things, but in AMC+’s show he is, by all accounts, married to Louis, something very evident in the book and glossed over in Jordan’s film.

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It is here that the wish-fulfillment of A League of Their Own and Interview With the Vampire converge and diverge. The League movie, based on a real-life league founded in 1943, erased just how prevalent queer women were in that space. (One of the show’s advisers, the original “All the Way Mae,” Maybelle Blair came out at 95 years old during the new show’s promotional campaign.) Amazon’s series wrote them back into history. The Interview movie washed out a lot of Louis’ and Lestat’s queerness (though it was still very campy). But in order to tell a more robust story about race, class, sexuality, and power in America, it also changed quite a lot of the original story as Rice wrote it. 

Taken from this view, then, both shows not only inject their respective properties with narratives that fans have been clamoring for, but also with historical context and meaning, the subtextual became canon. This is something that only seems possible in the streaming era, where an adaptation can get the same budget as a film but also tell its story over multiple episodes. 

But adaptations weren’t the only things pleasing long-term fans. Consider Andor. While there may not have been a cacophony of pleas for Rogue One’s Cassian Andor to get his own Disney+ spinoff, the show, created by Rogue writer Tony Gilroy, did scratch the itch of every fan who craved a street-level Star Wars story—one that didn’t rely so heavily on MacGuffins, lightsabers, and the Force to keep the story afloat. The result was one of the best series—not just best Star Wars show, but best show, period—of 2022. 

The lesson here—that it is possible to do a solid “modern reimagining” if enough thought goes into it—feels fleeting. As of this writing, A League of Their Own hasn’t been picked up for a second season. Interview With the Vampire has. Meanwhile, Batgirl, a film based on a character fans have wanted to see onscreen for years, got its plug pulled before ever hitting HBO Max. Yes, this year brought new shows for fans of Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings, but those are more sure-fire franchises. What makes LeagueInterview, and Batgirl unique is that they’re not sure things. Their existence—or near-existence—seems more novel. (Dear Amazon, if you’re not going to renew League, might we suggest a season-long version of Fried Green Tomatoes?) 

The promise of streaming was that it made room for the weird and wooly. It created space for creators of color and queer people to tell their stories, but as the industry has blown up, those shows seem in jeopardy. In this atmosphere, pouring millions into The Rings of Power and letting A League of Their Own flounder feels like a misstep. 

Of course, this goes beyond streaming. More specifically, it goes to a place where a new reboot can show possibilities. Westworld was once a 1973 sci-fi film by Michael Crichton before it was a wildly popular—and far more robust—hit for HBO. Then again, HBO canned that, too.

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