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Kindred vs. Kindred
For those of you who like to read pointless arts & culture criticizm. And posts from a person who could spell better in the first grade than she can now. AND AS ALWAYS....drum roll...the links.
We were walking home from the park and there was an ad on the side of the bus shelter that I had missed on the way. I could vaguely see the outline of a black woman with big natural hair and her mirror image vertically aligned. I could see the colors orange and blue swirling in the middle, and textures that might be skyline on either side. I was so captivated with the image that I missed the familiar green Hulu logo which would have instantly told me I was looking at an ad for a show. I just stared, watching it slowly come into focus. Something about this image reminded me of the poster for The Peripheral, the Prime show that had been advertised in that same spot directly before this one so I had a sense of maybe what I was looking at before I knew what I was looking at. But that's when I saw the word – Kindred. And that’s all it said. No mention of Octavia Butler. But I just knew. I think I jumped up and down and squealed. If I didn’t physically, that’s what happened internally. It felt like FOREVER that I’d been waiting to see an adaptation of an Octavia Butler work. For me, it was the Parables. I just couldn’t see, given how prescient it was, how almost predictive it was, how it hadn’t been adapted for tv yet. So counted down the days until December 13 for the season premiere. I was just so excited to see the damn thing that I didn’t even think about the fact that I hadn’t read Kindred yet. December 13 came and I watched the trailer and I realized oh shit. I HAVE TO READ THIS BEFORE I WATCH THIS. I couldn’t offend the spirit of Octavia by watching Kindred on Hulu before reading the words that made the show possible.
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I’m not by any means belittling the medium of television. I learned that lesson long ago when I started writing my own scripts. Storytelling is storytelling regardless of delivery. I’m just saying if there’s a book, and the book is written by Octavia Butler, I’m reading that hoe before I watch someone else’s interpretation of it.
So I read Kindred in a couple of days, which tbh was easy to do. Octavia is the High Priestess of story. That prologue made me want to quit writing altogether bc what's the point? She fucking nailed it.
So Jesus Fucking Christ was the show disappointing.
Requisite warning – this episode contains spoilers.
It was disappointing not because it veers from the book. I understand the need to do that in film and tv adaptations, and I was even excited to see what new directions the show might take.
It started and ended really strong. It was just the middle that was a boring muddle where nothing much happened.
I liked the 2016 over 1976 choice. And the inclusion of dating apps. The trials Kevin and Dana are immediately thrust into together are familiar to me as a single person navigating those apps and vaguely what it's like when two adult strangers try to date, thus exposing the other to their own individual brand of psychosis, and how easily that experience can spiral out of control. One tries to leave. Then they stick around. Then they want to leave again. Then they get pulled in any way. Then they get kicked out. But then they’re back? I liked that as a metaphor. And the infuriating, dangerous, yet hilarious white neighbors. I would say caricatured, but if you know these white neighbors you know that they're not a caricature, and since we moved to LA, I feel like I could point them out at school pickup.
I think the writer said he didn’t want to rush the telling. But when is good writing ever seen as rushing? I think, unfortunately, the practical application of that intention would explain why the middle is so, well, meh. I am a fucking dyed in the wool Octavia Butler fan but I’m not sure I’d bother watching a second season of this show, as much as it pains me to say it, because it was SO BORING in the middle. There was very little conflict to push the show forward for several episodes, yet I’m over here in my little corner of the bedroom screaming at the TV bc I just got done reading the book and that bitch is a PAGE TURNER. I don't know how they managed to make that whole middle section boring because she gave them so much to work with. The bulk of the mid-show seemed to be just us watching Dana sitting in the kitchen house looking stressed, or Kevin in his bedroom with the same expression.
But who am I kidding? Of course, I’ll watch a season fucking 2 of Octavia Butler’s first TV adaptation. I just hope that…well you know what I hope.
The book was just so juicy. I can’t for the life of me figure out why they left all that juice on the plate and didn’t lift that bitch up and dribble it into their mouths. Hell. Lick the mf plate. I’m a plate licker myself.
I kind of understand Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, the showrunner, executive producer and writer’s choice to not want a new cast every 6 hours, but I also don’t agree with him. His defense that “it just felt really unsatisfying,” doesn’t satisfy me lol. One of the hardest things I’ve had to learn from writing, which has taken me the better part of twenty years, is that the point of the final product isn’t to be satisfying to the writer in any sentimental or even personal way. It just has to be good. Because once it’s done it’s not for me anymore, right? Stories are for the people. I mean. We eavesdrop on them – scribbling their dialogue into our little books – steal details from the plots of their lives, excavate their secrets for our character’s personalities and motivations, and rob their graves to write our stories. Once those stories are done (whether they're written or television,) they don’t belong to us anymore. So in my very personal opinion, it shouldn’t matter whether or not Branden was satisfied or not satisfied with switching cast every 6 hours. I’ve seen it done before and done well, thought now would be the moment that I provide proof in the form of references, but I’m not going to because my memory is horrible and I have no idea how to Google “movies that changed cast when characters aged” without sifting through a bunch of irrelevant articles about actors looking way older or younger for their part. And the truth is I simply don’t have time for that.
