Delayed Reaction: Mission Hill, the Most Progressive Cartoon of the Past 15 Years

Fair warning: what follows is kind of rambling and may not make a whole hell of a lot of sense. I am not, nor do I claim to be, any sort of expert on LGBT issues or relationships, being about as heterosexual as one can possibly be. That being said, the stuff I talk about below really struck me as socially important, so I thought I’d share.

Mission Hill
Image courtesy of Amazon.com.
This week, I’ve been watching Mission Hill: the Complete Series on DVD. In a lot of ways, it’s an unremarkable cartoon from the late ’90s/early ’00s. Most of the characters are pretty standard fare: Andy French, ostensibly our protagonist, is a 20something slacker who would do great things if only he didn’t spend all his time drinking heavily and being more than a bit of a jerk; Andy’s high school brother, Kevin, who comes to live with Andy through a trite, unlikely scenario, and is your stereotypical “nerd” character (seems slightly Asbergers to me, but I might just see that because of my job); and their roommates, Jim and Posey, who are the stoner and the hippie chick, respectively (though Jim is shown to have slightly more layers to him than that; he ends up being an IT/computer specialist for a big ad company and eventually helps Andy get a job in their art and design department). Honestly, none of these characters or character types are all that original, even if they are usually pretty well-done in the show.

No, where the show really shines is in the portrayal of one of the only two monogamous, committed relationships in the entire series: Wally and Gus (the other, between Carlos and Natalie, is notable for being a healthy, interracial marriage where race never even really seems like an issue between the two). Wally and Gus, two older, gay men, have the healthiest, most realistic relationship in the entire series, and possibly the most realistic portrayal of a gay relationship on all of television.

Wally and Gus
Image courtesy of fanpop.com.
Wally and Gus are presented as well-rounded, human characters. Yes, they are gay, but that is merely a facet of their personalities as opposed to the defining characteristic that guides every action they take. They are clearly in a loving, long-term relationship, one where there are occasionally arguments (what long-term relationship doesn’t have those?) and disagreements, but there’s a commitment and a warmth to their interactions that’s beautiful to watch. It’s not exploitative, it’s not played for laughs (except insomuch as any relationship is treated as a source of amusement and entertainment in a comedy show), and it doesn’t go for the cheap shots or stereotypes.

What’s more, the characters around them treat the couple as perfectly normal. Now, it saddens me in this day and age that I’d even have to point that out, or that it might be uncommon or strange, but that’s the sad reality we live in: it may be the 21st century, but most folks are still more than a little uptight about LGBT relationships. But Andy, Kevin, Jim, Posey, and the rest all treat Wally and Gus as just two other people who live in the building; no more, no less.

That’s what’s so enormously progressive about this particular show, and why I think I appreciate it despite its blatant mediocrity in pretty much every other aspect of its existence: the writers made these two characters feel natural and real.

Their best episode is the series finale, a touching ode not only to the bad cinema of Ed Wood but to the power and draw of True Love. In the episode, Wally is an up-and-coming film director working with some of the biggest stars of the screen, directing a big-budget sci-fi epic that everyone is certain will be a blockbuster success. But then he meets Gus, and everything about the film falls apart: Wally puts Gus in the lead role even though Gus can’t act his way out of a wet paper bag, the rest of the cast quit, and the studio kills the project. Wally takes his film to a small-time studio, reworks the entire script to fit his new leading man (and less-than-stellar supporting cast), and does a no-budget Ed Wood-style b-film that is so bad, he hid it from the world for 50 years. When Kevin discovers the movie and hypes it up with the neighborhood, Wally’s sense of self-worth is devastated, but it’s nothing compared to how horrible he feels for putting Gus in a position of ridicule. The thing is, Gus doesn’t really give a damn what people think of him, as long as Wally’s happy. And ultimately, Wally figures that out, deciding that a movie that brings people joy (it’s a hilariously bad film) can’t be that bad, and he can live with his shame at having produced a real stinker if he’s got Gus. Which he definitely has. The final shot of the episode (and of the series, as it turns out) is of Wally and Gus in bed, content with each other. It’s a heartwarming, emotionally-charged moment for a show that usually did jokes about alcohol and hookers, and it hits all the right notes. Honestly, if you watched no other episode of the series than this one, you’d think it was a pretty damn good show. I think if they’d been able to produce more stuff like this one 22-minute piece, the show wouldn’t have been canceled.

“You’re Standing On My Neck”

I picked up the Daria Complete Series DVD Collection this weekend, ostensibly for my wife (though it was also totally for me). The show is every bit as good as I remember it. I’d seen far fewer episodes of the show that I remembered having seen, but it’s still pure, distilled awesome.

Sadly, as many folks have probably already mentioned, most of the music in the show has been changed. Sometimes, this doesn’t have much of an impact, but there are definitely some moments where the missing music is noticeable. There are places where they managed to get the original music, but those moments are few and far between.

