Friday, July 26, 2019

Making Sense of the CATS trailer: A Noble Attempt

A week ago, two things brought me great joy.

First, the trailer for the upcoming film adaptation of the immensely popular Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, CATS, dropped on the internet.

Second, I got to listen to a grown man scream his head off as he watched this trailer.

If you, like countless others, have felt a similar sense of dread at the thought of computer enhanced cat/human hybrids taking over the world, then I am here to help. I consider myself uniquely qualified to speak on the topic. CATS was the first full-scale musical I saw on stage, back when I was nine years old. Seeing the show required a full-day trip to Vancouver for our family. In addition, the critical portion of my Master's Thesis project included discussion and analysis of CATS, as well as the children's poems it was based on, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Elliot.

So lay your head on my shoulder, child. Let me tell you the story of CATS.

Adapting an Adaptation

Film adaptations are always a little tricky, but let's start with one basic premise most people can agree on. Any time you are changing mediums, expressing the same concept through a different artform leads to change. Some are inherent to the artform itself (ex: film is more visual than the novel) but some conventions are really only that: conventions of storytelling that we've grown used to and expect now. When those conventions are broken, the art itself can feel broken, even if nothing but tradition is what tells us this ought to be so.

I won't go into the whole long list of conventions film follows, but for the purposes of this discussion, I want to focus on one very important factor: Movies cost way more to produce than books, which means they need to be consumed by/appeal to far more people if they want to make a profit. This has given rise to a particular plotting style commonly referred to as Three Act Structure. I won't go into the full scale description of it here, but loosely, it goes like this:

Act 1: Establish the protagonist, where they are from, what their problem is and what tragic flaw keeps them from solving their problem
Act 2: The protagonist attempts to solve their problem (unsuccessfully), gradually learns the problem is bigger or different than they first thought, and then experiences great failure, leading to their lowest moment.
Act 3: From that low moment, the protagonist finds the fortitude to overcome their flaw, attempts to solve the problem once more and in the climax, either solves it (victory!) or fails (tragedy!). Closing image, fade to black.

Three Act Structure is so ubiquitous, it's tempting to see it in everything and assume it's the only way to tell stories. Today, most commercially viable books also follow this structure. Heck, The Hunger Games worked so well as a movie because it already read like one in book form. But go back pre-Hollywood, and the dominating power of Three Act Structure begins to collapse. It's not the defining structure of Beowulf or The Canterbury Tales. It's not what drives Alice in Wonderland.

And if we move outside of the landscape of novels, it disappears altogether. Short stories don't always have the time to bother with all that structure foofaraw. Or look at picture books. "Everybody do the Barnyard Dance!" might be your plot. Or maybe you've picked up The Book with No Pictures, which is much more about making adults say weird stuff than it is about following character growth. But both those books are stories. They're recounting of events for the purpose of social bonding. Can't get more "story" than that.

And so returning to CATS (finally, we are returning to CATS), I think it's worth asking the question: what type of story is the film adapting? If it had only ever existed as a film, had always been a film, then it would be much, much harder to explain the weirdness going on in that trailer. But CATS not only is an adaptation, it was also never a novel, the most common source of film adaptation.

The problems become clear the moment you realize there are multiple steps in this process, and that those steps never bowed down to Three Act Structure.

Before CATS was a film, it was a play, and before that, it was a book of children's poems.

Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats

T.S. Eliot is considered one of the greats in poetry of the Twentieth Century, and rightly so. His work was beautiful, lyrical, thought provoking, and still gets quoted like crazy in Young Adult novels all these years later. That his work shows up in YA points to the fact that he understood something about young people, whether he was explicitly writing for them or not.

Also recommending him as a human: he liked cats. He wrote a bunch of poems about them for his godchildren. Eventually, he had enough, he was like, "hey, I think this might make a good book of poems" and so he published them, and therefor, little Andrew Lloyd Webber grew up reading them.

And despite what others might tell you, it doesn't just have a story, it has many! There's the story of Rum Tum Tugger, the cat who just wants to annoy you constantly. Or there's Mongojerrie and Rumpleteazer, the kittens who play with everything until it gets lost. One of my favorites is Skimbleshanks, who harkens to the tradition railways had of keeping cats aboard in Britain. See? So many stories! All more adorable than the last!