In my own writing At times it felt like cutting pieces of my heart out of stories I’d written when it was made obvious by an editor that such and such detail didn’t work. But I did it. It’s kind of funny that I’m having this critique, and if you were to Google my name you’d have a valid argument to make as far as – Violet who? I’m not anywhere near the master Octavia is, but as far as the process of learning the craft goes, I am on the mf way. I’ve only been seriously writing for a few years because I was too scared to even admit to myself that I wanted to be a writer until very literally a couple of years ago. And that’s a whole damn other episode.
I viscerally remember what it felt like to cut out parts of the story that I loved when they didn’t serve the whole. I did it for the first time sitting in that thrifted rocking chair right behind where I write this now. It felt like taking an X-acto knife to my chest and carving little pieces out, slowly digging, slice after slice, with the intent to pierce my heart and unalive me. But I got used to it. And now I find it kind of satisfying when I realize my beloved character has to go. I’ve become like a mad surgeon, cackling while I slice my scalpel through the flesh of my stories.
All of that to say. Why in the hell wasn’t the book just one season? One jaw-dropping, breathtaking, unforgettable season. Like the book itself.
I guess it depends on the overall goal. My world-weary self figured it was a financial prerogative to milk the book for as many seasons as possible. Or that they wrote the first and last episodes before the rest of the season and forced the middle episodes to fit between. Either way. It was more forgettable than unforgettable. Which is sad bc Mallori Johnson, the actor who played Dana, gave some pretty gutwrenching performances. Oof. when she returns back without Kevin. Her screaming his name on the floor. Gives me goosebumps even now.
I’m extremely glad to see that the lead writer is Black, though a Black man. I do wish they had gotten a Black woman to write the adaptation bc so much about the original book is about not only being plunged back into the antebellum south as a Black person but as a Black woman.
The change where Dana buys a house in Burbank or Pasadena or whichever suburb of LA bc she sold a Brownstone is a good one bc in the original book, married or not, two people working for a temp agency would not have been able to afford a house in California, or just about anywhere, except maybe Harlingen, Texas. Haven’t heard of it? Me neither.
I know he’d just gotten a book advance but even then he’d prob have to already be a prominent writer to be able to buy a house outright and I think in the book he was kind of starting out.
The white ladies being a general nuisance outside Dana’s house add a new layer that speaks to the present-day prevalence of conservative suburban white women who boggle the mind with their votes against their own interests. As they stand outside ogling, crying, and being so offended at the presence of the police in their once-perfect neighborhood, ya just kinda want to smack them. But don’t bc nonviolence is the answer.
I linked a couple of other opinion pieces on this problem of white suburban women in the Substack of this episode. Namely this piece in the Guardian: White Women Have Been Voting Against their Reproductive Interests and this piece in the Washington Post: White Southern Women Are Holding Us Back. Seeing as the latter article is about my home state, which we literally fled last year, and was published on my daughter's seventh birthday, I certainly will pour one out for those of ya’ll still in Texas.
Now back to my critique of the Kindred show. Which is an FX show, apparently. I just watched it on Hulu. One critique I read said the plot “inches forward,” which is a much nicer way of saying what I have meant to say. Which might be how I’d have said it if I thought anyone would read this essay, or listen to this episode. Hugs and kisses to the 12 of you who do. I think 12 might even be highballing it.
Even with all my whining, I do want there to be a season 2. The mf book is just too good and this is the first screen adaptation of one of the best writers in history, period, not just best sci-fi, not just best woman, not just best Black woman, or US writer, best, mf period. But I worry there won't be simply bc season 1 is so underwhelming. I mean. I did watch the whole thing. So maybe they’ll get the ratings necessary for a season 2. But if I had written for this show, I’m here to say, I wouldn’t have taken that risk. I’d have gone balls out on this one season. If for nothing else than to honor the masterpiece that is the book. Depending obviously on market capitalism, pressures from tv execs, and the collaborative feedback from other writers on my team, I’d have wanted to make it as much of a required binge as was the book.
I love how the titles of the main chapters in the book don’t even say anything. “Prologue” “The River” ”The Fire.” Because they don’t even have to.
And the book’s pacing is chef’s kiss. I was hoping for that in the show if nothing else. I also happen to be of the opinion that pacing is one of the top 3 essential qualities of a piece of writing. Maybe THE top. Bc if pacing is off, people are putting the book/article/show/movie whathaveyou down and switching on the latest serial killer show.
Pacing has to deliver. Many ppl will watch Kindred bc of their devotion to Octavia, like myself, many may even finish the whole season through lots of yawns and barely open eyes, but only bc we feel beholden to Octavia. What about the people who’ve never heard of her? (Do those people exist though? And would I want to be friends with them – that is the question.)
Idk. I worry about the show because it feels like my own baby inasmuch that Octavia’s works have both inspired my writing and made me want to quit writing forever. But that’s the thing – the rest of the fucking book is as good as the prologue – down to the final word. And by then I’m literally drooling and not even aware of it.
Luckily, the day I was finishing up Kindred at the playground, my kid had a playdate, so the other kid's mom was helping keep an eye out because there WERE moments when I forgot that I had a kid altogether.
Watch Kindred on Hulu or FX or wherever you watch stuff. Develop your own opinion. Hell, even read the book after you watch the show and lmk what you think. I’m curious. I might have had a different experience of the show if I’d never read the book.
Hm. Insert “thinky emoji” here then travel inter-dimensionally to a parallel version of life where I watched the show before reading the book. Which one was a disappointment in that reality?
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