As far as I’m concerned, though, the music doesn’t really detract too much from what was a very intelligent, clever, and hysterical show. I definitely recommend it if you’re into sarcastic ’90s wit. And really, who isn’t?

Doctor Who, Old and New

Finally sat down earlier this week and watched the first episode of the new Doctor Who. I’m still not quite sure what I think of Matt Smith as the 11th Doctor. He’s definitely strange looking, and it’s pretty clear that both the writers and the actor are still trying to find the right voice and characterization for the new Doctor, but it’s got some promise. The wife isn’t quite so convinced, but she was kinda in love with David Tennant, so I think I have to take her opinion with a rather large grain of salt. I do quite like the new Companion. Amy Pond seems like a strong character, one who is in many ways the Doctor’s equal. They seem to have a bit of an adversarial relationship (something I really enjoyed during Donna Noble’s time as Companion), and I think the show is always at its best when the Doctor’s Companion is someone who can go toe to toe with him rather than a simpering whiner.

I also watched an old Tom Baker Doctor Who serial this week, The Ark in Space. It’s striking just how different Baker’s Doctor is from any of the revived series’ Doctors. For one, he’s meaner and talks a whole hell of a lot less. There’s also much less running involved (the revived series seems to be all about running, I’ve noticed). Ark was an interesting story, and it’s interesting to see a time when the Doctor didn’t just use the sonic screwdriver to solve every single problem (I think the tool became a bit of a crutch during the revived series; I mean, it basically does whatever the writers wanted it to, which can lead to lazy writing).

Anyway, I’ll be watching the new Doctor Who with interest. Don’t care for the new opening, though.

My Love Affair with BBC America

Okay, so the wife and I are basically addicted to BBC America.

I’ve been an Anglophile for quite a long time. I’ve always loved Britain as a country, and had the usual Monty Python obsession that most teenagers had (I mean, seriously, who didn’t watch Holy Grail like a million times in high school? We even managed to watch it on a church youth group trip once), but it’s definitely expanded beyond that.

Now that we have FiOS (or however the hell it’s supposed to be capitalized), we’ve been watching a lot of programs on BBC America (it was one of the reasons we switched over in the first place). There’s Doctor Who, of course, but what Anglophile geek of a certain age doesn’t watch that? I’ve also gotten into Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares. I know he’s done some American shows as well, but he always seemed to asshole-ish in those, while here he seems hard-assed but fair (and honestly, a lot of these restaurants were pretty bad). The wife’s really into You Are What You Eat, though I can’t really abide by the show because the nutritionist who helps the people on the show just rubs me the wrong way.

The show I’ve really grown fond of, though, is How Clean Is Your House?, a clever reality show about…well, housecleaning. I’ve never been a big fan of cleaning, but this show has done two things for me: 1) helped me realize that cleaning regularly makes things so much easier to deal with, and 2) holy crap, even at my worst my place was never that bad. There are people who haven’t cleaned their houses in a decade or more. On every episode, the two women (Kim and Aggie) who help these folks clean up return to the home two weeks after the thorough deep cleaning to check up. Never once has the place fallen back into disrepair and disarray. There’ve been a couple where a room might have gotten a little cluttered, but there’s definitely a change in the way people do things in their homes. It’s rather heartening, really.

I’m also becoming a fan of Top Gear, which is ostensibly a car show but is really just a show about guys behaving in goofy ways with fast, fast cars. I can get behind that. I’m also looking forward to The In-Betweeners, which has been touted as “Superbad with an English accent.” We’ve got a couple of episodes on the DVR, so we’ll see how that goes.

Kicking Television

So, what with a move and having to wait for the Verizon people to come set up the cable at the new place, the wife and I basically went a couple of weeks without watching any TV. Now that everything’s up and running again, we’ve got the DVR recording all sorts of interesting stuff for us. Let’s see what’s on!

Turns out we’re kind of addicted to BBC America. Granted, this is largely because of Doctor Who. I was pleased with the first part of the two-part Tenth Doctor finale, The End of TIme, but felt rather let down by the second part. Honestly, the last twenty minutes especially felt rather unnecessary (especially since all of those characters had already received perfectly good send-offs in earlier seasons, like, y’know, season 4). But honestly, I find it kinda hard to blame Russell T. Davies and David Tenant for doing a little victory lap like that.

But even beyond Doctor Who, there’s some fun stuff on BBC America. We’re rather addicted to a show called How Clean is Your House? It’s basically a couple of British women going to visit people whose homes are incredibly filthy and helping the folks get their act together. They come back a couple of weeks later to check up again, and we’ve yet to catch an episode where the people didn’t maintain the cleanliness, which is heartening.

We’ve also been watching lots of stuff on Discovery (Mythbusters!), and the wife seems to be infatuated with Animal Planet. And Food Network. Now that I think about it, maybe letting her program the DVR wasn’t the best idea.