Importantly, those stories are also intensely relatable. As someone who owns pet cats, I can see my animals mirrored in the poems of cats more than I can in dozens of other stories that feature cats. I've lived with a Rum Tum Tugger and a Jennyanydots. Much of the success of those poems come from how well Eliot captures the lives of real domestic cats.

However, Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats does not have an underlying through line other than "aren't cats great?" As a poetry book, this is just fine. Poetry is much more about evoking emotions or ideas in the reader than telling a character growth journey. Story itself is optional in poetry, so in that respect, the poems here are much more conventional "stories" than other poetry books might be. Still, if it were directly adapted into a visual medium today, the most logical would probably be YouTube meme compilation videos. I'd like to think in some alternate universe, there's a poem by an internet era Eliot that goes a little like...

Miss Melarosey rides round on a Roomba
Cleaning the house while the other cats slumber

You get the idea.

When Webber began adapting the poems, he wasn't initially trying to make a whole musical out of them. Instead, he used them as a personal challenge, to compose something where the lyrics were set and couldn't be bent to fit the needs of the music. The project eventually piqued the interest of Eliot's widow, and she passed on to him some poems that Eliot cut from the collection, including Grizabella the Glamour Cat, which Eliot had worried would be too sad for children. But that sad poem was the final spark Webber needed. To him, the bleakness of that poem helped contrast with the jovial, goofiness of the other cat characters, and he felt he now had the makings of a full musical on his hands.

But a musical about what???

Guys, I can't believe you're still asking. It's about cats.

CATS as Broadway Royalty

In CATS earliest days, there were a lot of people working on the show who were deeply confused by Webber's vision for the production. They tried to turn it into something more recognizable. Something that would work with conventional story telling structures.

"Maybe it's a satire of British politicians?"

No hun, it's about cats.

"What if we make this a chamber piece, with minimal effects and a small ensemble?"

Cats deserve better than that, Karen! We will have strobe lights and a cast of dozens because cats are worth it!

"Okay, so who is our hero? What cat are we following? What are they trying to accomplish?"


Eventually, Webber got his wish, though not without sacrifice. The production scared so many investors away, he literally bet his house and all his money on it, just to finance it. I'm sure his family and loved ones shook in fear for him. But Webber was the one left laughing because the public ate CATS up. It became the longest running and most profitable show of all-time, only to be surpassed in that title by Andrew Lloyd Webber's later work, Phantom of the Opera.

And in my opinion, Webber was right to put his foot down every time someone tried to make CATS about something other than cats. The whole reason the show works is because it's driven by poetry, music and movement. Those things leant themselves more to the subject matter than a plot did, because real cats almost never experience character development. They are what they are, and they either annoy or entertain us. Since Eliot's poems were originally about recognizable, normal cat behaviors, this was the truest way of bringing these poems onto the stage.

In addition to Eliot's poems and some of Webber's best music, CATS also has some of the best dancing on Broadway. A lot of time was spent developing how the performers would move and emote in the show, and how the more cat-like motions they performed would be mixed with ballet and modern dance choreography.

It's actually because the show has so little plot that it can revel in the things that make it strong. It's about nothing more than a gathering of cats, who have come to strut and show-off to each other. They can spontaneously break out into dance sequences without it feeling jarring. They can switch tone and focus character song to song, because, like real cats, they don't have the attention span to have a protagonist.

What little through-line there is for the play was eventually developed based on theme, rather than a plot. Trevor Nunn, the poor soul who got tasked with directing and helping develop CATS into a full show with Webber, tried his best to piece together themes of death, rebirth and the folk tale that all cats have nine lives. It wasn't a plot, but he hoped that viewers sensed a kind of progression through ideas, that would keep them engaged.

And there is another reason it worked, and that is because CATS was intended for the theatre, not film.

Writing for Film and Theatre

At first glance, theatre and film seem like very similar mediums. Some people never go to the theatre, because it's expensive, and they don't understand what it could offer them that a film can't. Aside from the thrill of a live performance, is there any real reason to see Hamlet on stage as opposed to in a film adaptation?

As something written before the advent of film, Hamlet might seem like an odd candidate for suiting film, but in many ways, it's early inception is one of the reasons it is so adaptable. In Shakespeare's time, theatre was the primary way of sharing stories with the mass market. Not everyone could read, but everyone could see plays, which were cheap. As a result, Shakespeare's plays often fall into that comforting, digestible Three Act format mentioned earlier, Hamlet included.

