Reboots and Reconsiderations

Delayed take: I kinda hated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Mild spoilers to follow.

I went in with an open mind. I’ve read plays before, and I was willing to give it a pass on some things. But it was bad. There were some bad plot points and some horrible dialogue. Maybe with some talented actors and quality direction, this would be an enjoyable romp. But what I hated most about it is that it has made me question the quality of the entire series. A series that had a profound impact on my development. Now I’m afraid it’s bad.

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This is not the first time this has happened to me. I used to love The West Wing. It was my favorite show. It helped young progressives like me survive the Bush years and dream of working in politics. It facilitated my love of DC, politics, and being the smartest person in the room. I loved A Few Good Men and The American President. I rode hard for all things Aaron Sorkin.

A few years passed and The Newsroom came out. It wasn’t great. It preached relentlessly, and rather than making up storylines it tried to cover events in the recent past better. Everyone was announced as geniuses particularly good at their jobs, yet they rarely showed it.

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The women were manic pixie dream girls: brilliant klutzes whose emotions exploded every couple of episodes. They were in some kind of love triangle or they were hardly characters at all.

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The men are pompous, self-centered, and completely insecure. They need the women around them to serve as their foils. And they all ran around flaunting their superiority to everyone else.

The show pontificated without offering solutions. And in its exaggerated badness, it highlighted things I had missed about The West Wing before. The secretaries–who were all women–were always the audience surrogates and therefore the ones who needed basic things explained to them. C.J. was the Press Secretary and later the Chief of Staff, but she had to lead with her sexuality.

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Allison Janney deserved better

The liberal rants were often over-the-top. And all the characters speak at the same level in the same cadence; there is no variation of the Sorkin-ese.

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The classic walk-and-talk gets dizzying after a while

Sure, part of this may be that I’ve changed since The West Wing was on. But if The Newsroom hadn’t showcased Sorkin’s flaws so forcefully, The West Wing might have remained this perfect show in my mind (I still defend A Few Good Men and The American President, but they both had Rob Reiner).

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This is not the only example. Sex and the City outstayed its welcome with the second movie, shoving our faces in how ungodly out of touch the women were. The offensive opulence of the women’s trip to Abu Dhabi reminded us all that they had no awareness of their own privileges, monetary and otherwise. (For a 52-part takedown of the second movie, check out season 2 of The Worst Idea of All Time podcast)

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This is what American imperialism looks like

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And having Liza Minnelli cover “All the Single Ladies” at a “gay wedding” made it abundantly clear that the gay characters on the show were largely one-dimensional stereotypes.

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Which brings me back to Harry Potter. Because the book series was so significant to me, I’ve been uncharacteristically purist with the larger Potter-verse. I stopped seeing the movies after the 5th one came out, and I’ve abstained from re-watching them since. I don’t do wizard rock or the Potter musical or Pottermore (although I did take this quiz), and I have no desire to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I want the images in my head to be unchanged by further additions to the canon. Maybe I prefer my enjoyment of the text free of the influences of others.

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It’s not a perfect book series, but it conveys something beautiful about friendship and coming of age, and it introduced me to the first fantasy world I wanted to be a part of. I also accept some justified critiques of Rowling, in particular her representation of characters of color. I get irritated with Rowling when she uses Twitter to make her work seem more progressive than it really was. She could have written Hermione as a black character, or Dumbledore as an out gay man, but she didn’t. I’m glad she’s open to it now, but she probably didn’t even think of it at the time. Don’t pretend like we were the ones who enforced whiteness and straightness on your characters, JK, you wrote them that way. [That said, I really like The Casual Vacancy, and I think she should keep writing fiction for adults].

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When I read a bad line of dialogue from The Cursed Child that pontificated about friendship without showing it, I worried that the friendships I remember from the books weren’t that strong. When I see a clear romantic connection between two male characters that is foreclosed by one of them asking out a barely-present girl at the end, I am reminded that Rowling kept Dumbledore closeted until 2007. When children can easily break into the Ministry of Magic, I wonder if this elaborately constructed world was really just silly. I’m not the only one who feels this way. Krupa Gohil at Buzzfeed wrote an excellent piece analyzing the lack of people of color in the Potterverse, including The Cursed Child, which doesn’t have the it-was-the-90s excuse.

The play tries to do too much, and ends up doing it badly. Let me leave you with a piece of dialogue to give you a sense of what we’re working with:

Draco: Flipendo! [Harry is sent twirling through the air. Draco laughs] Keep up, old man.

Harry: We’re the same age, Draco.

Draco: I wear it better.

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