Heteronormativity Is a Helluva Drug

I didn’t expect to like the reboot of Magnum PI. I only gave the pilot a shot because I’d been watching the 1980 series and decided to compare and contrast. I already knew that Magnum was now Latino and Higgins was now a woman. I went into it thinking it’d be fine, but not for me, like most reboots.

The pilot was a fun ride. I gave it the three episode test (pilot establishes the show; second ep is the adjustments; third ep is the vibe) and ended up hooked.

My one hope for the show was that they wouldn’t default to hooking up Magnum and Higgins.

Well, it was good while it lasted and it lasted until early in the 2nd season. Once it became clear that the endgame is Magnum and Higgins are omg-meant-to-be (and that it’s apparently going to be played out in poorly executed fanfic tropes), it then became a countdown until I got fed up and quit watching. That lasted until half-way through the 4th season. I haven’t given up entirely but I am absolutely half-assing it and I don’t care about the show like I once did.

It’s a shame, but thems the breaks.

And there’s plenty of history behind the continuation of the heteronormative narrative that defaults opposite sex leads or lead/supporting into a romantic tension leading to a relationship.

Obviously, the most known example of this is Dave and Maddie on Moonlighting, a show that so depended on the will-they-or-won’t-they, that when they did, it pretty much cancelled the show (to be fair there were other behind-the-scenes issues that contributed to the show’s demise, too). Also, Agnes and Herb had the much better relationship.

Scarecrow and Mrs. King and Remington Steele drew from the same playbook. On Barney Miller, it played out over five episodes between Wojo and Wentworth before Linda Lavin left to be Alice.

In the case of shows like Tales of the Gold Monkey, it’s less of a will-they-or-won’t-they and more of a when-will-he-commit. Because there’s obviously something going on between Jake and Sarah (hell, they kiss in the pilot), but it’s a situationship that allows Jake to kiss other ladies depending on the plot. There’s a similar sort of set-up happening with Walter and Roxanne on Automan. Are they dating? Kinda, maybe, it depends.

Emergency! actually began with Dr. Kelly Brackett and Nurse Dixie McCall in a romantic relationship, which was dropped in later episodes without explanation (read: break-up). From that point on, Brackett and Dixie were friends and colleagues, caring for and respecting each other in both professional and platonic ways, showing that, hey, it could be done.

I’m not saying that it wasn’t. There were series that didn’t necessarily default to the romantic relationship. Della Street didn’t get involved with Perry Mason or Paul Drake (though Paul did nickname Della “Beautiful” and there was some joking that might be considered flirting). Likewise Britt Reid clearly cared about Miss Case and vice-versa, but there was nothing but boss-secretary friendship happening with The Green Hornet. Clearly, it could be done.

But there’s no denying that it could be a struggle. For most of Hunter‘s seven season run, Rick Hunter and Dee Dee McCall were partners and friends, a caring and satisfying platonic relationship that Fred Dryer and Stepfanie Kramer were happy with. But as the story goes, the network and the fans wanted more. As a result, a Season 6 episode informed the audience that Hunter and McCall had once slept together, but it caused an issue with their work relationship.

It’s the default aspect of the hetereonormative narrative, the well-worn path of it, the perpetuation of the idea that the only chemistry that exists between opposite sexes is sexual and the only important relationships are romantic that really grates. Worse, it’s dull. And it’s dull because it’s expected. No other options are presented or considered.

Magnum PI had an opportunity to explore something beyond the default, to establish a couple of opposite sex platonic soulmates without some sort of caveat or exemption (like one or both of them being queer), to really dig into that kind of relationship and do something different.

Instead, it fell for the same quick and easy high that’s been dulling senses for decades.

It really is a helluva drug.

Rerun Junkie Show–Automan

The world’s first automatic man.