For hundreds of years, theatre was the primary venue for social gathering and experiencing stories. But when film came along, the balance of power shifted. Films were potentially more expensive to make but they were so much cheaper to distribute worldwide. You no longer had to go see Hamlet put on by the yokels at the local theatre. You could see Laurence Olivier in the role, without ever leaving your hometown.

In order for theatre to survive commercially, it had to identify who its real audience was and what they wanted. Two particular groups of people are still interested in theatre.

1) People who value the visceral, live aspect. The joy of seeing something staged and knowing that all the pieces have to exist and move together in real, human space is exhilarating. Dance, as a result, thrives in theatre, because it can be very hard to capture the full three-dimensional nature of movement in film, especially for large crowd numbers. Film flattens the image and even 3D technology struggles to recapture the depth of movement theatre can provide. Dance looks better on stage. I've never seen any film that successfully convinced me otherwise. By a similar token, music does often sound better, or at least more emotive, live. Again, there's that visceral component of the experience that you can't get from film. Little surprise, in the wake of the rise of film, musical theatre thrived and took over Broadway.
2) People who like experimental, weird stuff that doesn't suit commercial Hollywood film making. I'm by no means suggesting that film can't be experimental or that theatre wasn't before film put pressure on it. But that pressure still matters. Most cinemas make their money off of digestible blockbusters. Theatre isn't going to grab that crowd anymore though, so it might as well cater to people who want to see a naked boy on stage with a horse. There's a reason it's the theatre club that has the reputation for housing weirdos, not the film club.

And CATS ticks the box for both groups. For a big, flashy spectacle musical, it's surprisingly experimental with it's unconventional story structure, reliance on theme to drive forward progression and lack of protagonist. It's more committed to exploring what it's like to be a cat than it is to examining the human condition. Lest we forget, CATS started off as an experiment. Webber wanted to see what would happen if he wrote music for pre-established poetry.

In recent years, Andrew Lloyd Webber has become a figure that the musical theatre community likes to make fun of. He was such a phenomenon in the 70s and 80s with CATS cat-apulting him from respected, working composer to mega-star. That fame only grew with the release of Phantom, and soon it felt like he was everywhere. Unfortunately, that meant that when his less successful work of the late 80s and 90s came around, he was a highly public figure whose flubs were likewise highly public. It was very easy to slide into mocking him as the weird cat guy. Or the guy who made a play about dropping a chandelier onstage.

But I do think we can be a bit unfair, because often, Webber's strength was being that weird cat guy. Theatre needs weirdness if it's going to survive and thrive. He understood and recaptured the spectacle of theatre better than he told stories or understood the human condition. He needed a good lyricist, like Tim Rice, if he was going to say anything profound or develop characters convincingly. Better to leave the heartfelt, emotional musicals to the likes of Sondheim and let Webber make silly things about dancing cats and chandeliers.

But with the crazy costumes, expressive dancing and energetically scored poetry, CATS did capture something real. As a nine-year-old, seeing that play was a highlight of my brief existence. I've often wondered if one of the reasons we're so hard on CATS as a play is also because of it's intended audience. As a play based on children's poems, it still is intended for children. I've spoken with so many people who struggle with the idea that something can be beautiful or artistic or profound and still be understood by a child. It's been my experience that some of the most beautiful things are those that resonate with children. Children are deeply sensitive to beauty, because they haven't learned to be cynical about it yet.

Cynical, like some of us might be about a certain movie trailer.

And so, that Trailer...

Look what you made her do

Like a lot of you, my initial reaction to the trailer was one of... horrified curiosity, let's say. It does look weird. Film, in it's over fascination with computer graphics, has turned the painted faces and lycra bodysuits of the original CATS world into photorealistic fur. What was expressive in the theatre is now rendered uncanny on film. Some people have suggested it would have been better animated in a more stylized way, like a traditional hand drawn musical. But I do empathize with the film makers, because that would have lost the dancing, and dance is one of the primary reasons to go see CATS.

If I'm being honest, what actually concerned me is the dialogue. CATS the musical gave up on having a plot, but the film seems to be trying to pull one out of the emotive, theme driven material that Trevor Nunn cobbled together. The proportion of singing to spoken lines in the trailer is way off of what it was in the musical and that... concerns me. Concerns me that someone involved in the film's production got confused and figured CATS was actually about Grizabella's quest to ascend to the heaviside layer.

For the last time, guys. It's about cats.

But this is a multi-million dollar film that needs multi-million dollar ticket sales and so, following the logic of Hollywood formula, some poor screenwriter seems to have been tasked with shoving Three Act Structure down CATS throat at last, like a pill from the veterinarian that your pet is just going to regurgitate in a few minutes anyway.

Maybe the transition will work better than I think. Maybe some of the experimental nature will still shine through in the film, or they'll at least capture some of the joyous spectacle and dancing that made the musical worth seeing. Or maybe it will be a ghastly, expensive train wreck, fueled only by a cash grab at our nostalgia for the musical.

Either way, I kinda want to see it. With it's giant franchises and carefully plotted Blockbusters, Hollywood takes so few risks any more. Whether it succeeds or fails, CATS was a risk. And at least there's singing. At least there's dancing. At least most of the leads are actual singers and dancers.

And I, for one, am curious how they picked a protagonist. Just which cat did the dart hit when they threw it at the board? And what character journey are they going to take us on between Taylor Swift shaking catnip over a crowd from a bejeweled canister?

I have only questions. No answers. And with that, I need to go feed my cat.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tropes VS Tropes: Best Overprotective Dad

When I started this Tropes VS Tropes series, one of the things I wanted to emphasize was that tropes, in and of themselves, are not inherently bad. Sure, they can be repetitive or uncreative, but they don't necessarily have to be.

My personal belief is that a trope is most useful when it is used more as a starting point for a story idea, rather than the final execution of the idea. Take Steve Harrington from Stranger Things. When introduced, Steve is presented so that he resembles every meat-headed, privileged bully that was so popular in the Eighties. He looks and talks like the guy who shoves the hero into a locker. He swaggers up to Nancy like he's got a right to her. He's a jerk jock, plain and simple.

Since today's topic is Overprotective Dads, I give you 
Steve Harrington, being a Dad.

Except there are hints that he's not as shallow as he seems. His jokes are too genuine. He smiles at Nancy like she's the greatest girl in the world. Even his bullying of Jonathan stems from an ultimately understandable place - they caught Jonathan taking creepy pictures of Nancy.

Now true, there is context to Jonathan's actions that make them *less* disturbing (though let's put a pin in that topic for another day) and true, Steve escalates his poor treatment of Jonathan in a brutal way, considering the guy's little brother is missing. Eventually it comes to blows and for a brief moment, it feels like the classic bully vs underdog confrontation.

But then the show subverts that classic set up. After the fight, Steve comes to the conclusion that he has acted unfairly. When he goes to ask Nancy for forgiveness, he gets dragged into the central conflict and ends up helping the main cast fight the Demogorgon.

His arc is so successful largely because he's a much deeper exploration of a stock character than we're used to getting. From the outset, he's presented in a way that suggests we're supposed to root against him, yet gradually revealed to be a far better person than he seems. A lot of jerk jock characters incorrectly see themselves as the hero, but what makes Steve special is that he realizes that his actions don't match up with his own internal narrative. He wants to be the good guy, so he changes until he is, even though that's consistently the harder path.

Since Stranger Things is a show built on nostalgia, it unsurprisingly relies on a lot of tropes, particularly those that were popular in the Eighties. From kids going on bicycle powered adventures, to secretive government facilities, the show is loaded with fun twists on stock characters and plots. But no show is perfect, and so it's not very surprising that with all the reoccurring tropes, some of them don't land as well as Steve Harrington. Some are just tired retreads of clichés we've seen a million times.

The Overprotective Dad is Here to Ruin Your Fun


When season three picks up, the series skips to a year and a half after the Snow Ball held at the end of season two. Mike is at El's house, and the two are getting their smooch on, much to the chagrin of Jim Hopper, El's adoptive father. Since it takes until the very end of the episode for any of the show's supernatural elements to directly impact the plot, for the majority of this first episode, this is the driving source of conflict for many of our main characters.

As Hopper vented to Joyce about how much he wanted to throttle Mike, it was all I could do not to groan audibly and cry out, "not this plot again." The overprotective dad is everywhere, treated almost as requisite in comedies that feature young people dating for the first time.

H'yuk H'yuk

Kim Possible, who can literally do anything and frequently is in physical danger, gets more pushback from her dad about dating than anything else. Hotel Transylvania is a charming Halloween romp about Dracula trying to control his daughter's life, particularly when it comes to romance. Scott Pilgrim gets chased by the sword-wielding father of Knives Chau for daring to date her. Veronica Lodge's father exists to hate Archie, and not for much else.

In the unusual event that a comedy features a father and daughter where he DOESN'T threaten her male suitor with bodily harm, the show will often go to great lengths to hang a lampshade on this fact, and make that the joke.

Take, for instance, the episode of the Big Bang Theory where Leonard meets Penny's father for the first time, and is shocked to discover that the man adores him. He's over the moon his daughter is dating a physicist! Except, at this point in the show, the pair are broken up. Penny, however, wants to impress her father, and so talks Leonard into pretending to still be her boyfriend in order to make her dad happy. When the rouse runs out, her dad is angered by the lying, then insists on speaking to Leonard alone. At this point, he begs Leonard to keep pursuing his daughter. Once Leonard agrees, Penny's dad then pretends to "throw him out" with aggressive shouting, in hopes of making Leonard seem more desirable to Penny by virtue of his disapproval.

Even though this instance SEEMS like a subversion, it still plays into exactly why it is I dislike this trope so much. Whether it's Penny's dad begging Leonard to date his daughter or it's Dracula asking Johnny if he truly believes it would be safe for Mavis in the human world, the conversations are usually between Dads and their daughter's boyfriends, not the girls themselves. These girls love lives get treated as transactions between men, rather than choices they make independently. The jokes tend to depend on either a) not trusting the daughter or b) assuming that whatever the boy chooses will somehow overrule the "good" choices the daughter makes.

To make one thing perfectly clear, none of the examples I've cited have involved rape, sexual assault or any behavior from the boy that suggests a possibility of these things. These are treated like ordinary, every day, relatable responses to seeing a girl date.

At this point, some people may be saying, "but it IS relatable!" And I'll grant you that, yes, it can be relatable. You do see this behavior in real life. Barack Obama once made a joke about sending predator drones after the Jonas Brothers if they ever made a play for one of his daughters.  (Har har har…) But that doesn't mean it's a terribly healthy behavior. Plus, it isn't only art's responsibility to represent reality as it is - it's also to provide mirrors for what it COULD be.

If this trope wasn't so ubiquitous, it probably wouldn't bother me so much. I'm not - per say - against the idea of a plot line involving a dad struggling to know what to do with his daughter once she's reached an age where she can date. What bothers me is that the conversations are almost never WITH her, just about her, and that they default to the same set up, reactions and jokes again and again, without examining any potentially problematic elements. Instead, this trope is treated as a symptom of how all men must behave, because that's how they express love for their daughters. But friends! There are other ways to show you love your daughter that don't involve exerting control over her love life.

A Different Type of Dad

One of the reasons I don't like the trope is because it also is completely unfamiliar. My own father gets excited with me when I like a boy. And if something dangerous were to happen to me while dating, I'm a heck of a lot more likely to tell him about it, because he's always been supportive of my choices rather than controlling. Luckily, I'm not completely alone in the world of fiction, and so for a counter example to all the groan worthy behavior above, I present to you Dr. Covey from To All the Boys I've Loved Before.

This scene is one of the best additions the movie made to the book.

As the father of three girls, by the time our book's heroine, Lara Jean Covey, starts dating, he's been around the block once before with this thing. He makes a point of getting to know Lara Jean's new boyfriend, Peter, but there's none of the hard line theatrics of other shows. Peter is frequently invited over and included in family activities. Dr. Covey checks briefly when the pair are off to a party together to make sure there will be no drinking and driving, but never gives off an air of distrust.

And in one of the best scenes in the film, he takes Lara Jean out to the diner so they can talk alone after she breaks up with Peter. They don't talk about Peter directly, since she doesn't want to hear about that, but instead her dad makes it clear to her that he's proud of her for trying new things and stepping out of her comfort zone, something she'd struggled with in the past. He's just the best, guys. May we all aspire to being as kind and helpful as Dr. Covey!

But Actually...

While Dr. Covey might be one of my favorite fictional dads, he is NOT my favorite Overprotective Dad, by virtue of the fact that this is not his character flaw. He's another type of character entirely, and one I'd like to see more of. Still, he's not the trope, so he cannot win this contest.

