Television Man | Aidan Morgan | July 29, 2021
“We choose to watch Howdy Doody. We choose to watch Howdy Doody this evening and maybe have some popcorn, not because it is funny but because it is secretly terrifying to watch that wooden-headed avatar of prepubescent id clack its jaw and roll its dead eyes at our nation” —from the first draft of John F. Kennedy’s moon speech
Kevin Smith had a dream. Or more accurately, he had a job: to shepherd a sequel to Filmation’s famously junky He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon from the 1980s. The original’s greatest claim to fame, aside from a buff skeleton as the chief antagonist, was its naked intent to function as a vehicle for action figure merchandising. Nonetheless, there was a certain appeal in its storytelling. Skeletor’s repeated failure to capture Castle Greyskull and his shrieks of impotent rage at his underlings quickly turned the show into a form of weirdo comedy. Mainstream culture would have you believe that good inevitably triumphs over evil; He-Man suggested that evil, though persistent, was simply too incompetent to prevail.
Smith, along with Mattel and Netflix, decided to create a Masters of the Universe for the 21st century aimed at adult fans of the original. Instead of a complete reimagining in the style of Noelle Stevenson’s superlative She-Ra and The Princesses of Power, the new MotU would pick up where the original left off. The animation and design are instantly recognizable but vastly improved. Smith also makes some bold storytelling choices that upset the status quo, gave neglected characters a chance to shine and produced something that is richer and more interesting than its predecessor.
Masters of the Universe: Revelation is a show for the fans. And the fans, so far, have not loved it. Some don’t like its focus on Teela (voiced by Sarah Michelle Gellar) in the first five-episode run, but those opinions can mostly be consigned to the bin of online misogyny. The show’s main issue is its timid storytelling. It feints towards entirely new possibilities, only to snap back to the status quo at the last moment. She-Ra showed us how much juice could be squeezed from the old lemons of our childhood entertainment. By comparison, Masters of the Universe feels a bit dusty.
The first five episodes of MotU: Revelation are available on Netflix.
Prolific writer, director, actor and reality show contestant Mike White (Freaks and Geeks, School of Rock, Enlightened) is the reigning king of American self-delusion. His work is full of spas, rehab centres, vacation idylls, scenes of leisure in which people disintegrate under the cultural weight of pleasure. The White Lotus (HBO/Crave) may be the most fully realized articulation of his ideas.
The Lotus is a luxury Hawaiian hotel where the rich go and let their id hang out. The six-episode series follows guests and staff as they attempt to get away from their demons, only to find they’ve tossed their problems into their luggage along with tanning lotion and swimwear.
The cast (Connie Britton, Steve Zahn, Alexandra Daddario, Sydney Sweeney, Murray Bartlett and more) is uniformly tremendous, but Jennifer Coolidge absolutely nails her role as a grief-stricken woman who has come to Hawaii to scatter her mother’s ashes. A scene on a boat as her eulogy curdles into a wailing catalogue of her mother’s abuses is as terrifying to watch as it is unsurprising.
Some may find White’s satirical eye a bit too cruel and unsympathetic. As someone who grew up around the ultrawealthy, I can say with confidence that The White Lotus is admirably kind.
Episodes of The White Lotus stream on Crave at 7:00 p.m. Sundays.