Automan is not a show I knew about until recently, coming across the title while doing research on something else. In November of 2017, Red Giant put out a short based on Automan that was written and directed by Aharon Rabinowitz and starring David Hewlett as the title character, Hewlogram. Between this hilarious short (please go watch it and the making-0f video because it’s just as much fun) and watching the opening for the actual series, I put this one on my to-watch list.

And as luck would have it, I received the series on DVD for my birthday.

(I also received Hewlogram poster that I won that same week. My 38th birthday week was lit in a hologram sort of way.)

Automan aired in 1983 for just 13 episodes. Starring Chuck Wagner as Automan, Desi Arnaz Jr. as his creater Walter Nebicher, Heather McNair as Roxanne Caldwell, Gerald S. O’Laughlin as Captain Boyd, Robert Lansing as Lt. Jack Curtis, and Cursor as himself. No, really. The little cursor thing got a credit.

If you bothered watching Hewlogram, then you’d have the basic premise of Automan. Walter Nebicher is a computer programmer and police officer whose captain prefers him in his little computer room and not out on the streets. He creates Automan, a hologram so powerful that it can hit a dude across a room. Only Walter’s co-worker and sort of love interest Roxanne knows that Automan is a hologram. Oh, and Cursor is a little firefly looking thing that can draw anything and make it real, like a suit over Automan’s Tron body or a super fast car. It’s also a bit of a perv. Because Automan requires a certain amount of power to exist, he sometimes has to disappear when he feels his battery getting low or find creative ways to recharge. All of this in the name of fighting crime.

The buddy cop duo we need and deserve.

The show only ran 13 episodes and that’s both criminal and totally understandable. In only 13 episodes, we had mobsters, tropical locations, corrupt cops, corrupt sheriffs, bikers, Laura Branigan, a male exotic dance club called Zippers, bombing threats, diamond smuggling, and I’m pretty sure every episode featured covers of popular songs of the time as well as the laughing freeze frame at the end. You can’t pack that much awesome into such a short run. The star that burns that brightly, burns out too soon.

It also suffers from the some questionable dialogue that boarders on painful, the obvious jokes and cheesiness that permeated the ’80s, and some less-than acting, though I blame the dialogue for a lot of it. Seriously, some of those lines are face-smackingly cringey.

But, it’s an incredibly fun show! Chuck Wagner is adorable as Automan. He embodies this hologram that is, in his own words, an eleven on a scale from one to ten while also being rather naive about the ways of humans. To help him learn about humans, Walter had Auto watch movies and TV shows. Auto inadvertently watching multiple episodes of a soap opera is a highlight.

Speaking of Walter, he’s not just an inept computer nerd. Yeah, in a few episodes things don’t go his way and he gets his ass handed to him, but he’s not incompetent. And he does get in his licks. He’s also not a total loser with the ladies. After all, Roxanne is one hot chick and he doesn’t seem to have any trouble with her.

Together, Walter and Auto are, well, maybe not unstoppable or unbeatable, but they get the job done and they’re entertaining.

Giving a new meaning to the boys in blue.

The plots are typical ’80s grand with titles like “Staying Alive While Running a High Flashdance Fever”,  “Murder MTV”, “Murder, Take One”,  “Death By Design”, and “Club Ten”. In one episode called “Renegade Run”, you have Richard Lynch as a corrupt sheriff that pits him against biker Billy Drago. I know, right? How great is that? Pretty great.

In addition to Richard Lynch, Billy Drago, and Laura Branigan, the show also featured guest stars Clu Gulager, Mary Crosby, Patrick Macnee, Ed Lauter, John Vernon, Anne Lockhart, France Nuyen, Robert F. Lyons, Delta Burke, William Windom, Terry Kiser, Don Galloway, Richard Anderson, Doug McClure, Walter Brooke, Sid Haig, Mickey Jones, and Ola Ray.

Check out that crop. Nothing but cream.

Okay, Automan is a little on the silly side. It’s the early ’80s turned up to eleven. It is glorious.

Just ask Cursor.

The little perv.