When I was watching Stranger Things and saw Hopper veering hard into this trope, I found myself wondering if I could think of good examples of the trope, because here's the thing: I like Hopper. His behavior annoyed me a little in season three, but overall, I like him. So does that make him a "good" example of this trope?

In fact, it made me realize that I don't often address tropes that I dislike. All of the others I've covered for this series have been things that, on some level, I enjoy. Yes, self-defeating villains and big freaking kiss songs can be done poorly, but while I spent a little bit of time making fun of those tropes, they're ones I generally like and get excited to see.

As I said earlier, I'm not opposed to the existence of this conflict, just seeing it done lazily or treated like some sort of primal response all father's share. After all, even if this father/daughter dynamic wasn't my experience, I CAN sympathize. It is hard watching kids grow up and make choices about their lives and bodies that a parent would not personally make for them!

In making this list, I decided to consider the following criteria:
1) He is the father of a daughter
2) He freaks out when she starts dating someone
3) His overprotective streak is triggered SPECIFICALLY by his daughter's romance. So no Liam Neeson intimidating kidnappers in Taken. That's too justifiable.

4) He learns a lesson about trusting his daughter's judgement
5) The bulk of the conflict is focused between father and daughter coming to see eye to eye, not father and daughter's love interest reaching an agreement about her.
6) There's some additional element that makes it so that the audience is getting more than the same old recycled jokes about waiting up with a shot gun or baseball bat
7) He's just a cool character, okay?

So after some soul searching, I present to you a short list of men who might go a little crazy when their daughters start dating, but ultimately learn and grow through the experience, making me love them. They are...

Runner-Up: Best Villainous Overprotective Dad

Ben Linus from LOST

One easy way of fixing the Overprotective Dad trope is by giving the role to a villain. Suddenly, the controlling undertones of the behavior are not problematic, but instead a symptom of being a bad dude. This is on full display with Ben who first kidnaps Alex from her birth mother, then raises her in extremely limiting conditions. Imprisoning and torturing her boyfriend is one of just several creepy, controlling things this guy does!

Ben is just a rad villain, and his treatment of Alex is a fascinating part of his character. You could even argue that towards the end of the series, he learns *something* about letting Alex go. That is, if you count the flash side-ways timeline.

WINNER: Best Villainous Overprotective Dad

Adrian Toombs (The Vulture) from Spiderman: Homecoming

I would have peed myself if I was Peter.

The moment when Peter Parker shows up at his date's house for the Homecoming dance is perfect. As Liz's dad drives them to the dance together, there's an amazing verbal game of cat and mouse Peter is playing with him as it gradually dawns on Toombs that he knows Peter from somewhere. Bit by bit, he realizes that Peter is Spider-Man, and this previously accepting father takes a dark turn.

One of the things that's so fun about this example is that Toombs himself is consciously playing with the trope. Once they arrive at the dance, he tells Liz he needs to give Peter "the dad talk" and she leaves, expecting it to be the usual cajoling about "getting her home on time." That's in there but let's just say his threatenings are way more terrifying than anything she dreamed up.

This all plays super well into his villainous motivation and character arc. His whole illegal arms dealership is driven by a desire to provide for his family. He wants nothing more than to protect Liz and give her a normal childhood, and he expects Peter to play by that script exactly, or face the consequences.

In this instance, the Overprotective Dad trope is invoked for interesting reasons and other levels of conflict are layered on top. It might not be an instance where the conflict is focused on the girl, rather than the boy, but that also seems justifiable, since this is Peter's story. Plus, it has a more interesting resolution to that arc than usual. Instead of them coming eye to eye or agreeing how to "broker" Liz's choices, Peter instead has to make choices that are independent of what he wants with Liz, and that he knows will ultimately ruin his chances with her. It's heartbreaking and awesome.

Runner-Up: Best Overprotective Dad

Jim Hopper from Stranger Things

He reappears!

So first off, I am not a fan of how all of this arc was treated on Stranger Things, mostly because there's some squandered potential here. As mentioned before, tropes are at their best when they are used only as a starting point for something, not the final execution. One of the things that frustrated me about the use of this trope was how they failed to notice that of all men, Hopper had exceptional circumstances for his feelings going into this scenario.

