Here’s what’s happening in the world of television for Friday, August 2 and Saturday, August 3. All times are Eastern.
Busy weekend ahead—especially if you’re a Princess Of Power, an Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D., or a fan of one of the greatest American writers:
She-Ra And The Princesses Of Power (Netflix, Friday, 3:01 a.m., complete third season): The third season of Noelle Stevenson’s take on Adora and friends is what you might call a barnburner.
We spoke with Stevenson (Nimona, Lumberjanes) about the unexpected places season three takes the Princesses Of Power, what other shows are doing right by female, queer, and non-binary characters, and how you go about nabbing Geena Freakin’ Davis.
The A.V. Club: What would you pinpoint as the core of She-Ra’s third season?
Noelle Stevenson: This season is really about pushing the characters into unfamiliar territory, and getting them to re-examine their perceptions of their selves, who they’re trying to be, and what they really want. Especially Adora and Catra, who have ended up on opposite sides of the war. One is the hero, one is the villain. They both, for their whole lives, had some kind of path laid out for them, whether they wanted it or not. This is the season where they’re trying to evaluate that. For Adora: Does she have a choice, or is this something that she’s inherited, meaning she has no choice at all? And for Catra, can she choose to break out of this self-destructive path that she’s on? Can she choose to let go of anger and bitterness, and choose to be happy?
I think all the other characters are also sort of struggling with that. Like Hordak—unexpectedly, his insecurities and his struggles end up being pretty similar to the other characters’ struggles. He was also just a soldier fighting in this war that was bigger than him. We’re trying to deconstruct the characters and put them in a position where for the first time they’re asking, “Who are you, who do you want to be, and why?”
AVC: Adora and Catra’s dynamic is more important than ever here. What makes that relationship so compelling to you?
NS: These are two people who have been given a destiny for as long as they can remember. Adora was groomed to be the hero for the Horde. She’s finding that now pretty much the exact same thing is happening again, but this time it’s the good guys. They’re telling her that she doesn’t have a choice, that her purpose is to serve others and fulfill a function. [Catra’s] been trying to prove herself. She’s been struggling against people telling her that she’s no good, that she’s not worth anything, and that has been pushing her more and more toward villainy. These two people are so bound together by everything that they’ve gone through, and their paths still continue to interweave. For both of them there’s a sense of, “How did this go so wrong? Is it something we can stop or is it unfixable?” I think there’s something that’s so compelling about that. That’s something that we’ve all experienced at one time or another, where there’s a relationship that matters to you so much and it’s just so thoroughly broken. And with each season, that just keeps getting—they keep digging that hole deeper and deeper.
AVC: How has the wide-open nature of the season impacted the visual storytelling?
NS: It’s really great. From this point on, we’re getting to explore more and more of Etheria. We have our home bases, Bright Moon and the Fright Zone, but the chance for the characters to travel and explore is so fun. There are so many parts of Etheria still to see. It’s a visual treat.
AVC: In episode two we meet Huntara, voiced by Geena Davis. Why was Davis the right person to voice her?
NS: Huntara was definitely a crew favorite. In the original show, she’s this kind of super babely space bounty hunter, and she and She-Ra have this amazing smack-down fight, and end up really respecting each other. She’s one of those characters who just walks into a room and everyone’s like, “Whoa, who’s that?” We definitely knew that we wanted her to have a major part in our show. The Geena Davis part was just so fortuitous. She runs the Geena Davis Institute On Gender In Media, and she came to DreamWorks to give a speech and did an amazing power move while she was there and said, “Hey, by the way, anytime you want me to voice a character in one of your animated shows, you know who to call.” And we were like, “Okay. I mean, if you’re offering! We have someone in mind that we would love you to voice.” Right place, right time. Everything fell into place.
AVC: She-Ra deals with ambiguity, identity, self-evolution, and loads of other big ideas in a way few shows actually dare to do—excepting shows like Steven Universe.
NS: We owe a huge debt to Steven Universe. Being able to center these unabashedly queer stories, center the stories of these female and non-binary characters—that was huge. It certainly paved the away for us. There are a lot of people in the children’s animation sphere who are working really hard on making sure that there is positive representation, to show kids that they can choose for themselves who they want to be, how they want to present, and who they want to be with. Steven Universe is definitely the standout amongst those.
Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. (ABC, Friday, 8 p.m., two-hour sixth-season finale): This week, Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. completed its final day of shooting on its seventh and final season. But that’s all still to come. For now, it’s time to wrap up an eventful and ambitious sixth season with a two-hour finale.
Liz Shannon Miller is ready to recap.
A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO, Friday, 11 p.m., series premiere)
American Masters—Worlds Of Ursula K. Le Guin (PBS, Friday, 9 p.m.): Ursula K. Le Guin was a science fiction and fantasy writer back when that was considered a path straight to the disreputable side of the magazine rack. But to watch the career she carved out over the course of her life on the latest installment of PBS’s American Masters is to marvel at the cool and unflappable demeanor of a woman who not only bore witness to massive cultural transformations both within and outside her genre, but was also partly responsible for the progressive changes that transpired. Le Guin died in January of last year, but leaves behind one of the most formidable legacies imaginable for any writer, let alone a sci-fi/fantasy scribe.
“I never wanted to be a writer. I just wrote,” Le Guin says early on in this engaging but minor tribute to the late author. Throughout its hour-long runtime, the documentary offers up a bevy of the genre’s greats (Neil Gaiman, David Mitchell, Samuel Delany, Theodora Goss, China Mieville, and more) as they discuss the influence and legacy of Le Guin on themselves and their field; collectively they make a powerful case for the value of her work to anyone not already acquainted. Touching on milestones of her career—especially the universe of 1968’s A Wizard Of Earthsea and the subsequent series’ influence on the realm of YA fantasy (“At the time, this was not a well-known idea, a wizard school,” Le Guin coyly mentions)—the picture that emerges is clear. Le Guin was a pioneer of American science fiction that challenged existing culture, whether it was the dynamics of gender, alternatives to violence and exploitation, or the ethics of anthropology, the last of which is directly tied by both the documentary and Le Guin herself to the influence of her father, the founder of the anthropology department at Berkeley. By the time she talks about penning the first literary depiction of what a nonviolent anarchist utopia would look like, she’s already outpacing those training a camera on her.
Unfortunately, the fleet pace means there’s rarely more than a few minutes to discuss any one topic or publication. Le Guin’s output was so prodigious, and the scope and depth of her treatment of these topics through her chosen medium so vivifying, it’s unfortunate the filmmakers weren’t given greater space in which to unpack each one. The film was made over the course of a decade (with Le Guin and her family’s participation); given the rich nature of what we do see, here’s hoping there’s a (very) extended cut of this documentary. In the meantime, we’ll have to content ourselves with this short but absorbing look at one of the genre’s luminaries. [Alex McLevy]