Three Things Thursday: An Unfortunate Tomorrow
Acceptances for this year’s Children’s Literature Association conference went out this week, which is always an exciting time. My paper—which, for now, is called “‘You say you want a revolution?’: Future Building in YA Fantasy—is one I’m looking forward to working on.* I’m going to look at YA fantasy novels that move beyond the moment of revolution and focus instead on the tensions of maintaining an effective governmental system over the long-term. But let’s be honest: I’m mostly excited to get to go back to Florida and hang out with all my awesome children’s lit friends for a few days. Pretty sure Tampa will never be the same.
*Yes, of course that’s a Hamilton reference in the title. Sorry not sorry.
I also submitted to another conference this week, and while I won’t know for a while if I get to attend, it was a fun proposal to write either way. It’s for a paper called “Hallmark Channel Original Movies and the Economics of Feminism,” which means it’s squarely within my area of expertise. Updates as the situation warrants!
A Series of Unfortunate Events
Netflix launched its adaptation of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events on Friday. Overall, the series does a good job of capturing the tone and thesis of the books. The aesthetic is a little bit Pushing Daisies-via-Tim Burton, with bright, fairy-tale imagery undercut by doom and gloom, and Patrick Warburton’s depiction of Lemony Snicket is appropriately droll. The wordplay and definitions remain, while Neil Patrick Harris is fine as Count Olaf, even if it is sometimes impossible to escape his essential NPH-ness.
What I find most interesting about the adaptation, though, is the way that the inherent pessimism of the series interacts with the current political climate. The books took as part of their central argument the notion that even well-meaning adults can cause harm—and that many adults are not well-meaning. The Baudelaire children have done nothing to deserve the events that befall them, but that doesn’t matter because the events befall them anyway. As Klaus tells Violet when she asks him simply to do his best during a moment of crisis, “It doesn’t matter if I try my best, what matters is what happens.” In a culture where the notion of hard work paying off continues to hold sway, this functions as an important corrective. Klaus can try his best and still fail. Sometimes all that matters is what happens.
A line from the song that closes the season hints at what this has the potential to mean on the eve of the Trump presidency. “You might dream that justice and peace win the day, but that’s not how the story goes,” the song insists. While the show makes no effort to hide its purported melancholy, I have to admit I rarely found it as relentlessly depressing as it professes to be. Bad things do happen to the Baudelaires—terrible, awful things—but the nature of the series means that the circumstances of their misfortune change every two episodes. It lends a sense of relief, if not outright hope. But the song in the finale gives me a strange anticipation that, as the series progresses, it has the potential to lean even further into the sense of how exhausting it is to dream and hope in the face of perpetual misfortune. Because, like the rest of us, Klaus knows he might fail in his attempt to change the grim reality of his situation. But he still tries his best.
And, for at least a moment, his best is enough.
One of my favorite new shows this season has been the CW’s quirky No Tomorrow, which had its season finale on Tuesday.* It’s an imperfect show, certainly, and not to everyone's tastes, but it is also fundamentally a pleasant show, filled with characters who (mostly) like each other and act accordingly, which is an underrated quality on television. The series has a bit of a rom-com-with-a-twist premise: big box store employee Evie meets free-spirited Xavier, who encourages to live her life to the fullest…because he believes an asteroid will destroy the earth in eight months.
*And, thanks to terribly low ratings even by CW standards, most likely its series finale, too. Sigh.
The series always had to manage a delicate tonal balancing act as a result. Xavier truly believes in his apocalypse theory, while Evie is less sure. That, on occasion, puts them in two different genres. Evie is in a romantic comedy about self-actualization, while Xavier is in an end-of-days story about cherishing life. Some of the best moments in the series come out of that tension, however, especially as Evie begins to recognize the ways in which Xavier’s “carpe diem” approach to life can make him disregard consequences entirely. Xavier has the immense advantage of being played by Galavant’s Joshua Sasse, whose extensive charm makes it easier to gloss over some of his character’s more severe oversteps—but Evie and the show can only be so forgiving before it begins to undermine the value of Evie’s journey toward taking control of her life.
Luckily, No Tomorrow knows this. Evie’s friend Kareema warns her not to be “one of those women who is defined by the quest to find the guy” in the first episode, and the show takes that as its mission statement throughout the season.** Although it doesn’t escape its rom-com trappings entirely—Xavier does get away with more than he should—it makes Evie an active player in determining her own fate. There are multiple moments in the season when she is dating more than one man at a time, and she draws some hard lines in the sand about what she will and won’t accept from her romantic partners. Most significantly, the show makes one of its biggest threads the evolution of her career goals—her adventures with Xavier don’t just make her fall in love, they allow her to figure out her strengths and what she wants in life.
**Kareema is THE BEST. A queer WOC who hates people but is regularly the most empathetic character on the show. Plus she gets a same-sex green-card marriage plot, which is a delight.
This focus on the reality behind the rom com ends up giving No Tomorrow a small but welcome thread of subversiveness. Xavier is forced to reconcile with his past and do some emotional work in order to maintain his relationship with Evie, while Evie learns that just because her journey down this path began with Xavier doesn’t mean some portions of it are not better off completed alone.
In a way, No Tomorrow offers a refraction of the dark hope of A Series of Unfortunate Events. Evie declares late in the season that she doesn’t believe in fate because it “takes away all agency,” and if there’s one thing No Tomorrow cares about more than love, it’s agency—in romance, on the career path, and even at the end of the world. The show argues that choices matter, especially in the face of impending doom. With tomorrow on the horizon, it’s a useful reminder.
Bonus Round: What I Read This Week
Windwitch by Susan Dennard
Poison's Kiss by Breanna Shields
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo