Monday, August 23, 2010

Vampire Werewolves From Fairyland

Here's an interesting musing on urban fantasy on TeeVee, with a focus on SyFy's Haven. Lately, there has been a lot of discussion on urban fantasy, mostly on book-type blogs. Is there too much? Too little? Is there too much romance in it? Is there not enough? Is today's urban fantasy totally different from yesterday's? Why are there so many vampires? The genre has been subdivided into urban fantasy and paranormal romance, which seems to be romance novels with fangs.

If I never see another misty cover featuring a vaguely urban-looking hooker-girl with piercings, a tramp stamp and an intricately carved athame dripping demon blood, it'll be too soon. I realize that the authors don't have any control over the book covers, but isn't this getting a little ridiculous? A new one comes out about every third day. Every time I see one, I think, "Are they STILL publishing these?? When will it END?" Maybe I think that because in TeeVee, you can't do forty shows that are exactly the same. Unless they're cop/lawyer/medical shows, of course. They STILL won't let you do that kind of an urban fantasy show because of Buffy. Which went off the air before tramp stamps appeared on the backs of these girls. And of all the urban fantasy in all the world, isn't the "somewhat supernatural kick-ass girl fights monsters and falls in love with one" sort of perfect for TeeVee? It's set in a real city. It's episodic as all hell. It's familiar enough for audiences. They get their romance (which they keep telling me all the wimmin want) and their fighting (which is what all the menfolks want).

But it seems like for THIS pitching season (which is still going on, BTW), everyone's desperate for a medical show (huh?) and they'll buy all their cops/lawyers/politicians/whatevers before they start looking into other boxes. Kind of like opening that really big bike-shaped Christmas present, and then finally sighing and opening the small package of socks. Genre on TeeVee = Christmas kitty socks.

Regarding Haven, of which I have seen several episodes, it seems like someone somewhere bought a darkish urban fantasy show and then FREAKED OUT and decided it had to be not-dark and not-fantastic. The problem with THAT, of course, is that you end up with a not-show. So let's see what, if any, urban fantasy sells. That channel that shows Haven on it DID announce a slate of pilots (all written by men, incidentally, so well done THERE). Among them is that rusty old veteran Ball & Chain. If you don't remember this pilot based on that particular comic book, Fox tried it several years ago but didn't put it on the air. So now that network is going to try it. They're picking up all funny genre stuff again. Although their two funny genre shows are working, how much room IS there for that? What if they just, I dunno... FUCKING BROUGHT CAPRICA BACK? I would enjoy that immensely.

It's a fine line between something original, and something familiar enough for executives and audiences. Like, it's SUCH a fine line that it practically exists in a quantum state. Schroedinger's pitch. And it's just as hard to pitch an original cop show as it is to pitch a familiar enough genre show. It's just that cops and all that are what the other networks are buying now. And when you pitch a procedural-type show, you get to spend less time explaining magic to them. Which is refreshing, in its own way.

I have my doubts about urban fantasy REALLY working on TeeVee anymore. The only thing that comes close is True Blood, and that's mostly Southern gothic horror and not really fantasy... although with the addition of the Seelie Court, it's venturing into fantasy territory. But don't get me started on faeries. I would love to see urban fantasy or some kind of hard genre show succeed on a network that's just starting to find its feet, but I don't know where that would be. AMC's going to try zombies but even if THAT succeeds, AMC hasn't shown that it has any interest in picking up the same types of shows. So I'd guess there won't be any fantasy on AMC. HBO and Showtime are what they are. Starz is sure doing a bunch of stuff, but they're really trying to be HBO so it's mainly about the kinds of people they want to work with. And if you're going to go after giant apes, then you're not likely to get a Buffy or an X-Files. I feel like Starz' eyes are too big for its stomach, and when the dust has settled they'll find that they so forged themselves on the buffet that they will need to purge.

So if genre is going to succeed, it has to come from an unexpected place. Could that place be Cartoon Network, which has aired its first live-action show and is ramping up to air its second? Rumor has it that the executives hate it, which can only mean that it's got some originality to it.

Woefully behind on some comments. Yikes.

DMc: I totally get what you're saying about Canadian vs. American shows. Now obviously, I can only speak from my perspective, which involves me hearing a lot of "If only you were Canadian." So I appreciate your position as well, since it is specifically yours. And I also appreciated the WGC's support during the strike. As for Canada being America's hat, it is, of course, said with affection. The hat makes the man.

I think your logic is a little skewed. Not everyone who DIDN'T see Knight & Day DID see some shitty movie instead. Some of us chose to NOT see a movie and catch up on the neverending list of other entertainment options.

Well, I was talking about people who went to see movies and didn't see Knight & Day. So if you didn't go to the movies at all, you're not part of that particular conversation. And yes, it took me MONTHS to comes up with this awesome response!

Not all of you took my Doctor Who rant well, which means that the rant was successful. Yes, that is my criteria.

