I am so tired of talking and thinking about the pandemic, not even the walloping death and misery of it, but the way our routines have shifted and snapped because of it, and yet it feels like it will be a long time before any conversations exist fully separate from it. It’s the smoke on your clothes after a night out. It’s just there.
Desi and I had a joint dentist appointment the other morning and when it was my turn in the chair, the hygienist asked me what grade he was going to enter in the fall. “Wow, so you did kindergarten at home, what was that like?” Her eyeballs popped out at me from behind her face shield.
Desi was there sitting by my shins, swinging his legs, watching whatever YouTube trash she had put on the monitor to occupy him. He was not paying attention to us or maybe he was. Stifling my usual compulsion to entertain, I took a beat and said, just, “You know what? He did great.”
”Good!” she said, and got right back to scraping tartar.
That was…so easy, I thought. Maybe all I’ve ever had to do to get out of tedious conversations is suppress my insatiable appetite as a laugh vampire!!!!!
(She says as she writes her newsletter for attention.)
What was my point. Right. I am watching TV again! This is as pandemic-influenced as everything else, I’m afraid.
I don’t know if it was oversaturation of the home environment or just depression more generally, but after a lifelong love affair with TV, I had a temporary break-up with the medium. During most of the pandemic, I could not bring myself to fire up the tube after the kids were in bed. I would try, watch the first three minutes or so of a few different shows, then give up and do crossword puzzles on my phone in bed until I couldn’t keep my eyes open.
While my child-free or normally hypersocial friends seemed to be ingesting more TV than ever, I was consuming none. Parents of small children have vanishing windows of the day to watch adult media in the first place, and I just couldn’t scrape together the concentration required. When I was sick and fatigued during the beginning of this pregnancy, I was going to bed so early that TV wasn’t even an option.
At night I would go to bed, and Nick would have his laptop out and some kind of streaming content going on the big screen as I kissed him good night, and it was like he had some niche lifestyle I didn’t understand. Like he was from a different culture.
How strange. But now I’m back!! Feels great.
I have been watching crime shows since I was a kid making money ironing my dad’s work shirts in the summer (a nickel a shirt…..LOL mom you robber baron) watching Murder, She Wrote and Magnum, P.I. Some of my coziest memories are of falling asleep on the couch with my mom and waking up as the closing credits of Law & Order started clanging away.
When SVU came out, I remember my dad being too squeamish to sit through the gruesome sex crime stuff and my mom and I chuckling at his softness as the most prurient shit I’ve ever heard in my life was calmly discussed by two detectives on screen.
If you believe in police abolition and prison abolition, as I do, how do you contend with longstanding affection for copaganda television? Great question, don’t know, will get back to you….
I was radicalized by Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson and since then, have not tolerated crime TV the same way I did as a kid. Sometimes it hits the way it used to, sometimes it disgusts me. I’m not saying it’s moral to continue pursuing crime TV for entertainment purposes; it probably isn’t. But I am saying that sometimes when a crime show takes place separate from the American justice system, for example in Europe, I allow myself the bullshit belief that I am slightly less complicit. Like Joan Didion said, “we tell ourselves stories in order to enjoy the streaming content we want to enjoy.”
Anyway, I started realizing that all these shows I’ve been mainlining (Capitani, The Black Spot, The Forest) are starting to run together. And why is there a wolf? So I present to you:
TOWARD A UNIFIED THEORY OF LOUP DES BOIS SHOWS
We are IN THE WOODS. Or rather, we are in a village somewhere in western Europe and we are nestled in the woods. There are devastating dark bottlebrush conifers snagged with white mist caught by God’s-eye drone shots as we follow a character by car down a winding wooded road. If I had Sondheim literacy, I would probably be able to make enjoyable Into the Woods references throughout this newsletter but unfortunately, I was raised by a different varietal of nerd!
The village is adorable but stifling. Everyone has known each other since école maternelle and everyone’s children went to école maternelle together. All adults have straightforward, Richard Scarry-type jobs that allow for plenty of interaction with fellow townspeople. A police officer. A teacher. A public official. A baker. A pharmacist. A doctor. Everyone lives in a tastefully appointed cottage-y housing no matter their job or marital status. (Unless you are a known drunk or outcast, then you probably live in squalor. But everyone still knows you from école maternelle.)
There is something extra isolated and unusual about the town. A quirk of geography that makes it especially remote. The wi-fi doesn’t work. The bus to the next big town only runs a few times a week. Maybe the town was the site of a gruesome murder years ago that launched it from comfortably unknown to notorious and with a backwards reputation. This only serves to bind the townspeople closer together. The outsiders don’t get it! This crime either went unsolved, haunting everyone, or it was solved incorrectly.
And, for freshman English reasons, there is a wolf. In the woods. Maybe wolves plural. That’s why these are called loup des bois shows (according to me) (Ebert 2021). Can a loup des bois show not have a wolf in it? Technically yes, as long as it’s still Europe and we’re still in the forest. But don’t worry. You might start a series and wonder, hm, no wolves. But there’s probably gonna be a wolf at some point! You’ll get your wolf.
NEW IN TOWN. This person is usually single, and it’s usually a man. They’re new, they got called in to help with whatever crime has happened. Or maybe they just moved there for a fresh start! Maybe they had a wife and she died. It’s also possible that they grew up in the village, left for decades, and have now returned. They do things a little differently! They are rubbing everyone the wrong way. Townspeople not sure whether to trust! This person is probably a cop which means that after decades away, they are now going around accusing people from their past of unsavory things. And that’s just not how it’s done around here! Not when you’ve known someone since école maternelle.
LADY COP. She’s a cop. She’s a woman. She probably has children. It’s hard to be a mom. She has a blind spot for her fellow townsfolk because violent crime is so unusual here and, again, she went to école maternelle with these people!!
Clean cut, charming husband of lady cop. Unfortunately, it is not possible for a woman cop in a loup des bois show to have a good husband. He is either doing fraud or being a sex pest. If he’s a sex pest, it’s probably teenagers. He’s either being a creep online or having encounters RIGHT UNDER THE NOSE OF HIS COP WIFE. As though anything gets missed in this village! What a fool he is making of her. He probably didn’t do the big crime but for a few episodes you wonder.
Rough-necked alcoholic dad. Negligent parent. Is taken in for questioning at least once. He’s so easy to frame! Probably didn’t do the big crime, but you do wonder!!
THE PARIAH. Off-grid weirdo with a criminal past and a substance problem. Things have always been hard for this guy, even way back in école maternelle. He probably has guns and animals strung up around his shack. Again, he probably didn’t do the big crime. He also probably didn’t do the first thing that people thought he did that pushed him into the woods to begin with. IS IT THE VILLAGERS WHO ARE THE REAL LOUPS DES BOIS?!! This guy might be a sex pest but probably not. He just wants people to go away! Is that so hard to understand!
The teens are in over their head. It’s sex. It’s drugs. It’s Online. The teens have a secret. The teens can’t explain it to you! The bad teens are really good and the good teens know more than they let on. They let it go too far. Their friend is dead. Their classmate is dead. Their sister is dead. How do we reach these teens? Could teens struggle even here in our wooded village?!! Who killed this teen? Can we find this other teen? Someone knows something. Someone help the teens!!!!!
They solve the new crime, just in time. They probably solve the old crime. Someone is finally going to get out of this village for good. Someone else has decided to stop pretending. Some reputations are rehabbed. Some well-regarded creeps are disgraced. No one can believe it. The teens can believe it. The teens are so unbelievably stoic. Wolves happened.
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