Wednesday, June 30, 2010

New & Improved

So DC has decided that Wonder Woman needs a reboot. Not a bad thought, certainly. Wonder Woman's the only true female superhero out there and the outfit makes it almost impossible to turn her into a viable movie character (because let's face it -- that's what this is about). Wonder Woman, like all female comic book heroes (except maybe Death), is a male fantasy. Superhero comics are ALL male fantasies. I'm not telling you anything you don't already know, of course. But it seems like if you are going to reboot the only viable female superhero so you can take her to the movies, then you might want to get out of that mindset just a tiny bit. The guy you all love for some reason, J. Michael Straczynski, is going to be writing it and the Amazon herself was designed by Jim Lee. I follow Jim Lee on Twitter, because he sometimes posts iPhone art, and I love iPhone art. But here's what she looks like:

If the idea was to update her as a modern girl, well... no. I suppose her tiny jacket is supposed to add some toughness to her, as is the color change to black. Because nothing says I AM A TOUGH GIRL more than black and a little jacket. Now, I'm not the go-to person for what young folks are wearing out there but I certainly see my share of them, and I've done extensive research for projects involving alternative careers and hobbies for the Coveted Demographic. My question here would be, Where's the street wear? Not that she should be a skatr grl or anything, but if you want to go urban, then... shouldn't you? This isn't urban. This isn't cool. This isn't modern. And based on how superficial and lacking in thought the external changes are, I have no hope that the character will be anything other than what she's always been. Shouldn't a modern Wonder Woman have a new point of view? The backstory has been changed, of course. In keeping with the universe, there's a new timeline involved. This Diana doesn't have memories of Paradise Island. She's grown up in our world. That's fine. That's a perfectly acceptable way to reboot the series (and set up a great "bad guys are invading Paradise Island" teaser for the movie).

But then wouldn't you take advantage of that and REALLY dive into how the character can be different and contemporary? I know I haven't read the book yet but based on what I'm seeing and reading, this is a surface reinterpretation of the character. And I have to say, sometimes having a woman involved in this development is valuable. The reboot of this particular character -- the only real female superhero -- is a complete missed opportunity. It's a shame. But then we're still in the era where TeeVee shows with female leads are lacking women on staff (looking at you, Haven). Now, of course men can write female characters, just as women can write male characters. But that doesn't make the dearth of female writers any less relevant.

Speaking of which, I did want to back way up and mention how I felt about Fringe this year. The show still hasn't found a new way to tell these monster-of-the-week episodes. They feel like cast-off X-Files episodes, and we should be quite a bit beyond that. There have been a few interesting ones but for the most part, I'm tuning in for the alternate universe stuff. I am a sucker for an alternate universe. I am awesome in mine.

There's another issue as well: Olivia Dunham. I'm not one of those people hating on Olivia, mind. I really like Anna Torv and find Olivia an interesting character. You don't see that female character on TeeVee.

What I didn't like about the character right off was that she was fucking her partner. But luckily, he was killed and what they did with him was pretty interesting. But somebody somewhere thought there was something wrong with her. Maybe they were listening to the Internet fans (I hope not). Maybe they came up with it on their own. But the choice was made to "lighten her up." This isn't gender specific. Male characters need to be lightened up, too. But when a female character is given this directive, there's only one thing you can add -- a child. Olivia, with no man in her life and (GOD FORBID) no child, apparently wasn't considered a Real Character. So she was given a sister and a niece (the Most Adorable Child Who Ever Was) and a smile and a penchant for reading bedtime stories in sweet whispers. And it still didn't work because it was a superficial addition. It didn't tell us anything about Olivia as a character. What needed to happen was, she needed to be WRITTEN.

But there's a bigger issue beyond this. Olivia isn't actually the main character on Fringe, and that started as soon as the alternate universe stuff began in earnest. Sure, there were the experiments and she's the most special one and all but emotionally, Peter and Walter comprise the heart of the show. I know this must seem obvious to everyone but in the context of how you build a show and a pilot, you should take a look. There's nothing wrong with a show growing and changing. We certainly saw that with Lost. The thing is, though, that when it happens, it should be allowed to happen. I feel like the Fringe writers are holding onto a premise that simply doesn't exist anymore. I'm still watching, of course, because THERE'S AN ALTERNATE UNIVERSE, DAMMIT, AND I LOVE THAT SHIT. But all the cool stuff aside, if it were my show I'd be paying particular attention to the emotional drive. When they DO pay attention, the show's marvelous. I just wish it were marvelous more often.

I watched SciFi's miniseries The Phantom, because I'm going to be honest with you guys here. I like The Phantom. I know he has the goofy purple suit and all, but I like him. I think he's cool. I even liked the Billy Zane Phantom. Yes, I'm saying that in print -- I LIKED THE PHANTOM MOVIE, AND I OWN IT ON BLURAY.

I'll give you a minute to collect yourselves, gentle readers.

Back? Good. So this ties back into the Wonder Woman update. I think Wonder Woman is a fine character to update. It just doesn't seem like they've done it. And the more they wander into that territory, the closer they'll get to Promethea. Others just pale in comparison to Promethea. The beauty of that character is that she's got a timeless quality. Sure, you've got your ancient goddess, but you also have your modern girl. But The Phantom proves to be a character of his time. He's a character of the 30s and updating him simply is not possible. Everything about The Phantom says "myth," from his outfit to his fantastic horse, to the Singh Brotherhood and to Bengalla and the skull cave. He was rescued from PIRATES, for God's sake! Native Bengallans protect and help him.

