Friday, March 08, 2013

Compulsive Love - two actual episodes

So apparently you can watch the straight male fantasy series Compulsive Love for free, although only one episode per week.

I felt maybe it was unfair that I based my assessment of the series on the trailer so I watched two episodes. And no, I was not unfair. Not only is the protagonist ("Ratface") physically unappealing yet irresistible to women, he's also a gigantic man-baby.

It did occur to me that perhaps the series is based on the same premise as Mr. Bean - which, if you are unfamiliar with that show:
...follows the exploits of Mr. Bean, described by Atkinson as "a child in a grown man's body", in solving various problems presented by everyday tasks and often causing disruption in the process. Bean rarely speaks, and the largely physical humour of the series is derived from his interactions with other people and his unusual solutions to situations. 
So it could be a Mr. Bean scenario, but in spite of the evidence I think not. I think we're actually supposed to feel sympathy for Ratface, especially since there was the series tag line that seemed crafted to garner sympathy for him: "PUNCHED IN THE FACE BY LOVE AND THE WOMEN WEARING THE BRASS KNUCKLES" although that tag line seems to have disappeared from the web site.

In the first episode we meet our hero, a grown-ass (albeit tiny) adult male, out on the street beating a trash can with a baseball bat because his girlfriend broke up with him and he's too manly to quietly cry in the privacy of his bedroom. Then we see a woman who is apparently not only his co-worker but his constant companion (when he isn't banging a chick) who has a Janeane Garafalo/Zoe Deschanel/Daria vibe. Her arm is in a sling. Daria asks Ratface if he wants to know what happened to her arm. This is a set-up to demonstrate what a priapic man-baby Ratface is, because a random woman rides by on a bike and Ratface turns mid-conversation with Daria to go chase her down.

Now here's where I almost believed there might be hope for this series. Because at some point in the montagey courtship of Ratface and Maria The Bike Woman, Maria stops to stare at a church wedding, and strangely she focuses on a freakishly enthusiastic nun who is part of the throng of well wishers. Thanks to the weirdness of the nun and the lighting effects and the slo-mo, for a second I thought this was going into some Un Chien d'Andalou surrealism territory. But alas, instead it turns into Maria having sex with Ratface, which I skipped over because ew.

The next scene Ratface is telling Daria about how great the sex was and their supervisor Melissa comes by to chide them for drinking the company coffee. This was the second time I thought maybe something interesting was going to happen - some wackiness with social-commentary-edge office humor. But no, we are whisked to a scene between Maria and Ratface in which Maria tells Ratface she's going to become a nun. Once again I perked up (but with less false hope than previously) because I thought maybe she was going to say something like having sex with Ratface convinced her that she would rather live a life of celibacy - very derivative Woody Allen style but at least it would have been something. But no, not even that. We next see Daria comforting Ratface and then watch him beat a trash can some more. And actually Daria tells him to hit the can.

The second episode was even worse - the girl of the week was an Asian woman who spends all her time with her mother, talking in their strange foreign tongue that Ratface doesn't understand, and finally la femme de la semaine breaks up with Ratface because she'd rather spend more time with her mother.

And it turns out that Daria has an obsessive stalker - a balding barista. Apparently no attractive men exist on Straight Male Fantasy Planet.

Well it looks like this is shaping up to be a series with the classic female triumvirate of straight-male-dominated storytelling - the bitch, the crazy slut, and the Because...Um? girl.

I'll let Sady Doyle break it down...
In Apatow-Brand comedies... girls are either bitches (wives; sexually unavailable women; professional women; ex-girlfriends) or sluts, typically of the crazy drunk variety. (Woody Allen, another prominent "Because, Um...?" writer, uses Manhattan to compress all of the above-listed "bitch" characteristics into a successful lesbian ex-wife, whom he hilariously confesses to having tried to run over with his car. HA! A man trying to murder a woman because she ended their relationship and/or is not heterosexual! It's funny, 'cause that's how a lot of women actually die!) Eastbound & Down takes this tack by having literally only two other female characters, a wife whom we're encouraged to think of as an uptight bitch and a "fuckbuddy" whose only defining characteristic is that she is such a crazy drunk slut all the time. The "Because, Um...?" girl can only exist in the negative space created by this double bind. If women have standards, they're bitches; if they don't have standards, they're sluts: try to write yourself out of this, and you find that the only feasible way to create a non-threatening female character is to give her no motivations or personality whatsoever, to turn her into a cipher who provides love or sex simply because the plot demands it.
So in Compulsive Love we have the crazy sluts: obviously all the women who have sex with Ratface; the bitch: the office manager, the Asian woman's mom; and Daria, the Because, Um... Girl. Now she's not having sex with Ratface yet, but I expect eventually Ratface will realize that she is the one for him. But she's still a Because, Um... Girl because she actually spends her free time with him. Because, Um... who the hell would do that??? Although if you are forced to live in the land of no attractive men, it does become more understandable.

Well maybe it's just silly for me to look for any rhyme or reason here because the series' author basically says that everybody is crazy:
Compulsive Love follows Aaron who is completely obsessed with women. Is his character a broader statement on the dangers of conflating happiness with having a relationship? Or is it poking fun at the tragic failures of dating?
I think a little of both. Aaron rushes into relationships. He thinks being in love will save him and solve all problems. He thinks every girl he meets is the girl that will change his life. 
In the series Aaron tries to cut through the “batshit craziness” of dating. But he’s nutty himself. Who’s crazier him or the women he dates?
He is equally crazy as they are if not more so. I think that’s part of the fun. 
The series is full of big laughs. It’s also very sexy.
Sex is always a good idea.  My plays tend to be pretty sexy.  It’s part of my aesthetic and one I think Kevan (our genius director) shares.
Straight men think it's off-the-charts sexy to see an unattractive man have sex with lots of attractive women. Although normally we call this "straight porn."

And the interviewer and the author apparently haven't seen the series. Aaron thinks being in love will solve all his problems? What problems? The only problem we see him having is getting laid and maintaining his fuck-buddy status. There is zero context here. And the tragic failures of dating? Ratface finds an attractive woman, has sex with her, and then some bizarre unlikely plot point intervenes - the woman wants to become a nun, the woman is with her mother at all times. Yes this is truly an incisive commentary on Our Times.

The fact that Straight Male Fantasy Planet is populated exclusively by the batshit crazy is the biggest problem of this series. Because batshit crazy people are in fact not actually interesting. If Ratface was normally sane and then we see him beating on a trashcan in the middle of the street, well that would be amusing. Because it's extreme and out-of-character and thus would effectively convey his extreme disappointment in love. But if he's batshit crazy then so what? That's the kind of thing that batshit crazy people do!

And Ratface isn't so crazy that he is unable to express his cool subversiveness by coming back at the crazy bitch office manager's insults with a bon mot about monkeys shitting on the wall. So his craziness doesn't render him completely incoherent - just crazy enough to find a new crazy but attractive woman to have sex with every week.

Then again if everybody is batshit crazy, you have an automatic out:

If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended: 
we're all batshit crazy here!

Well that's it for me and this series. It's just too damn depressing.

If you want to see a web series done right - including a romantic angle with an attractive male object of desire, check out The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl.