the hall of good relationships!

I’ve previously discussed my love of academic action heroes and lady action heroes. Today I’d like to talk about a different character type entirely. Or should that be characters? Because these are my favorite romantic couples across the media hemispheres, and I probably should have saved this post for February but WHO HAS TIME FOR THAT KIND OF FORWARD PLANNING.

As I put this together, I realized I was much more likely to find happy, healthy couples in series (book series, TV shows, movies with sequels) than one-off stories, which tend to focus on the first blush of romance and fail to follow through on life after the HEA. Or else they find their story conflict in relationship conflict, and I don’t have time for toxicity, no matter how much drama fodder it provides. Final observation: There is a lamentable dearth of healthy long-term LGBT+ couples in the media I consume. Part of that, I’m sure, is me not casting a wide enough net (I live mostly in the action/adventure and scifi/fantasy genres). Another part of it, I’m even more sure, is a failure OF the media I consume. But I digress.

Without further ado, and in no particular order: The Hall of Good Relationships!

Hal and Lois Wilkerson – Malcolm in the Middle

Hal and Lois might be my favorite TV parents. In large part that’s due to their subversion of the usual sitcom dynamic, which tends to pit overbearing Mom against beleaguered Dad for some “haha women are nags, men are clueless idiots” humor. Which, need I say, I loathe. In Malcolm in the Middle, Lois is overbearing, and Hal is beleaguered, but instead of battling each other they are battling their nightmare children. Hal and Lois manage their house and fight their kids as a united front, and their continued passion for one another is a frequent plot point. I can actually believe they’ve stayed married because they love and support one another, whereas in most family comedies I can’t imagine the passive aggressive snipery leading anywhere but divorce.

Amelia Peabody and Radcliffe Emerson – the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters

Amelia and Emerson are my favorite married couple in ALL LITERARY HISTORY. They are turn-of-the-century Egyptologists who accidentally get caught up in a murder mystery every year. Like you do! Emerson is gruff and Amelia is exceedingly practical, and after butting heads on their first adventure together (naturally) they fall madly in love, get married, have one (FABULOUS) child, and continue to excavate artifacts and solve mysteries together henceforward. There are no plots about them getting into fights over stupid misunderstandings and then making up again. They remain madly in love for decades and face everything together AND I LOVE THEM.

Alexia Tarabotti and Conall Maccon – the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger

In a steampunk/paranormal Victorian England, Alexia is a soulless preternatural, capable of nullifying the supernatural nature of vampires and werewolves with physical contact. Conall Maccon is a werewolf and head of the Woolsey pack. They get together in book one of the five-book series, and remain a dedicated couple through that and subsequent related series (minus one ‘misunderstanding’ plot, I will forgive ONE and ONLY ONE). I got about halfway through the first book  before realizing that the reason I loved Alexia and Connall so much is that they are a paranormal Amelia and Emerson. Exceedingly practical woman in her mid-30s assumes she is destined for spinsterhood, meets a gruff passionate man who madly adores her, they settle into a life of adventure, and they win my heart forever. Apparently, I have a type.

Zoe and Hoban Washburne – Firefly

She’s a tough-as-nails military veteran, he’s a goofball pilot with zero combat skills, they are ADORABLE, and in my head canon she carries him to safety and they have three babies and Wash does most of the childcare while Zoe continues to run dangerous smuggling missions, and you CANNOT TAKE THIS FROM ME. I like to see relationships where the characters appreciate each other’s strengths, especially if those strengths aren’t the stereotypical tough-guy/smart-damsel dynamic.

Evie and Rick O’Connell – The Mummy

Another adorable couple who face adversity together and play to one another’s strengths, and the finest example of tough-guy/smart-damsel I know. Because Rick might be the tough guy in terms of being the fighter, but he’s also funny, and reluctant to go into danger for no reason, and basically not a macho jerk is what I’m saying. And Evie may be kidnapped at one point, but her smart is more important than her damsel. She’s the one who saves the day through the powers of Egyptology, and it doesn’t challenge Rick’s manliness to have his ass saved by hieroglyphic translation.

All the main couples – Parks and Recreation

“I love you, and I like you.” Just watch, okay? This show proves you can have long-term relationships in a TV show and generate a ton of comedy without resorting to some stupid battle of the sexes. EVERYBODY LIKES AND SUPPORTS ONE ANOTHER AND I LOVE THEM.

Marge and Norm Gunderson – Fargo

Are Marge and Norm my favorite married couple in cinema? Possibly. It may seem like an odd choice, but just watch Fargo again and try to tell me that isn’t where you want to be in ten or fifteen years. Marge is the chief of police, Norm is an artist, and they are both extremely loving and proud of one another in a completely sweet, understated way. From Norm getting up in the wee hours to make Marge breakfast, to Marge giving Norm a pep talk when his painting is only picked up for the 3 cent stamp, they have one of the nicest relationships in Hollywood.

