English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Tag: Topic 3

Obadear, Let’s Shoot This Show

The first 30 seconds of season 2 of Search Party are an absolute masterpiece. Visually, we have a blank (ish) canvas; our protagonist’s face is looking directly at the camera (it’s soon revealed she’s actually looking into a mirror) with nothing else in the shot, save for a splotch of blood on her forehead. She’s facing what’s just happened (haha, get it?). The room feels so sterile.Without audio, this scene is particularly puzzling, especially for a first-time viewer. When you layer in the audio however, you can make the connection that our protagonist Dory has just gone through a very traumatic event. Snippets of recent happenings flash on the screen for a couple of seconds but disappear too quickly to get a sure sense of what is going on.

This inaugural scene sets the tone for the whole season: anxiety and mystery and trauma (oh my!). The camera work is shaky, implying a sense of urgency. The colors are muted (ironically, the only non neutral in the scene is the blood red sweater Elliot is wearing). The camera moves even with the actors, following Dory and Elliot upwards as he pulls her off the ground by her shoulders. There’s a strange intimacy hidden here, revealed deeply through all of these choices. That feeling, however, is immediately lost when Elliot comments about Chantal’s invitation to dinner. Our characters are still in the real world, even though this opening sequence is so dream-like. When I say dream-like, though, I really mean nightmarish. The scene is almost shot like a reality TV show. The camera focuses on the character’s face for much too long, almost uncomfortably close. A viewer could count all of Alia Shawkat’s freckles.

There’s another really beautiful scene in the episode where Drew is playing a melancholy keyboard tune. The room he’s in is blood orange, carpet included. The scene is lit very scarcely, but at the same time there is enough light for our characters to be bathed in a red hue. This scene is quite brilliantly shot, really, since it’s where Elliot, Drew, and Dory decide they are not going to report Keith’s murder to the police. It’s almost as if the redness is making their secret more evil.

One stylistic choice that stood out to me in this episode was the scene where they buried Keith. Remember that Search Party is, overall, a pretty dark show (pun intended). The lack of proper lighting actually bothered me as I’d have to constantly increase my laptop brightness to accommodate while watching. Thus, it’s interesting that in the darkest plot moment of the show, they choose to convey the characters outside. So picture this: four millennials, one freshly down from a coke high, burying a dead man (in a hot pink zebra stripe suitcase) in broad daylight.

Just pretend the suitcase is there too

Search Party is a very serious show, I promise.

Capturing Comfort

Every episode of Murphy Brown follows a similar setup in its composition. Most notable is the intro. Each episode begins with a focus on an individual character and is sound tracked by a famous soul song. This is the title sequence which plays the actors names. Many episodes have a meta component with the song choice as the characters sing along and the lyrics give the viewer a glimpse into what the show will be about. This important sequence shows the camera following the character around the room and highlighting the do mundane actions they take. The actions manage to display the characters emotions without any need for dialogue. In this particular episode (season 1 episode 21, “The Bickners”) Frank sits on elevator as doors open and close without exiting, when he finally moves he gets a muffin and throws away the edible part, only keeping the wrapper. In the background “This is A Man’s World”. As the camera often does when a viewer is supposed to perceive the actor’s emotions, the camera goes up close to face.  These scenes always end with a fade out of music and dialogue begun by another character entering.

Murphy Brown is a sitcom, and thus it follows the trend of having a laugh track. This is to aid in the humor. Whenever a joke is made at the expense of someone it zooms into their reaction. The show features many long shots, yet occasionally adds short ones to keep an interesting flow and follow conversations. In between major scenes, the show fades out to a video of the office building and then zooms into top floor, this is possibly to suggest the importance of their work and give the audience a concept of location.

The show has three settings, Murphy’s house, the bar (even though Murphy is a recovering alcoholic), and the office. It only strays from these when following a specific story. This creates a comforting feel. As with the similar settings, all episodes have generally subdued tones, with earthy browns, grays, and pastels. The way episodes parallel each other make Murphy Brown an enjoyable and easy show to watch. One that takes on issues yet manages to not be too aggressive about it and keep viewers comfortable.

Related image

1/3 settings: Phil’s Bar and Grill

Jessica Jones is Living in a Dark World

Jessica Jones stands out from every other marvel character that I’ve seen. She has no motivation in life, lives in a dumpy apartment next to a drug addict, and often spends her nights getting wasted at crappy bars. She doesn’t even try to hide her powers very well, often using them to take advantage over someone when they have something she wants. However, she does have a heart as she chooses to stay in New York City and help rescue a captured teenage girl instead of flee half way across the globe.

Jessica Jones Meme

The first episode starts with dialogue over several quick cut scenes which give the viewers a brief overview of Jessica and what she does. But moreover, it sets the precedent for the rest of the series as a dark and gloomy setting. Almost every scene in the first episode has a dark lighting to it. Even when they are walking around the city in the middle of the day it happens to be overcast and moody. This helps add to Jessica’s character portraying her life as dark and depressing.

The majority of the first episode is quick scenes of 30 seconds to a minute with a few longer scenes of up to around 3 minutes. However, at the end of the episode there is a very long 10ish minute scene with the main bulk of the drama and plot of the episode. This is mainly due to lots of different things happening before the end of the episode which help lead in to the traumatic ending. The quick scenes are necessary because there is a lot of information the viewers need to digest in order to fully understand the very intense ending scene.

This episode in particular definitely stands out from the rest of the episodes that I’ve seen so far. The episode focuses a lot of time on changing Jessica’s character of being selfish into risking her life to save a girl. They want the viewers to understand that Jessica cares about other people’s lives, and that she is willing to risk hers to stop a villain who is constantly hurting others. Furthermore, this episode in particular has more dark scenes than the rest. This is probably because her character is already developed in the future episodes, and the show doesn’t need the darkness to contribute to her character as much.

Overall, the first episode was amazing. It introduces a very complex character and horrifying villain both with lots of backstory leaving the viewers hungry to find out more. It was put together very well and makes most people excited to go on to the next episode.

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