I’ve always said if I ended up in any sort of apocalypse scenario, I’d be one of the first to die. I’m a completely domesticated fat pampered house-cat, I lack survival instincts for that type of situation. But after a handful of episodes of Van Helsing, I’m ok with this likely outcome.
Professional TV writers much fancier and more professional and writerly than I have lamented an obsession in some avenues of contemporary TV with darkness, bleakness, and hopelessness as a shorthand route to prestige status. Much to my dismay, that’s the route Van Helsing chose to take.
Which doesn’t make it a bad show, it’s already renewed for a second season, and both The Walking Dead, with its parade of death, and Game of Thrones, with its excessive sexualized violence, are some of the most successful genre shows of the day, so there are people who enjoy this kind of thing, again, just not me.
The characters are solid, despite being largely archetypes you do get invested in them, you want them to win. It just doesn’t seem likely they will, and that’s the rub. There is no lightness, no brightness.
I’m not adverse to horror by any means, and urban fantasy is my happy place, but I’ve been spoiled by Joss Whedon, Michelle Lovretta, Emily Andras, to expect a smattering of camp and humor sprinkled in. Van Helsing is utterly humorless. It is despair, and in serialized format that despair is drawn out to be, for me, unbearable.
As a two hour film it would be escapist, you’d feel that possible victory in sight. Instead, as week by week you watch these people suffer and bleed it’s only more pain loaded on top of a year where quite frankly reality has brought enough pain for a lifetime.
When I watch genre, especially urban fantasy, I want to see my heroes win, I want to see someone seemingly ordinary rise above expectations, kick ass, and save the day. That gives hope, something this world so desperately needs, and it makes me believe I can exceed expectations, that my friends and my community and my country and the world can be better, do better, in the face of our own pain and fear.
Right now we’re weeks away from the terrifying possibility of a Trump presidency, international relations seem permanently unstable, and we’ve been at war for going on 15 years. I started watching Van Helsing because I wanted to watch a heroine slay monsters to give me hope we could slay monsters too, but instead I found people trapped like rats and suffering because of it.
So I’ll be watching Supergirl, where the heroine wins with a bright smile on her face, and come spring I’ll get to watch the Sestras, Wynonna and Waverly, and Dutch kick ass and make sly quips as they do it.
If you like gore, darkfic, Supernatural’s “The End”, The Walking Dead, and/or hopeless dystopias, give the show a chance. Like I said, It’s not bad, just not for me.
Because I’m with Joss Whedon, “Make it dark, make it grim, make it tough, but then, for the love of God, tell a joke.”
About the Author: Jay Jaqobis is sometimes Jessi Bow Spence and frequently just Jessi but also sometimes Jay and will respond to any of the above, and also “Hey, you with the face.” Ze lives in the midwest with a cis dude spouse and the world’s greatest dog and does a mean impression of a housewife while battling agoraphobia and general bouts of ennui. Ze cofounded GenreTVForAll and wrote a chapter on Teenage Girls with Superpowers for the Geekiary’s e-book. Ze likes vegan food, pictures of shih tzus, and long naps. You can find zir on twitter and instagram.