Monday, November 20, 2017

Class Dismissed And Then Some. Thoughts on Class Series One

Class, the Doctor Who spinoff that was meant to attract more young adults into the so-called Whoniverse, flopped.

Flopped big time.

Despite its Doctor Who tie-in (with The Doctor himself making an appearance in the premiere), Class was dismissed in more ways than one.  Why did Class, despite its pedigree and appeal to the YA audience, fail to catch on?

I think the reason can be summed up by a line said by Katherine Kelly as Miss Quill to one character coming up to see his boyfriend:

"Alien invasion or teen angst?"

I take it that other supernatural shows, such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Teen Wolf, were able to balance the otherworldly with the teen drama.  They, however, had advantages Class didn't.  First, they weren't trying to tie themselves to another show and its nearly half-century mythology. 

These other shows had their own mythologies, their own universes.  They weren't inhibited by trying to tie themselves to a long-standing one.  Class hasn't exactly hindered by Doctor Who, but by being part of that world, it already had some limitations.

My immediate view is that Class never built a case for being.  You can ride Doctor Who's coattails for so long before you have to stand on your own, and Class never gave viewers a reason to keep coming back.  Imagine if it didn't have the Doctor Who background.  Imagine if there was no Doctor Who, that we came upon these five kids and their mysterious teacher for the first time in For Tonight We Might Die.   Would they be interesting enough to follow and care about?

Audiences en masse said, 'No'.  The characters were boring, essentially tropes: alien prince, jock, sweet girl, brainiac, and 'gay Polish immigrant'.  That last one, Matteusz, was probably the worst of the characters, not because he was gay, but because he was only gay.  He never was actually part of any of the alien fighting.  He served no purpose save being the main character's sexmate.

Matteusz never interacted with any of the characters if the main character, his lover, was not also interacting with them.  In short, he was there to verify the main character's agenda...err, sexual orientation. 

Matteusz provided the teen angst, the main character Charlie provided the alien invasion.

Second, they had longer time periods to tell their stories versus Class' need to squeeze in so much in eight hours.  If you have a limited time frame, you are hampered by trying to put in sometimes competing ideas into one, making things unbalanced.  It's that 'alien invasion or teen angst' again.  Patrick Ness, the creator and writer of all Class episodes, might have done well to maybe have at least one or two episodes where we focused on the characters versus an 'alien-invasion-of-the- week'.  That could have made that element of the stories flow, and we could have had a pause on things.

The entire Ram/April storyline felt so rushed: they slept together after knowing each other a month.  I don't think they had that many conversations prior to their first kiss, and them becoming lovers feels even more rushed.  At least with Matteusz and Charlie, they had a little bit of a build-up (and I do mean little: they had apparently one date before Matty comes rushing into Charlie's bed and declares undying love).  Ram declaring undying love to April (whom he deflowered) near the end of Series Only after a.) his previous girlfriend Rachel was killed and b.) after him telling her earlier that he wasn't going to say he loved her because as he says, 'we've known each other for a month' really solidifies how rushed and unbelievable the Ram/April romance was.

It's a bit of a wild turn: one hour Ram is having sex with April, a couple of hours later he's telling her he wasn't going to tell her he loved her.  It should be noted that, if we go by the timeline in Classthey had sex and fought the Shadow Kin King in the same day.

How's THAT for rushed?

Maybe, just maybe, if a previous episode had them on a date or at least talking into the wee night, their love story could have been established or hinted at.  Here, it was thrown in almost as if for balance: having featured a homosexual love scene, you needed a heterosexual love scene for equal time.

Speaking of romance, another thing that has gnawed at me about Class is the lead character's sex life.  A big to-do has been made about the fact that Charlie is homosexual, complete with boyfriend.  This was done, I imagine, to show the progress that has occurred in society where we are supposed to not even shrug our shoulders at a same-sex couple.  The fact that Charlie is alien is also important when it comes to his sexual desires, to show how to suggest that there might be anything strange about such desires would be a truly 'alien' concept, and that an extraterrestrial, free of such bigotry, would do as we are supposed to: love whomever he/she loves as an individual, not as a gender/sex.

Though I did not finish it, I think lack of sexual inhibitions was better-explored in Stranger in a Strange Land.

All well and good, but if you are going to have a character have a sexual orientation that is not held by the majority of people (in the U.S., the gay population is at most 6%) for no other reason than to showcase a same-sex relationship, then I think we run into a few problems.

