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Monday, September 9, 2013

'Dante's Cove' CS: More Than Nine Circles of Hell (or One Snap Down, Hated It!)


An initial thought when focusing on this review of the DVD releases of the three-season gay-centric supernatural soap "Dante's Cove" is that both the subject matter and the complete detestability of this series requires what is being labelled disclaimerpalooza.

First, Unreal TV usually happily focuses on more mainstream U.S. and U.K. fare. These "common experience" productions take the edge off the challenges of postmodern life.

The tone and "mature" nature of this review are unapologetic departures from those usual posts. "Dante's Cove" simply begs too hard to ignore the temptation to take a walk on the wild side. We will return to "our regularly scheduled programming" following this brief detour. A related spoiler alert is that this review contains many more PG-13 penis-oriented jokes than any post has or that any future post will.

Second, most reviews are either raves or are neutral. There is no need to be harsh regarding most productions. "Dante's Cove" is an exception along the lines of (not-so) "Magic Mike," which Unreal TV justifiably raked over the coals last summer. A spoiler alert is that this current review makes that one seem like a tribute to Channing Tatum.

Third, I am roughly a seven on the Aaron Spelling Classic Primetime Soapuality Scale. "Dallas: O.S.," "Falcon Crest," and "Dynasty" remain personal faves. More to the point, I happily own the complete DVD series of the gay-centric serial dramas "Oz" and the U.S. and U.K. versions of "Queer as Folk."

Incidentally, the U.S. version of "Queer as Folk" is a much better choice than "Dante's Cove" if campy gay fun and a regular parade of fully and partially naked men are your thing.

Virtually every supporting and guest actor on "Dante's Cove" goes the full Congressman, and even the men who do not seem to be "10s" have more substantial "war chests" than a certain candidate for mayor of New York City. However, these scenes still come up short (pun intended) regarding any decent narrative.

On a related note, the poorly simulated scenes involving anal intercourse makes "He's Just Not That Into You" a more apt title than "Dante's Cove."

The fourth and final disclaimer is that I have absolutely no problem with seeing full-frontal fellas on the big or little screen be they fully flaccid, fully fortified, or fall in between.

The final word before going thermonuclear on "Dante's Cove" is that one of its most annoying aspects is that it panders to the large segment of the gay viewing audience that in equal parts will embrace any gay-oriented videotaped vomit and any production that features any degree of homoerotic content.

Perhaps that the best unintentional humor associated with "Dante's Cove" is that it aired on the Here TV network, which was part of the Cox cable system.
 
The exploited tendency described above evokes thoughts of one of the first episodes of Ellen DeGeneres' '90s sitcom after her character came out. That Ellen needed a plumber and chose one solely because he was gay. He turned out to be thoroughly incompetent, and the resolution to the "sit" was both amusing and overall nice.

All networks and studios are asked to please offer shows and movies that are more like the truly charming and funny film "I Think I Do" and weekly series that are more like the admittedly flawed "New Normal" and "Modern Family" than "Dante's Cove" and its presumably even more unwatchable sequel "The Lair."

My personal descent into the hell known as "Dante's Cove" began several weeks ago. A search for an inexpensive TV on DVD set to reach the $25 free shipping threshold of a large online retailer that shall remain shameless led to finding the second-season set of "Dante's Cove" for $3.60. That "buy curious" experience lead to finding bargains on the first and third season sets.

Tracy Scoggins of "Dynasty" and its own spinoff "The Colbys" played bad witch Grace on "Dante's Cove" and was the only really recognizable name when it aired.

Current CW action star Stephen Amell had a supporting role as not-so-straight arrow Adam in "Dante's Cove's" first season; although he was constantly shirtless, no scenes allowed determining if the nickname "The Hood" would apply to today's Oliver Queen (that is his name) in "Cove."

"Big Brother's" surfer dude Braden Bacha made a guest appearance in a "very special" second-season episode. That role largely consisted of delivering his lines in a monotone fashion and then simply disappearing seconds after dropping trou. To his credit, it seems possible that he can hang 10.

