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REVIEW: "Dante's Cove" Seasons 1 & 2 on DVD

SULUM ALIO EXSPECTATA. “Each to another place welcome.” That’s the saying carved into the tombstone – I mean, the sign in front of Dante’s Cove, an inn on a tropical island. And whom does it welcome most? Those who wish to begin anew. Gay men. Lesbians. Closet cases. Witches. Warlocks. Bad actors. You name it. So…sit back, grab a beer (imported, please) and allow me to begin with what may prove to be a startling comment – “Dante’s Cove”…the series offered up by Here!…is a perfect example of what makes for a viable project in today’s Hollywood. Season One, anyway. And that is SAD.
Ostensibly, the story is about the struggle between a lovelorn witch and an aspiring warlock locked in battle on this tiny island, both after “the power Treasum.” Grace, the witch, was to have wed Ambrosius, the warlock, but discovered him in flagrante delicto with his man-servant, went a little crazy and locked him up till “the kiss of a young man” freed him. One hundred and sixty-five years later, along comes Kevin, chasing his latest love, Toby, to Dante’s Cove. He is the one meant to free Ambrosius from his chains and be with him, forever, and what follows is…well, at best…insipid.
Apparently, nowadays, one does not need a quality script to get a project funded. Nor do you need a director who knows what he’s doing. Or great actors or a crew that is even slightly capable; all you need to do is show you know who your target audience is and that you can make money off them. Or at least get them to tune in again and again if your show’s on cable so that others can make money off them.
Well, it seems the best way to get the target audience for “Dante’s Cove” to tune in is to promise them flesh. A LOT of flesh. Of beautiful young men and women having it on with a partner of the same sex. Doesn’t matter if there is no real structure to the story. Or if the dialog is ludicrous. Or if the production is sloppy as hell (witness the sections set in the 1840’s, when ALL houses had central air conditioning and electric lamps…NOT) and continuity is thought to be something for nit-picky people. If you got a semi-hard porn dick in the first ten minutes, you got your demographic. It’s cynical and condescending…and rather contemptuous of the gay community…and damned if it didn’t work. Season one begat Season Two and Three and God knows how many more.
That’s not to say everything about Season One of DC is bad. As Grace, Tracy Scroggins has fun…like she was still on “Dynasty.” And as Toby, Charlie David’s empathy for the character makes you care for him, while as Van, Nadine Heimann finds ways to make even a toss-off line like “Welcome to Dante’s Cove” joyous. Yes, William Gregory Lee glowers his way through his part, but I’ve seen the same style of one-note acting in movies like “Underworld” and “The Bourne Identity” done by actors given much better support, so no fault to him…yet. Same goes for Gregory Michael; his Kevin is written up as such a three-B (Bitchy-Blond-Brat), it’s next to impossible to give a damn what happens to him…and he’s supposed to be the one who matters most. No, the real fault lies with Michael Costanza, who “wrote” the “script” for Season One, and Sam Irvin, who claims to have directed it, even though I can see no evidence of this.
But…all of that is unimportant. The sole purpose behind the first season of “Dante’s Cove” was to get funding for a second season for as little investment as possible. And it worked. And you can tell the difference, for in Season Two, the producers hired real writers and better actors and shifted the shooting location from the Grand Turks (which actually added to the creepy gothic atmosphere of the story) to Hawaii, which does look a LOT more beautiful. They also hired a better crew and cinematographer, who gave Sam Irvin support enough to make his work acceptable.
Season Two continues with the same characters still fighting the same battles. Ambrosius, now called ‘Bro, is still after Kevin (why?) while trying to kill Grace; Toby is still trying to understand what’s going on and why Kevin won’t commit (why should he care?); Van is learning more and more about her own witchy powers and screwing up, big-time; Grace is still trying to kill ‘Bro and control the power of Treasum, and Kevin is still being a Three-B, albeit less and less so as the story goes on. New characters are added – a mysterious woman named Diana, played by Thea Gill with an ease that is awe-inspiring; Michelle, a girlfriend for Van who winds up with forced forgetfulness, inhabited with genuine grace by Erin Cummins; Marco, the new owner of H2eau, and Kai, a meddling thug, offered well enough by Gabriel Romero and German Santiago, respectively; and there’s a new actor for Adam, Jon Fleming, who is a HUGE improvement over the previous one. Now everything has to be decided by the coming solstice, so we get a bit more drive to the story, and we also wind up with a bit more background – like how ‘Bro got to be so full of himself. None of it ever rises to the level of a third-rate episode of “Buffy…” (for which there never WERE any third-rate episodes) but at least it works.
For the most part. People are still able to find each other on the island whenever they need to. Van causes the death of another character with her powers but, aside from a moment at the funeral, never really worries about it, again. Grace is able to find out about who’s doing what to whom in no time, but has no inkling Diana is even in town till Van accidentally tells her. Adam gets his own little storyline about a drug called “Saint” that is dramatized in the silliest, most clichéd way possible…though Flemming does a creditable job with it. A sex club is added in to have some porn stars do their things for no more reason than they needed some raunchy sex at that point. Oh, and to show Adam’s descent into hell. And as a cover for a drug operation. On an island where you never see a cop (well, one or two were in Season One, if I recall). It’s sloppy but not absolutely insulting, anymore…just somewhat so.
What else is better? The production values. Now we got stylin’ homes, sleek cars, slick clothes and smooth hair. The boys have buffed up, some, tho’ there’s a bit less gratuitous nudity, this time…except for the sex club, which in and of itself is gratuitous. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Charlie and Nadine are even better as Toby and Van, Gregory is finally allowed to make Kevin a bit more likeable, William tones down his scowls, a bit, as ‘Bro, and Tracy actually brings some nice pathos to Grace’s situation. Her justification of herself while looking at the blue moon is especially nice.
So now comes Season Three, of which I’ve only seen episode one…and that review is elsewhere.
You know, it IS nice to see a few gay characters presented as caring decent people — Toby, Van and Michelle — even if they are surrounded by egomaniacs, self-absorbed twits and sex-craved freaks. I halfway think that’s the real reason we keep tuning in. I mean, you can get better sex off a video from Magnum or Bel Ami and it lasts a lot longer. Some of the Falcon videos even have production values to rival Season Two (and wildly surpass Season One). And the storyines are really nothing much to interest anyone. It’s because Toby’s so lovable and supportive, and Van’s so cool and supportive, and Michelle’s so sweet and supportive…you really want us ALL to be seen as that. I guess the fact that even a few characters are is acceptable enough to keep this mess going…and going…and going…with the hope eventually it will actually bear some resemblance to reality.

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