Dan hoped:
However, it wasn't all bad - was it? The fairytale vibe worked brilliantly, Matt Smith wobbled at times but was generally very good, River Song was excellent, the Angels action-packed two-parter was genius, and I personally thought the finale was very entertaining. Considering SM was working with a lower budget than RTD, I think he did marvels with the look and tone. It felt more sophisticated, to me.

I think Matt Smith is the right choice for the part. I don't think Moffat is the right choice to run the show. I disagree about his plotting and think everyone's been WAY too hard on Russell Davies. I liked the first angel episode but the second one was awful. Totally diminished them as the spooky bastards they were. Most of Moffat's episodes just don't make sense to me. If you set up unbreakable rules and you break them in a clever way, well bravo to you. That's good writing. But if you set up unbreakable rules, ignore them, pretend they were never established and then have everyone wish something away, well... then we're going to come to blows. I AM looking forward to a S6 with more River Song exploration. Because DAMN. She's awesome. I hope they can figure out Amy and actually give her character. She ain't got none now. It's great that little girls love Amy, but then kids love Teletubbies so I wouldn't exactly call them critics.

Dan (again? Still?):
@Erin: I don't think you can hold DW to the same logical standards of sci-fi, because it's sci-fantasy.

Actually, you're even MORE beholden to logic if you're doing science fantasy. The addition of the word "fantasy" to your genre description does not give you license to wing it. If you don't establish your rules, you are well and truly screwed. If the Doctor says, "I can't cross over my timeline" and then proceeds to tromp all over it with no repercussions, that's a problem. If you establish that the Doctor will literally be ERASED and that only Amy can remember him but River remembers him, that's a problem. If you begin your season with what is essentially an alternate reality while you're also introducing new characters, then that's a problem. How exactly are we supposed to know what's real? This is awesome to do when the audience already has some connection to the characters. But there isn't any. And in this season, there's a lot of drop-ins, like the Doctor or Amy will just mention the supposedly ongoing story, just because that's what you're supposed to do in a series. And then they move on. "Hey, look, it's The Silence. Well, time to go!" NO. IT'S NOT.

I don't think Moffat knows how to integrate a mythology or a season-long arc into a show. And that's on top of the rules that he breaks with a complete disregard to the fact that he established them. I honestly had NO idea where the hell I was on the show, or in the season. Compare that to the Davies era. Bad Wolf. There, I TOTALLY knew where I was. I got that Bad Wolf was important, and trusted that he would reveal it in good time. And he did. But The Silence? Not a clue. There's just no sense of place throughout the season. Ironic, I suppose...

As for River Song and her diary - well, we don't really know WHAT or WHO she is yet, so maybe it will become clear why she wasn't affected by events next year.

Okay, you can DO This kind of stuff if someone comments on it. If somebody went, "Hey, how the hell did River do that?" Or The Doctor commented on the weirdness that followed him throughout the season. If there had been any awareness of ANY of it, then you can get away with it. But Moffat doesn't seem to understand how any of this is supposed to impact the characters, which makes me think that he came up with fifty cool ideas and then shoehorned them in without a second thought. This stuff needs to be integrated with the characters, too. And it just wasn't.

I still don't know why he was building that weird thing in that odious Lodger episode. That episode is a perfect example of how not to write TeeVee. There's no sense of urgency or tension or awareness in the entire episode. This kind of thing is easy to fix, too. It's just sheer laziness that allows it to exist. And as someone who respects rules in genre, that drives me crazy.

Oh look. Another rant...


Dan said...

Okay, I will withdraw my point about science-fantasy not requiring as much LOGIC as science-fiction. I see what you're saying. Both need rules. I was just meaning that Doctor Who is clearly unconcerned about knitting plausible and robust sci-fi ideas/theories into its mythology (beyond time-travel), and therefore I can't nitpick its science apart -- as I would more highbrow sci-fi shows. I always expect The Doctor to save the day using a stream of technobabble and a handy "off switch" somewhere. I wish it wasn't so. I don't remember Classic Who being as bad, but RTD often used deus ex machinas to write himself out of corners, and I was disappointed that SM resorted to them a lot, too. His previous stories were more watertight in that respect.

But I do agree with a lot of your points about SM as a showrunner. I'm hoping he'll have learned from his experiences for next year. But after four years of the RTD formula, a lot of series 5 still came like a breath of fresh air to me -- despite its many faults.

L. Rob Hubb said...

So, you'll put the smackdown on The DOCTOR, but give LOST a pass?


I do agree with you on HAVEN - I have absolutely NO idea what is going on in it, since the fantastical isn't very fantastic.

Also something related to LOST and its success... are networks considering non-genre "genre" shows in the hope of getting LOSTies, jonesing for their next fix? THE EVENT seems to be the next offering up to the plate.

Little Miss Nomad said...

Schroedinger's pitch. Yes.