The scene that sets the action in "Dante's Cove" in motion occurs early in the pilot in which 19th century lady Grace finds 19th century fiance and closet case Ambrosius, whose name truly should be Atrocious, Vallin on the receiving end of anal intercourse. The audience learns early on that the butler did it. This scene reveals as well that the butler is well equipped for his job.

Grace quickly proves the truth of the adage that Hell has no fury like a woman scorned; the punishment of this Endora on 'roids includes chaining "Bro" in the basement of his home and making him look at least 50 years older than his actual age.

Grace's power, which increases over time, comes from the form of magic known as Tresum. The name is coincidentally amusing regarding the cast's wooden acting.

We then fast-forward more than 150 years. Chez Vallin is now Hotel Dante, a residential hotel for a small group of 20-something gay and straight men and lesbians. The fact that this group lives together in almost perfect harmony is perhaps the most unbelievable aspect of this outrageously far-fetched series.

A third-season twist has the gang moving in with Grace. This is reminiscent of the show within a show in Lisa Kudrow's short-lived HBO sitcom "The Comeback" in which she plays an actress playing a Mrs. Roper type character who temporarily lives with the hot sexy 20-somethings in the series' inset show.

Quasi-closet case (and doe-eyed twink) Kevin has just moved in with Hotel Dante resident Toby after making up following a fight that includes jealousy regarding a pizza boy who apparently delivers. A series of events leads to Kevin breaking the spell that is keeping "Bro" confined and looking old.

The resulting battles between Toby and "Bro" for the heart and another organ of Kevin is a painfully ongoing theme for all three seasons. The good news is that it provides many opportunities to shout "we need to talk about Kevin" while choking down episodes.

This "Mystery Science Theater 3000" technique of riffing on bad shows and movies is as necessary for surviving "Dante's Cove" as it for the MST 3K gang to make it through the horrible fare that they are forced to endure. My highly significant other must bribe me with "Green Acres" reruns and current "Futurama" episodes to keep me watching "Dante's Cove."

Another ongoing theme is a literal power struggle between Grace, "Bro," and Grace's sister Diana. Much of this relates to very specific rituals that must be conducted during separate solstices that are very significant regarding obtaining Tresum-based powers and getting the audience to endure the second and third seasons.

Complete and partial magical power failures during the series evoke thoughts of bad versions of "Bewitched" episodes and prompt shouts of "Dr. Bombay come right away." Similarly, a fight between two lesbians and a resulting botched amnesia spell is straight out of the "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" handbook.

Further, ghostly siblings who pop up throughout the second season are reminiscent of "The Shining" and additionally prompt thoughts of the hilarious brainwashing mantra "I can hope; and I can dream; and I am full of ... full of ..." from the early Mike Judge MTV animated series "Daria."

The more than gratuitous nudity, horrible writing, and elementary school level acting related to the events discussed above are only part of what makes "Dante's Cove" so detestable.

Having the characters lead outrageously hedonistic lives, which include frequent full-court sex in the Hotel Dante kitchen and other public areas, is either the nightmare or fantasy of disgraced anti-gay evangelist Ted Haggard. On a less amusing note, it simply presents a devastatingly unrealistic and toxic negative image of gay and lesbian life that contributes to harmful and unwarranted prejudice.

The fact that the underlying storyline has "innocent" Kevin get caught up in an apparently never-ending orgy and activity that borders on Satanism almost immediately on deciding to be himself and build a life with the man who he loves only makes things worse.

All of this separates "Dante's Cove" from the escapist fun of other straight and gay-oriented soaps. The other ones at least make some effort with the acting and writing and do not rely nearly as heavily on even flashes of their casts' naughty bits.

Anyone with questions or CONSTRUCTIVE comments regarding "Dante's Cove" is welcome to email me but also to please remember the "rubber and glue" rule regarding unwarranted nasty remarks.

I encourage any male cast member of "Dante's Cove" who either manages to read this post himself or has someone read it to him ask for any needed help composing a message. They and anyone else is also welcome to follow me on Twitter via @tvdvdguy.