Three things make Hopper and El a unique version of this father/daughter dynamic. One, that El is adopted, and this at least the show touches on. He isn't prepared for this challenge, largely because he's only been her father for a couple of years, and it was a relationship that grew organically, rather than one that either entered into knowingly. But there are two other factors the show forgets to touch on and AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! It would have been so much better if they did!

So factor number two, Hopper might be new to doing things with El, but she is not his first child. He had a daughter die young, which destroyed his life and relationship with his ex-wife. There are a couple nods to this in season three, but most of that is unexplored potential. I really wish there was more acknowledgement of him as a man still learning how to put away the trauma he suffered years ago, because it would help contextualize his actions when he is a total jerk to Mike in the first episode of season three.

Also, there's the question of El herself. Hopper is more justified in worrying about El's dating habits, because El has only been experiencing a "normal" life for a couple of years. Lest we forget, she had to be taught the concept of "friend" by Mike in season one. To see this same boy then initiate a romance with her could be understandably troubling. If "friend" and "boyfriend" are synonymous, that's a problem. El's world is painfully small and she's naïve in a way most girls her own age aren't. I would have loved to see Hopper articulate some of this in some way - just a worry that childhood was already leaving for a girl who never got to have a childhood. There's more loss there than in the regular scenario.

In fairness, the show does address some of El's inexperience and need for other friends, but it's not directly tied to her arc with Hopper. And so that saddens me. It was right there, Duffer Bros! RIGHT THERE!

So why is this ranked so highly? Partially because, as mentioned above, I love Hopper. But also because that even though it follows the strictures of this trope a bit too much, there's some nice depth to what Hopper experiences and expresses over the course of the season.

In the first episode, he knows he needs to have a conversation with El and Mike about boundaries, but struggles to find the words to say. Eventually, he writes them down and rehearses them. But when he goes to talk to the kids, Mike is kind of obnoxious, and all his preparation goes out the window. He ends up threatening the boy instead and the audience groans along.

Then, towards the end of the season, El finds the letter and sees what he really wanted to say. And instead of being about controlling Mike's behavior, the letter is all about her. How much he loves her and values his time with her, and how he's nervous about this new stage in her life, but doesn't want to hold her back. The scene is ridiculously touching. It does a lot of heavy lifting of redeeming his earlier behavior and that makes a huge amount of difference.

Also, side note: Mike really was annoying in that first episode. It's not ALL Hopper's fault.

WINNER: Best Overprotective Dad

Costas Portokalos from My Big Fat Greek Wedding

Look how sweet he is! He really is the best.

Did you know that this movie is not a romantic comedy? It's really not. The romance is not the center of the story. Her relationship with Ian is rather conflict free. As they say in writing class, if there's no conflict, there's no story, so where is the conflict coming from?

The heart of this fun and fabulous film is in the relationship between Toula and her heritage, and symbolizing that heritage more than anyone is her father. Costas is immensely proud of his Greek background and wants to see Toula feel the same way. He's bossy and controlling at times, and desperately wants her to marry a Greek boy, so when she comes home with "white toast" Ian, he is devastated. And so goes our plot!

Returning to the list of BONUS POINTS, Costas ticks every box. He gradually learns to accept Ian and see his family as part of theirs. He stops questioning Toula's decisions so much, and tries to show her his support the way he knows how (giving a kind speech at her wedding and giving her a very generous gift) and through that, Toula reconciles with him. She's able to see herself as Greek, without focusing on how it makes her weird. She feels loved by her father and valued, instead of seen as the ugly duckling or rebellious child.

The jokes also don't feel as stale, because they're not the usual one dimensional posturing. His disdain for Ian is rooted in cultural differences, a gap which is harder to breach than simply not threatening the boyfriend. Even when he's trying to be accepting, there's still moments where his cultural baggage gets in the way, like when he orders wedding invitations that misspell and misgender Ian's parent's unfamiliar, English names.

Most importantly, he's just really, really funny. Despite his character largely being built out of the Overprotective Dad trope, he's charming, entertaining and a fresh take on the concept. Overall, this movie is great and Costas remains one of my favorite fictional dads. He ain't perfect, but he sure is fun to watch.

So there you have it. Even tropes we personally dislike don't necessarily have to be done poorly. If there's a fresh enough take, tired material can become new again. All you need is a little Greek culture or a Demogorgon and you're on your way.