Over/Underrated 2015 – Part Three

9 Jan

I begin tonight’s over/underrated post with a bit of a heavy heart. Life has intervened, and my bestie Brook will be able to contribute to our blogging tradition much less than both she and I would have liked. I shall do my best to carry on with twice as much snark in her absence, but these posts may be spaced out more this year as a result. All entries from here on out will be written by yours truly, unless noted otherwise.


Go Set a Watchman Controversy/Outrage

Author’s Note: This entry assumes that you have background knowledge of the great American novel To Kill a Mockingbird. If you don’t, stop reading this blog, and go back to high school. Seriously.

Harper Lee has always been an anomaly in the literary world. She achieved almost overnight success with her debut novel, To Kill a Mockingbird, won a Pulitzer, and then essentially said, “Peace out, Literary Career.” It’s a path that anyone, in or out of the literary world, would find at very least head-scratching. Nevertheless, over time the world seemed to reach a reluctant acceptance that never again would it see a published work from Lee.

Until 2015, that is.

In February of 2015, it was announced that Go Set a Watchman, a lost manuscript of Lee’s, was going to be published later in the year.

How exactly, you may wonder, does a manuscript from one of the most gifted writers in American history get lost? Watchman began as the original manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird, set later in the lives of the characters. When Lee was encouraged to rewrite the novel from Scout’s perspective as a child, To Kill a Mockingbird was born, and Go Set a Watchman was all but forgotten.

When it was announced that Watchman had been found in a safe deposit box and would be published in July of 2015, the literary world lost its shit. I’ll admit, I myself was included in this crazed frenzy of people formerly known as intellectuals. This was our chance to get another taste of genius, and boy were we hungry.

As quickly as our appetite appeared to be soon satiated, however, our food was tainted with rumors of scandal. Lee, who suffered a stroke in 2007, had been largely cared for by her older sister Alice, who passed away in November of 2014. Accusations swirled that without Alice to look out for Lee’s best interests, she had been taken advantage of, being forced to publish a novel that she never wanted the public to read. While Lee reportedly stated to her lawyer that she was, “…alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to Watchman,” (more on those “reactions” later) and while Alabama investigators found no evidence of coercion, there are still those who doubt whether or not Lee was mentally sound enough to know what she was signing off on.

Of course, the circumstances surrounding Watchman‘s publication would hardly have been noteworthy had the novel been well received. As it turns out, Watchman was hated by almost everyone who could bear to get through it. Poorly marketed as a “sequel” to To Kill a Mockingbird, fans of the original novel were shocked to find their beloved Atticus, defender of the wrongly accused, purveyor of equality and understanding, now a racist bigot connected to the KKK. You could hear the indignant cries of, “HOW COULD SHE?” from every indie bookstore across the country, to which I say only this: Calm the f*ck down, and do your research.

I did, and what I discovered was this.

First of all, Go Set a Watchman is not a sequel. Yes, it takes place in years following To Kill a Mockingbird. Yes it details the lives of the same characters as To Kill a Mockingbird. But these things does not a sequel make. What it is, is a first draft. A draft which was later revised and molded into the masterpiece we all know and love. I am, nor could I ever hope to be, a writer of the same caliber as Harper Lee. I am, however, a writer, so I feel as though I know a thing or two about the process. If anyone were to judge any piece of my writing, and I do mean any piece, by its original draft, I would be mortified. First drafts are meant to be ugly. First drafts are the result of the brutal and excruciating work of simply getting words out into the universe. Sometimes, it’s a small miracle to get any words on the page, forget about the right ones. Of course a first draft looks different from the final product. It’s supposed to.

If you’re like me, you may think something as naive as, “Why didn’t she edit Go Set a Watchman for continuity before it was published?” Again, do your research (like I did), and note the aforementioned stroke and other health issues that have befallen Lee.

I understand feeling uncomfortable by the glaring contradictions between the characters we admired for their strength and the characters we see presented in Watchman. But, I also took the time to understand why there is such a contradiction in the first place, and am actually quite thankful to have gotten a fascinating inner glimpse at Lee’s creative process. Can’t quite get over it? Again I say, “Calm the f*ck down.”



The Leftovers

SPOILER ALERT: The following entry contains major spoilers about season two of the Leftovers.

The Lost phenomenon is nothing new. Every television season, there’s a show that tries to break out the confines of cop/lawyer/doctor/superhero drama, and every television season that show fails. The issue comes down to plot. All of the shows that tried to measure up to Lost such as FlashForward and Revolution (which made our underrated list in 2012) had plots that, while creative, were simply too self-involved to sustain viewers’ attention beyond a season or two.  

What makes the Leftovers different is that showrunner Damon Lindelof (who also was co-creator and showrunner of Lost – coincidence? I think not.) gave viewers an instantly intriguing premise – one seemingly normal day, 2% of the world’s population simply vanishes into thin air – and then promptly told viewers that the “departure” is not what the show was about.

What makes the Leftovers extraordinary is that it lacks all pretension. Where the other shows in the Lost-ish genre got caught up in big picture story arcs that spiraled out of control in an, “Oh shit, how can we possibly tie all these loose ends back together,” kind of way, the Leftovers is blissfully lacking in self-awareness. The Leftovers isn’t about the bigger picture. The show is not about where the departed went or why they went, nor is it about people remaining on Earth trying to find them. The Leftovers is a story about the people who were left behind, and how their lives have changed in the aftermath.

So why did it take until its second season for the Leftovers to make our underrated list? Season one of the Leftovers was all about the slow satisfaction. It was a show that you didn’t realize how much you were enjoying until it was over. Season two, on the other hand, was the show that you wanted needed to talk about on Monday morning. Despite this, it remains the one HBO show remains off the popular culture radar. A shame, because it means the vast majority of people still don’t realize they were missing one of the best seasons of television to air in 2015. 

Season two of the Leftovers began with a seriously disturbing prehistoric birthing scene, and only got crazier. How crazy? Well, there was an attempted-murderer for a neighbor who sees fit to hand out his own special brand of arson justice as needed, an is-she-real-or-isn’t-she ghost from Kevin’s past that only he can see and talk to, and the disappearance of three local girls on Kevin’s very first night in a new town. Continue on to a woman who puts living birds into boxes and buries them in the woods, a witch doctor who’s willing to kill himself to save Kevin’s soul, and a hotel purgatory where the only way out is to either drown a child in a well or sing karaoke.

Crazy? Damn straight. Entertaining as hell? You betcha. “International Assassin” was one of the greatest hours of television in 2015. I may not have had any idea what was actually going on, but I didn’t care. I wasn’t worried about “what it all meant,” because I was too busy just enjoying the moment. Take note, Imitation Lost. This is what happens when a brilliant idea runs wild, unburdened by heavy-handed writing and attempts to be brilliant. The Leftovers doesn’t try to be brilliant. It just is.



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