The other day, fueled by our discussion on what to watch after dinner, I started musing about a certain mood of mine and what connects the works I gravitate towards when in that mood. I landed on the term competence porn without realizing it is an existing term. (There’s even a Wikipedia article on competence porn.)
In alphabetical order, here is my short viewing list:
- Charlie’s Angels (2019)
- Ocean’s Eight
- Rogue One
- Wonder Woman
And a back-up list with works that fulfill some criteria, fail others, but that I nevertheless often like to watch when in that mood of mine:
- Black Widow
- Captain Marvel
- Miss Marple (the series with Joan Hickson)
- Murdoch Mysteries
- Star Wars VII-IX (specifically Rey’s storyline)
There seems to be surprisingly much variance in the use of the term competence porn, so rather than dissect the alternatives, here is what I mean by it:
- Typically has multiple competent, intelligent characters of different skills or areas of expertise working together, often towards a fairly big goal.
- Involves complex problem-solving. Can but need not include a heist.
- It helps if women are being awesome,
- and/or, it helps if the characters are learning to work together.
- It needs to be fun on some level. (Maybe?)
There’s a somewhat nebulous aspect I haven’t yet been able to quite define for myself. For example, on the surface, the action flick Gunpowder Milkshake fills the above requirements—it has multiple competent and intelligent characters, lots of problem-solving, women being awesome, and learning to work together, and yet I cannot count it as competence porn for my purposes. I guess it’s an aspect of fun? Or a lack of despair / despondency / dejection / melancholy / gloom?
Anyway, I’ll talk a little about why I’ve placed each of the works above onto my viewing list.
1. Charlie’s Angels
I find the protagonist Elena (played by Naomi Scott) very irritating; on the other hand, Jane and Sabina (Ella Balinska’s and Kristen Stewart’s characters) plus Boz and Bosley (Elizabeth Banks and Djimon Hounsou) are great. Stewart has a bad rep, I guess, and I guess primarily from the Twilight movies (the only things I have seen her in), but on the basis of her performance here I’d suggest she does have skills but was just badly directed in that series. Anyway, it’s a learning to work together story, which I like a lot, and all the women down to the side characters are awesome.
2. Elementary (2012-2019)
A modernized version of Sherlock Holmes set loose in New York City with a gender-flipper Watson. Both Jonny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu are fantastic as the detective duo, and the smart NYPD cast, Captain Gregson and Detective Bell (played by Aidan Quinn and Jon Michael Hill), also contribute their fair share. The Ms. Hudson and Moriarty versions were also interesting, but all in all there are too few women. (Still half of the population, hello?) Nevertheless, the astounding cases, quality acting, and scenes of real NYC in all its glitter and grime continue to keep my interest despite some less successful story lines.
3. Leverage (2008-2012)
Yes, yes, yes—ticks all the boxes despite some unevenness in the writing. If only it didn’t have Nate nor the actor, Timothy Hutton; I’m so fed up with wallow-y man pain (and, whoo boy, does he wallow) with or without alcohol, but it’s infinitely worse with.
The three youngsters should’ve had a series of their own; THAT would’ve been great, and I would throw money at it!
4. Ocean’s Eight
Yes, yes, YES! (Despite Sandra Bullock, Anne Hathaway, and Helena Bonham Carter, who all are far from favorites of mine.) Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, and Rihanna were fabulous. The heist is simply staggering, and it helps it’s also a learning to work together story in part.
5. Rogue One
Although in the beginning we only see a glimpse of Jyn Erso’s childhood and we hear little of how she lived afterwards, it’s clear that she can handle herself, backwards and blindfolded if needs be. I enjoy seeing just how the Rogue One group slowly comes together to run their desperate mission. It needs more women, though.
Rogue One is clearly the least fun of my six competence porn stories, which makes it really hard to put into words why it’s on my list. I just know that it is.
6. Wonder Woman
There are some plotholes and/or weaknesses I’d rather do without, but the learning to work together aspect of the story nevertheless makes the movie work for me. And—need I say it?—SO many awesome women. I could spend more time seeing Amazon action on Themyscira!
Do you have a competence porn viewing or reading list? If so, I’d like to hear yours.
Images via IMDB: Charlie’s Angels. Elementary (s. 2, ep. 12, “The Diabolical Kind”). Leverage. Ocean’s Eight. Rogue One. Wonder Woman.
In Seen on Screen, we discuss movies and television shows of interest.