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Legends of Tomorrow: Lowest Common Demoninator

"Thank you. But I hate that."

The Legends find themselves on a reality show, in Hell.

That's probably redundant.

Did they make that joke in this episode? I can't remember if they made that joke in this episode. They must have done.

If I had to describe this episode in one word, it would probably be 'insubstantial.' Which is probably appropriate considering that it's a riff on reality television, and the fact that reality television is kind of surface level and insubstantial is one of the points the episode itself is making. And honestly, 'cursed reality television crew, doomed to stay in Hell until they manage to film a moment of true, genuine feeling' is a pretty good hook for a story. It's certainly a nice little entry in the 'ironic torments' category.

I want to make clear, this is a highly enjoyable episode that has a lot of good jokes, some clever scripting, and some really nice production details. My issues with it primarily stem from two unrelated issues.

My first issue is the basic setup. Specifically, I know almost nothing about reality television shows.

I'm not trying to be snobby, or imply that there's anything wrong with reality TV as a genre. If you enjoy The Bachelor, or are a superfan of one of those singing shows, that's awesome. I'm sure there are plenty of reasons to like and enjoy them. And God knows we can all use all the happiness we can get these days. I've just never been particularly interested in them, and as a result the entire genre has kind of passed me by. Which means that I don't know beans about most of the shows this episode referenced.

To be clear, this is a 'me' problem, not a problem with the show. They tell a clear story, none of what happens is dependent on my knowing anything about reality TV other than the absolute basics and the references are all clearly just there as gravy. But my experience of it was that because they so clearly were specific references to actual shows and the tropes they use that I was constantly wondering what I was missing.

I don't know to what extent, if any, the show itself can be blamed for the fact that I reacted to it that way. As I said, they did an admirable job of making sure that the references weren't really important to the overall episode, so is it their fault that apparently my method of media consumption involves a healthy dose of semiotic FOMO? Arguments for and against in the comments.

I'd like at this point, to give a grateful thanks to our own Honest Fangirl, who very kindly explained most of the references to me. I was vaguely aware of Jersey Shore, and sort of remember Richard Hatch being naked on Survivor back in the middle ages when I was young and the show began, but beyond that I had nothin'.

It's interesting to me that they represented the two distinct flavors of reality show. Namely, competitions, and lifestyles. More specifically, it's interesting to me that the Nate and Sara, representing (so Honest Fangirl tells me) Jersey Shore and Real Housewives were the parts that felt like they were a little too forced to work properly. Which makes sense, because they were the ones doing their interpretation of the personalities on the lifestyle shows, rather than riffing on the mechanism of the competition shows. This resulted in a much broader and more caricatured performance than the rest of the crew, and I don't think they always meshed together as well as they could.

Which leads me to my second issue with this episode. And this one is a deeper issue. The only member of the crew who doesn't appear to be reenacting reality tropes is Behrad, which ties into him having been written out of the reality show based around his own family, Keeping Up With the Terazis or KUWTT.

I can see where they were going with this, and structurally it makes sense for Behrad to be the one who ultimately cracks and provides the 'moment of realness' that breaks the curse and sets everyone free. It ties nicely into them getting him and Astra together, for one thing, and it makes sense with his character already having a history of standing obliquely next to someone else's publicity.

The trouble is, they give us the reveal that Behrad has this sad backstory of being traumatized by the public exposure as a child and that led directly to him deciding to always be super chill and never react to anything, thus denying the cameras anything interesting to film. His cheerful relaxed identity is thus revealed as a carefully crafted mask preventing him from ever revealing any emotion too deep for others to see.

I mean, it's interesting, and they structure it really well in this episode as an isolated story, but that just doesn't track with the Behrad that we've come to know. It really just comes out of nowhere. Arguably, we got a little hint of that back in 'Meat: The Legends,' when he talks about how he found joy in flipping burgers as a way to get out on his own and away from Zari's shadow. But again, that was joy. He wasn't suppressing his emotions, he was reveling in them. That's who Behrad has always been. The instinct on the part of the show that there must be some 'secret origin' behind his amazing Zen acceptance of everything that comes his way was, in my opinion, a mistake.

The fact that Behrad's 'moment of realness,' in which he tells them all of this, is presented in the most Peter Brady 'Wow, I sure learned a lot today' style possible does not help.

Tied into this is another facet of the story that doesn't really track with what we've seen before. In this episode, for the first time ever, they're treating Behrad's use of pot as an addiction to be overcome. Now that he's, in his own words, 'sober,' he's re-learning how to be his authentic self and respond emotionally to Astra. That's recovery talk. Accurate and well observed recovery talk, but recovery talk all the same. And Behrad's pot use has never before been presented as problematic or a sign of addictive behavior. But suddenly, out of the blue, he's struggling to kick the pot gummies, up to the point that throwing down and shattering the bowl of them is the visual clue that he's conquered his emotional blockage.

One of the things I always liked about the way the show has usually portrayed marijuana usage is the way it's destigmatized social usage. Presenting it as an addiction suddenly feels like a step back. For the record, recreational marijuana is about as much my thing as reality TV shows. But it's undeniable that it's less harmful both physically and socially than alcohol is, and I've always liked that Legends seemed to get that.


Everybody remember where we parked:

This week the Legends spent the entire episode in the replica of John's mansion, in Hell. Astra and Behrad briefly popped out to Hell's local TV station.

Which is a good moment to mention that the Legends were unreasonably shitty to Gideon for bringing them to this location. It's by far the closest thing they have to 'home' now that they don't have the Waverider, and it's safe from invasion by evil Gideon to boot. Shame on you, Legends. Gideon was right all along.


Quotes:

Ava: "Does it still open to the factory?"
Nate: "Not unless something terrible happened to that factory."

Sara: "Wow babe. This is your most complicated murder board yet."

Astra: "Behrad! Don’t sneak up on people in Hell!"

Astra: "Harris. Still negging like it’s 2007?"
Harris: "It’s called trolling now."

Gary: "Well, I enjoyed every bit of that. And not just the chocolate, the sex was great, too."

Gideon: "It’s nice feeling emotional again. It’s like a warm and gooey feeling, as opposed to a cold and calculated urge to murder."
Nate: "Say what?"
Gideon: "Hah. Just kidding. I’m quite funny, actually."


Bits and Pieces:

-- The one exception to my 'not interested in reality TV' rule was Face Off. The contestants were nice to each other and they made really cool makeup designs. I loved that show.

-- The 'shaky cam' effect kicked in shortly after they found Gwyn passed out with the door to Hell open. It wasn't immediately obvious that it was significant and why. Nice subtle touch.

-- Everything I know about Big Brother comes from the 9th Doctor episode 'Bad Wolf.' True story. That's the only reason I understood what a confessional chair was.

-- God bless Gary for not only demanding that everybody apologize to Gideon, but also to him. That's a level of self care we don't always see from Gary, and I thought it was great. Standing up for yourself and making it clear when someone owes you an apology is hard to do.

-- This is the second episode in a row in which most of the crew gets to play different variations of their usual characters. These are the things you do to keep your actors happy in season seven.

-- Early on, Ava momentarily considers whether it would be a good idea to let everyone get possessed, and then dismisses the idea. That was just a really funny moment.

-- Was Ava channeling a specific show? Because her 'I'm tired of always being the responsible one' stuff also kind of came out of nowhere.

-- I adored this episode's gimmick title card. I suppose we're never going to see the fun 1925 credits again.

-- I was really, really concerned that they were actually leaning into Nate and Zari Terazi developing feelings for one another. I'm so glad they didn't go that way.

-- On the Behrad issue, Harris the demon even scanned Behrad's soul earlier in this episode and confirmed that there wasn't any darkness in him, he was just nice. That kind of contradicts the whole emotional reveal, doesn't it?

-- It was a little clunky how Sara went out of her way to phrase her promise to Gwyn that he could save 'one person' instead of just saying 'Alan.' But the setup of Franz Ferdinand that it allows looks like it's going to pay off, based on Gideon's plan.

-- The internet is a little divided on the correct title for this one. The CW's website has the stream of this episode labelled 'Denominator,' as do a couple of other places, but it seems pretty clear to me that they were going for the joke with 'demoninator.' The demon receptionist even says it.


This episode is, taken on its own, a lot of fun and a pleasant hour of television. Parts of it just don't line up quite right with what we've seen before. How much of a problem is that? Your mileage may vary.

Three out of five secret alliances.

Mikey Heinrich is, among other things, a freelance writer, retired firefighter, and roughly 78% water. You can find more of his work at the 42nd Vizsla. If you'd like to see his raw notes for this and other reviews, you can find them at What Was Mikey Thinking.

8 comments:

  1. I too don't watch reality shows, or at least not the ones parodied here. Great British Baking Show, So You Think You Can Dance, and Amazing Race are my thing. Give me nice people who are competing because they are capable and I'm in. So like you I had no idea what show was being used at any given time. Thank goodness for the Internet where people were willing to tell me.

    I found the Behrad story less jarring than you. Someone had to break the curse and when B was the only one to not go into the confession room, I pretty much figured it had to be him. Commentators on other boards have been asking if we have ever seen Behrad when he's not using weed and the answer was kind of no. So I have seen people asking why the crew isn't more worried about his use. No matter how innocuous a drug is using it all day, every day is a bit of a red flag. Also, early on Behrad was very contemptuous of Zari being so public all the time. He didn't mention that it affected him personally but he did note that it affected his whole family, so his reveal was not so out there.

    I also liked the in joke that Behrad was recast considering there was another actor playing him in OG Zaris flashback. It doesn't count for much since at the time Behrad was a kid and not a continuing character, but he was "recast" in the broadest sense of the work

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  2. I don't watch much in the way of reality shows either (GBBO, the occasional Property Brothers special) but this episode wasn't hard to follow although like you, Mikey, I could tell there was stuff I was missing. I rather liked the gummi reveal, although I'm also a little disappointed that weed is suddenly evil.

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  3. I enjoyed this one. Spooner specifically was one of my favorite references, if only because I have recently gotten back into Survivor again.

    With regards to Behrad, I don't think that the emotional moment contradicts the "no inner darkness." Nothing that he said was really a deep, dark secret as much as an acknowledgment of understandable and normal human emotions. As far as the "weed is evil" stuff... I don't know. I think it was less weed being the issue as much as Behrad was using it as a way to shut down and avoid any kind of negative emotion, which is obviously a very unhealthy coping mechanism even if the exact mechanism isn't the worse one possible. But I agree the phrasing used when he talked about being sober now felt a little off.

    Also love Face Off. So much.

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  4. Strange you didn't mention the best joke of this episode which was Gwyn's prayers being censored because they were in hell.

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  5. I loved the gag about the prayer being censored! It's in my notes, but didn't make it into the review because I was already running so long.

    But I definitely agree, that was absolutely the best joke

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  6. I wonder if they are tiptoeing up to the elephant in the room. Once they take back the Waverider, what computer will run it? The best answer is for Evil Gideon to get our Gideon's memories. But how many? Do they stop the download before Gideon became human? If that doesn't work, then what? Gideon is a person now. Does she sacrifice herself and go back into the computer?

    Also, what does happen to the evil Legends? Again, they are full or at least partly fledged sentient beings who have been programmed to be this way. Can they be unprogrammed? Would that be a better idea than destroying them? I think the Legends are facing some big moral decisions and I'm interested in how they will solve it.

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  7. Percysowner, I've been wondering that same thing. They can't go back to not having Gideon as a living person, she's just too delightful. Will part of her consciousness live in the waverider? Will evil Gideon be redeemed? I'm intrigued.

    Honest fangirl, we should totally geek out about Face Off sometime. I loved it!

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  8. The Great British Baking Show is the only reality TV I watch, but this episode reminded me of The Real World, which I watched back in its early days. The 1990s! Last century! I think the font used for the opening credits might have been a reference to that show.

    I enjoyed this, but felt like it was a bit odd, since we essentially got two episodes in a row in which our characters didn't act like themselves.

    The internet is so abuzz about the fact the CW is for sale that the writers of Legends of Tomorrow took to Twitter to clarify that the show has not been canceled. (It has also not yet been renewed.)

    https://twitter.com/ketomizu/status/1487463546812198913?cxt=HHwWgsCrweCNxKQpAAAA

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