We circle back to Matteusz, Bonnie Prince Charlie's sexmate.  Did we ever see Matteusz as an individual, as someone not defined by his sexuality?  I don't think so; everything about his character was related to him being gay: his parents throwing him out, his surprisingly explicit deflowering of Charlie (at least I assume Charlie hadn't had some good ol' same-sex Rhodian humping), his connection to all the other characters in Class

Tanya, April, Ram, Charlie and Miss Quill all had scenes where they talked to another character one-to-one, sometimes with each other (Tanya and April or Ram), sometimes one-to-one with a guest character, (Ram and a cafeteria lady, April and her parents or Quill with the Headmistress Dorothea).

Matteusz, conversely, never had one moment, one scene, let alone a conversation, that did not involve Charlie in some way.  Sometimes it had Charlie in the scene with others, others with him and Charlie alone, but never in all of Class did Matteusz interact with anyone on his own for his own reasons. Charlie was Matteusz's whole raison d'etre.  

He too, is an 'alien': a Pole who is now living in a country not his own, where English is another language.  So much could have been explored regarding Matteusz: how in some ways, Charlie and Matteusz are similar, but Ness and Class were not interested in that.

They were only interested in Matteusz the same way Charlie was: for his body.

Matteusz is the worst kind of character, one that should be studies by future scripting students in the class 'Don't Let This Happen to You'.  He is a variation of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a character whose sole purpose is defined by how in this case he serves the main character.  Everything about Matteusz is about Charlie.  Matteusz has no independent existence.

You could argue that Class would or could have explored that in a Series Two.  My reply would be: why not explore it in a Series One?

Now, another reason why I think Class failed was that it was focused on the wrong character.  Charlie Smith, our Rhodian Prince, was a badly-created character.  He was wildly inconsistent: unaware of basic human behavior (except for sex, where his skills would put most Pornhub videos to shame), he is meant to be almost a wide-eyed innocent (unless it's in the bedroom, where he's quite the master...or is it submissive).  When it comes to Miss Quill, he is far from naïve.  In fact, he's an obnoxious, arrogant prick.

He belittled.  He abused.  He 'commanded' someone in no position to fight back.  He would take any opportunity to pull rank, which was bad enough.  However, given that she was doing all this against her will only made him a bigger monster than the aliens finding their way through cracks in time and space at Coal Hill Academy.  When anyone dared suggest he was being cruel, like Tanya did, he curtly dismissed her objections.

We again have a wild inconsistency with the characters.  Is Charlie an innocent, unaware of what 'folk dancing' is and taking things literally, or is he an arrogant Prince forcing his slave (whom he would not recognize as one) to doing she didn't want to without taking her feelings into consideration?

Charlie was the main character, but he, like just about every character, was boring.  There was only one worth anything:  Miss Quill.  I think this is for two reasons.  One: she had a fascinating backstory: she saw herself as a freedom fighter stuck serving our Boy Prince on a backwater, then forced again to watch over a group of hot young teens.  Quill had conflict, she had moments of genuine emotion.  She had a motive in working with the Governors: to free herself of Bonnie Prince Charlie. 

She also was played by the only person on Class who gave a genuine performance.  In fairness, Sophie Hopkins' April was on occasion pretty strong, her backstory of her family torment played well (and with the title song from the finale, The Lost, not a bad singer) but the rest of the young adult cast ranged from inadequate to downright awful.  Fady Elsayed's Ram was at times cringe-inducing, his inability to express any emotion shocking.  Sometimes it was hilarious: his reaction to seeing his father killed should cause giggles, same thing when he sees the cafeteria lady eaten up by a dragon.

Vivian Oparah's Tanya too was unable to do much.  When Tanya's dead father suddenly appears, Tanya appears more irritated than shocked or moved, as if Dead Daddy was an annoyance to endure rather than a chance to resolve any issues she had with his sudden passing.

Our lovers Greg Austin and Jordan Renzo as Charlie and Matteusz were forgettable, and in a curious twist Austin, who was only 24 when he played Bonnie Prince Charlie, looked twice that age even though he was comparatively the same age of anyone save Kelly, and she was playing an adult.

A show built around Kelly as Miss Quill would have been fantastic: her acting ability and storyline would have been fascinating to explore.  Sadly though, she was not the focus of Class.  That belonged to a group of actors who are pretty but perhaps might not have the experience to do much with poorly-written parts. 

Weak stories with weaker villains (the Shadow Kin proved hopelessly boring and clichéd), uninteresting characters (I truly cannot find a worse character than Matteusz), bad acting (Elsayed should look back in anger at what Class did to him), and nothing that would draw viewers back for more adventures with our British/Polish Scooby-Doo gang all led to Class' collapse.

No great loss to see that Class got a failing grade.

Next: Ideas on How Class Could Have Been Improved

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