World Building Week, Day 2: Popular culture.

Another ‘how it’s done’ moment, this time, a bitchy, and hilarious review of a musical soap-opera from the entirely-believable universe of Jenn Manley Lee’s complex and magnificent webcomic Dicebox But when you’re done, tell me you don’t feel like you have actually seen an episode or two of this…

“Forever Between the Light and the Dark
Sesquicentennially Yours.
It’s not every day a soap celebrates its 150th anniversary. Maybe that’s why Adelaide Axeminster thought the structure for this year’s Forever Between the Light and the Dark seasonal sweep was a bold idea: why not build a buzz and celebrate the show’s long and storied history with tour-de-force restagings of some of the most famous and favored musical numbers ever produced by this misbegotten yet madly popular genre?

Why not, indeed?

Well, I’ve seen the advance cuts, so I’ll tell you.

Imagine, for instance, the percussive Savoy stomp of the Ding-Ding Song, “O Shalma Lama,” julienned into stutterpop overload. Sure, the rain-of-light visuals divebombing the Grand Canal are breathtaking—but what about the music?

Then shake your head at the heresy of putting comatose Janvier Gideon’s hipslinking theme song “Amanita Giddy” into the mouth of his number two grandson Alfaro Malone, who toasts when he should skank in front of a band that dubs when it should fug. And I’d advise you to leave the room altogether for the third night, when number two grandson’s boardroom shenanigans come to a head in a shockingly glossy reinvention of “Resolution Number 314,” from the all the way back in the dim and dusty third year. (No, I won’t spoil this eagerly anticipated plot twist; we have some standards to maintain around here. But I will tell you that they rewrote the rapscatting bridge in Varo. Does scansion mean nothing to these barbarians?)

And the grand finale? O, honey.

[Ed. note: If you are one of the seven people left in the system who doesn’t know about Ingmar Gideon’s upcoming battle royale, you might want to put down this newsfax.]

Much like the overall retro memory-lane remake idea, it might well have seemed brilliant on paper to weave together “Heroes with Odd Feet,” “Gwailoh Gringo,” and “My Mother Your Mother One Two One” with all five trumpet fanfares that have opened the show over the past century and a half and mixmaster the resulting shebang into a quarter-hour epic dancing swordfight down the Rialto and up the Esper Steps. If you’re going to think big, no use going halfway. Kick down the walls while you’re kicking out the jams. Why not?

Well, as a musical number, it makes for a halfway decent swordfight.

This is not to knock what Axeminster’s been able to do with the show when she isn’t raiding the Crepuscular boxed set. Go back to that Best of Forever Between (like I had to, to wash out the sticky traces of those godsawful remakes), cue up an old episode, any old episode, and you can see in stark relief what she’s doing well and right. Her verité visual stylings (when not divebombing the Grand Canal) remain breathtaking—a beautifully dissonant scrim of wear and tear and gorgeous natural light through which to watch what is still one of the most talented (and scrumptious) ensemble casts in all of sudsdom. Maybe Daniel Dae Kim can’t skank to save his life, but as Alfaro, he’s well on his way to locking down an unprecedented fifth Zuco for best acting—even though CJ Channey’s unflaggingly jaw-dropping performance as matriarch Ingmar keeps him running for his money. And even on the much-maligned musical front—there’s a surprise new song in the four-show sweep: “Over the Underneath,” a shimmeringly gorgeous icehouse ballad that comes out of nowhere, sung by of all people Ifa Ntobo as Captain Ajax from the crow’s nest of her dirigible, and by the time you’ve figured out it’s Ntobo, actually singing, she’s left a beautiful ache in the place of your heart. This is the song I fully expect to be the download queen, easily upstaging the brassy bluster of all the rest for the hollow, ill-advised gesture it is.

So give the girl a break. Axeminster’s moving into her third season as programmer; she needs to learn to trust herself and the strengths she brings to this 150-year-old table, which are not inconsiderable. A misstep—even one this ghastly—should not rob us of the appallingly glorious seasons I think are still to come. Just keep telling yourself: it’s only a sweep. Regular programming resumes in four weeks.”

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