This week we watched Godless, Lost in Space, and The Santa Clarita Diet, and all three of them reflected their respected genres (Western, Sci-fi, and Horror-Comedy) while also twisting how we see each genre in stereotypical tropes. Godless is a clear Western genre television show and we are met with it right from the beginning with Marshall Cook riding a horse into an abandoned town called Creede. We see the emptiness of the Wild, we see man creeping into nature with the derailed train. We see the fear of God as well as the fear of bandits and gangs. Lost in Space is similar in fitting in with its genre; science fiction. A theme with science fiction is the is looking towards the future and we see this with flashbacks of living on Earth come to an end, as well as the advanced technology that is incorporated into everyday life. With science fiction there is also a theme of the protagonist having to face huge obstacles that are out of control such as powerful technology or natural phenomenon and in Lost in Space we get both of those such as Judy getting stuck from the freezing point of the planet as well as a robot of some kind that has the ability to murder and think.
While watching both Godless and Lost in Space I did notice that if you are not familiar with the genres such as Westerns or you aren’t familiar with the content beforehand such as the previous Lost in Space movie; it is easy to not notice specific themes or tropes that are associated with each genre. I am familiar with the Western genre and when watching Godless I noticed tropes like the “mystical” use of Native American medicine/religion as well as there being an evil gang of bandits such as Griffin. However, there were things that fell out of the typical themes of Westerns and that was La Belle being a functioning town without any men. In Scott Tobias’ RollingStone article he mentions how the writers of the show wanted to push the boundaries of the Western genre saying that they used a “more optimistic truth about the Old West as a land of possibility and reinvention. Much of the action takes place in the literal no-man’s-land of La Belle, a town run almost entirely by women courtesy of a silver-mine collapse that killed off their husbands” (Tobias). Western is a typically hypermasculine genre and while the creators still stuck to a trope of “possibility and reinvention” they put it in a way that reinvent the genre by having women take the lead. Not only having a predominantly female town named La Belle, but as well as having protagonists like Alice who assume the role of leader of the house rather than a man. If you are not familiar with the already established themes and tropes of the Western genre, then it will be difficult to notice the recreations and creativity that make Godless stand apart from other Westerns.
I am a big fan of the sci-fi genre, more so than comedy or Westerns. However, I found myself not to like Lost in Space . as much as I was going to. I think a big reason for this is because this Netflix series is based on an older series of this story. I didn’t realize this until after I had watched the pilot and read Jeff Spry’s article about the show where he discusses the differences between the older Lost in Space versus the new one. He explains that the writers of the new show wanted to take from the original content, but not copy it. For instance he explains that the older version was more lighthearted and silly while the new one has a much more serious tone and you are transported into another world: “Spielbergian-style emotions and sparkling special effects to hook you into joining the Robinsons in their quest to discover a habitable new home” (Spry). If I had known about this older series from the 1960s I think it would have been more enjoyable and for me, picking out the themes and tropes of sci-fi is a lot more difficult than Westerns.
I think two of the shows that deviated most from their genres are Godless and Santa Clarita Diet. For Godless I mentioned before that there is more of an emphasis on women and them leading instead of the men which is a huge deviation. However, there was also the interesting way that Frank Griffin was portrayed in the pilot that deviates from the genre. He has humanity to him which makes him all the more unsettling, but it shows that he isn’t after just gold and fame like stereotypical Western antagonists. He seeks to instill God into this godless landscape by becoming a god himself. He preaches what he thinks is right, and “purifies with blood” innocent people. He also takes nobodies into his group and spares certain people; showing compassion. Sophie Gilbert explains this in her The Atlantic article while also noting, “These moments of kindness from a brutal murderer add complexity to a fascinating character, but they also indict the idea that the culture of the Old West should ever be lionized.”
The Santa Clarita Diet also deviates from two genres, forming itself into a subgenre of horror-comedy. It follows the tropes of zombie horror by having Sheila crave meat, show no remorse or restraint, and she doesn’t have any vital signs. There is murder committed at the end that is horribly graphic and an underlying tension of what is happening in this suburban neighborhood is not normal. Meanwhile there is the comedy aspect where they live between two cops and the conflicts that ensue with that, there is the ridiculousness of Joel losing it over a toaster-oven as well as having the habit of staring at things in stores for a long time. There is also Drew Barrymore trying so hard to be funny, but completely fails every time with her monotone voice and her over-the-top acting when she’s trying to emote energy (shots fired!). This show doesn’t fit neatly into one genre, but shows themes and tropes of each genre enough for them to be blended together into the subgenre of horror-comedy that is more successfully done in movies such as Adventureland.
My dislike of the comedy aspect is the reason why I think this show is leaning more towards the horror because the comment on having paranormal horror in the middle of a clean-cut, American Dream, suburban neighborhood is a little unsettling in its own right. I also think that the concept of having the show lit the way it was where it felt warm and Modern Family-eque was a really interesting spin on the traditional horror themes where there is shadows and darkness. Jacob Oller in his article describes the real horror of the show in relation to the light saying: “The series itself is neither dark nor gritty. It’s upsettingly perfect, which is worse. There’s something extra fucked-up about seeing a picturesque home interior that wouldn’t look out-of-place on Queer Eye or Property Brothers coated in Evil Dead levels of goopy blood” (Oller). I think that this allows the comedy skills of the actors/writer of this show to slip a little because they rely on the ‘unsettling’ quality of the entire show’s design. This leads up to the climax at the end of the first episode where Sheila murdered Gary and began to devour his guts which is horrifying, suprising, and terribly disturbing, especially when Sheila waves excitedly at Joel.