Phèdre nó Delaunay and Joscelin Verreuil – Kushiel’s Legacy series by Jacqueline Carey

She’s a holy courtesan who specializes in S&M! He’s a warrior priest in a brotherhood that requires a vow of chastity! LET THE DRAMA AND SEXUAL TENSION UNFOLD. Okay, so here is an example of a relationship that begins with some primo your-lifestyle-is-anathema-to-me kind of drama, but since it’s a series we get to follow them after they get together. And, once again, I love me some people who accept each other wholeheartedly even if they have radically different points of view. In this case, we watch them work through their issues and actively decide that love means acceptance. Does Phèdre give up her calling? Psh hell no. Does Joscelin suddenly give up his stoic values and become a sexaholic? Also no, though he does get booted from his brotherhood, you can’t win them all.

Xena and Gabrielle – Xena: Warrior Princess

What are they doing here, you ask? Let Past Sam educate you on the wonders of Xena and her galpal Gabrielle. It’s called subtext, people!!

So there you go, love one another, people. Feel free to tell me who I’ve missed!

10/26/17 ETA:

Gomez and Morticia AddamsThe Addams Family and Addams Family Values

How could I forget Gomez and Morticia?? I’m talking the first two movies here because they’re the version I know best, but I believe the dynamic was the same in the show (and the jokes darker and a bit different in the comics). They’re another great example of a couple who are 100% supportive of one another and extremely passionate years into their marriage. The best thing about Gomez and Morticia is how nice they are to everyone around them. They’re creepy and they’re kooky, but they aren’t mean or cruel. They’re content and confident and their philosophy is: just be yourself and never miss an opportunity to show your spouse how much you adore them.

The Art of Bad

I love bad movies. I love them so much. And I don’t mean bad. I mean bad. There’s bad like an Adam Sandler Netflix movie, soulless and unfunny but technically sound, and then there’s bad like Birdemic, a movie that is a production disaster in every respect but the creator absolutely put his heart and soul into it.

That’s the difference for me. I want low budget bad. I want we tried so hard but it was so bad bad. There’s a charm to an enthusiastically made bad movie than can’t be engineered. Studios try once in a while. Somebody watched a handful of SyFy monster movies and decided, “Let’s do that, but with Sam Jackson and a bigger budget,” and we ended up with Snakes on a Plane. It had a few good Sam Jackson moments, but in no way did it hold a candle to a genuine B movie. If I’m going to watch a churned out SyFy flick, I’ll stick with SyFy. At least they have Sharknado.

But I’m not even talking SyFy. I grew up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 (mostly the Mike years, but I appreciate a good Joel). I didn’t get any of the jokes about current events or politics but I cackled through all the rest. Every Saturday morning there would be a re-run on the Scifi Channel and I’d call my best friend to make him wake up and watch simultaneously from his house. Time Chasers! Space Mutiny! The Final Sacrifice!

This was also the glorious heyday of movie rental stores. My mom let us walk the store end-to-end and pick things out by their glorious titles and cover art. That’s how we ended up discovering gems like Delta Delta Die (a cannibalistic sorority that ate everything but penis) and Anklebiters (that’s right, vampire dwarfs). SO MUCH GOLD.

I all-too-briefly blogged for the film (now pop culture) website, Cinema Spartan. Sam’s Phenomenal Cosmic Movie Column was a whole lot of fun, and I was given free reign to do what I pleased (thanks, Rob!). That meant anything from bitching about action heroes getting kids in the sequels, to listing my favorite vampire movies, to making Arnold Schwarzenegger Christmas cards.

It also meant B-movie reviews! All from my private collection, of course. There you’ll find breakdowns of…

FuturekickTerminator meets Robo Cop meets every shitty kickboxing movie the 80s could offer! There’s a lot of kicking and a lot of increasingly relevant corporate fascism!

Fabio: A Time For Romance! The world’s first (and last?) “VideoRomance novel.” A romance writer gets writer’s block and imagines three different book premises…each starring Fabio, of course. But there’s a TWIST!

Rock N Roll Nightmare! The most enthusiastic Canadian horror film about a hair band jamming in an old farmhouse possessed by Satan that you’ll ever see, I guarantee it. All you need to know is that it stars Jon Mikl Thor, the Legendary Rock Warrior. And Satan.

Starcrash! A mind-boggling Star Wars rip-off starring David Hasselhoff and Christopher Plummer!! I can’t even convey how batshit off the rails this thing goes, but I was absolutely thrilled this week to discover that Starcrash is one of the movies in the new season of MST3K that just dropped on Netflix. You better believe I’m queuing that up.

I’ve been thinking of bringing B-movie reviews to Samtastic Books. I stopped because they are surprisingly time-consuming to watch, screencap, and write up, but they are SO MUCH FUN. So maybe I’ll incorporate a monthly movie night. I still have a pile of fabulous flicks that never made it into the Cosmic column, including KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park (yes, the band) and Robo Vampire (indescribable).

Believe it or not, there’s a lesson here for people in all creative pursuits, and that lesson is: enthusiasm trumps technical skill. I’m doing all I can to improve my writing and conquer the tools necessary to convey the stories I want to convey. BUT. A perfectly polished manuscript with solid structure and capable prose isn’t enough. That gets you “good but forgettable.” What gets you past “good but forgettable” is enthusiasm, and a willingness to go wild even though you risk falling on your face. Am I there yet? I dunno. But I’m going to try.

the academic action hero

Previously I’ve discussed my love of lady action heroes. This week, a shout out to one of my other favorite character types: the academic action hero!

Probably the best known of these is Indiana Jones, though there is a tendency for the current era of filmmakers to forget what made him so appealing. He was Harrison Ford in his sexy charming scoundrel prime, yes, but he wasn’t a generic chisel-jawed action dude. He was an archaeology professor whose primary goal was to collect artifacts for a museum!

(Sidenote: It was a different era. I won’t get into the politics of stealing relics from other countries for Western museums.)

When we’re rooting for Indy we’re rooting for academia, for the preservation of knowledge, for public access to history rather than hoarding by private collectors or, you know, supernatural exploitation by the Nazis. He survives his adventures because he lacks greed and because he spent a lot of time studying before setting out. When the series imploded with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, it was (amongst MANY OTHER REASONS) due to a misunderstanding of Indy as a character. Suddenly he’s mumbling out a backstory about his days in MI6. What?? We don’t need him to be a British secret agent. He isn’t James Bond. He’s an archaeologist and that’s cool enough.

In my opinion there aren’t nearly enough well-read subject experts in the action genre, but a few gems spring to mind. One of my favorite characters in general, and a solid heir to the Indiana Jones legacy, is Evy Carnahan from The Mummy.

Evy is a glorious academic nerd, and she is undeniably the hero of the movie. Rick O’Connell goes along for the ride and tries to come to her rescue after she ransoms herself into Imhotep’s clutches, but ultimately the day is saved thanks to Evy’s knowledge of Egyptology and her ability to swiftly translate hieroglyphics. Five years earlier, Daniel Jackson saved the day by translating hieroglyphics in Stargate, but he did not do it with the adorable charm of Evy Carnahan.

I would even lump the Ghostbusters into this category, because they started as a trio of college professors applying their theories in the field. Ray and Egon’s technobabble and droll reference to books like Tobin’s Spirit Guide are just as entertaining as Venkman’s “Let’s show this prehistoric bitch how we do things downtown,” or Winston’s “When somebody asks you if you’re a god, you say yes!”

Other examples of subject experts include Alan Grant and Ellie Sadler, John Constantine, Hermione Granger, even Doc Brown if you want to go that route. I love them all! Academic action heroes face supernatural and human threats, and they persevere not just through physical action, but by using their wits and their knowledge. I will always adore a great action sequence (Indy and Evy get plenty of those, too), but there is a special place in my heart for the professors and librarians and field researchers of the genre.

So do your studying!

hall of action ladies

Well I saw Mad Max: Fury Road for the second time yesterday. This is the first movie I’ve been obsessed with in I don’t know how long. I’m an action movie fan who has been increasingly disillusioned with the genre, watching it descend into bland, washed-out gibberish presented in quick-cuts to disguise the lack of decent choreography, full of tropey plotlines about dudes getting revenge for victimized female relatives. Don’t tell me action movies are stupid entertainment, because I can tell the difference between a good one and a bad one! Punch punch punch yawn. Fury Road‘s action hardly lets up for two hours, but it is never boring or difficult to follow, and it conveys more heartfelt character development than I’ve seen in forever.

When I die I’m going to ride the highways of Valhalla in the arms of a biker grandma, and Doof the Warrior will serenade my journey with his flaming guitar. What else do I need to say about it?

In honor of Imperator Furiosa, the Sister-Wives, and the Vuvalini, today I am honoring some of the other kickass ladies of the scifi/fantasy/action genre pool. Don’t get me started on the fact that all of these are from the ’80s or ’90s, or else I will rant day and night about how action women have been gradually reduced to one-dimensional ballbreakers in stiletto heels instead of being believable fighters. Ahem.

I am including a soundtrack for you to listen to as you appreciate my action hall of fame. Play it as many times as necessary.

[Aside: Do you know how hard it is to find a piece of classical music when you can’t remember the name?? Thanks TV Tropes!]

Sarah Connor in “Terminator 2,” 1991Valeria in “Conan the Barbarian,” 1982

Zula in “Conan the Destroyer,” 1984

Melina in “Total Recall,” 1990

Notice a trend? Arnold, the King of Action, isn’t threatened by a lady team-up. Now I’m going to go watch Jamie Lee Curtis come into her own in True Lies.

Leeloo in “The Fifth Element,” 1997

Trinity in “The Matrix,” 1999.

Lorna Cole in “Lethal Weapon 3,” 1992.Bonus points for Rene Russo kicking ass while pregnant in Lethal Weapon 4.

And of course, my queen:

Ellen. Fucking. Ripley!