This is not a guy you can stick in 21st century Manhattan (or Montreal weakly doubling for Manhattan). The writers really tried to update this character, and their idea was to take him from being a simple crime-fighting vigilante to a crime-fighting vigilante's organization. See, in SciFi's version, The Phantom still has the myth of Kit Walker as the ghost who walks, something that works much better when myth and legend still existed. Bengalla and the skull cave are still there. But underneath the cave is a sophisticated lair with all kinds of science in it, not to mention the Phantom's employees. The Phantom has become a corporation: Phantom, Inc. So what they've tried to do is tell the audience that while The Phantom started as a lone vigilante, the organization morphed into something more global and definitely corporate. But they haven't just taken the spirit of The Phantom. They're still using ALL the mythology, including the outfit and The Phantom's guns. And yes, he still lives in the skull cave.

The Singh Brotherhood has been updated, too. Now they meet in a boardroom, where some really not-good actor (he's REALLY NOT GOOD) cackles about The Phantom. Apparently, the Singh Brotherhood eventually figured out that The Phantom isn't immortal, that it's about the Walker line. Yes, I guess it took them awhile. So this global bad-guy company, who has enough going on that they can use a satellite TV company to test their "This is so X-Files season three" mind-control device, is MOST concerned with The Ghost Who Walks. I know: What?

And the whole Phantom organization? You'd think maybe they would be training other people as The Phantom, since he doesn't have any inherited super-powers or anything. But no, it's just the one guy. And he doesn't wear the purple suit in the miniseries. He wears this black turtle-shell looking thing that actually MAKES him a superhero. Literally. He's stronger (2 1/2 times his normal strength, for some reason), he's impervious to bullets (some kind of Kevlar-like blah blah blah). The thing with this mini is, they're fighting SO hard to retain what's good about the Phantom, while also trying to set the thing in the present day. And that just doesn't work. The Shadow, sure. You could update The Shadow. A lot of heroes can be brought into the present. But The Phantom is of his time, and any attempt to change that just makes it, well, stupid.

It's too bad, because it IS a noble attempt. And I love the idea of miniseries and backdoor pilots, because it gives the audience more to watch, and writers more to write. But this time, hero FAIL.

I am going to talk about Doctor Who at some point but since I'm still recovering from the Lost screaming, I'll give it until all the American fans have actually SEEN the finale.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Walking On the Moon

One day in August of 1996, I got up super early, packed my single-serving snacks and drove down to Del Mar to see a horse race. Two years earlier, Bill Mott moved Cigar from the turf to the dirt, and he began to win one race after the other. Sixteen in a row, in fact, matching a streak by the great Triple Crown winner Citation. Today, Cigar was going to attempt to break that record in the Pacific Classic and win his seventeenth race in a row. Like every other racing nut, I became captivated by what Cigar was doing. He shipped everywhere and just kept on winning. He wrapped up his Horse of the Year season in 1995 by winning the Breeder's Cup Classic. And we all got up at before the crack of dawn to watch TVG, as he just outran the tenacious Soul of the Matter in the Dubai World Cup. They even wrote a special race for him, the Citation Challenge at Arlington Park. That's where he tied Citation's record.

Del Mar was packed, and there were a lot of people there who didn't really know about Cigar and the streak. Going to Del Mar was just something you did when you were tired of the beach and Mexican food in Old Town San Diego. But those of us who knew racing knew that Cigar could achieve something truly special. However, six furlongs into the race, that dream ended with the split of 1:09 1/5. I will never forget that -- 1:09 1/5. That's COOKING for a mile and a quarter race, and Cigar was right up there on the pace. Understandably he had nothing left, and Dare and Go went right by him to break the streak.

On the way out of the track I stopped by the test barn and caught a glimpse of Cigar's eye as he cooled out. He looked apologetic.

This past Sunday, it was Zenyatta's turn to try and break that streak as she went for her seventeenth win in the Vanity Handicap at her home track of Hollywood Park. One big difference with Zenyatta's sixteen wins is that they came with no losses. She's been perfect in sixteen races. As electric as the atmosphere was for Cigar, nothing approaches the zeal for Zenyatta. Because this was her HOME. She won her first race here, and now she would attempt to win her seventeenth. Those of us who've been watching her run for three years GET her. We know how much of a star she is. The world was introduced to her star power in the Breeder's Cup Classic, where she did what she had done thirteen times previously -- found her way to the front before the wire. And that, as I've posted before (and many others have said elsewhere) was the greatest event I've ever witnessed.

But seventeen would not be easy. Zenyatta would be asked to carry 129 pounds for the second time, conceding from 9 to 17 pounds to the rest of the field. Just for comparison last year's champion, Rachel Alexandra, carried only 124 pounds while winning the Fleur de Lis on Saturday. Quality Road, considered by many to be the best older male in training, won the Met Mile under 124 pounds. West Coast star Rail Trip carried 118 pounds in the Californian. And another terrific older male, Blame, carried 120 pounds while winning the Stephen Foster (ostensibly a handicap, but come ON) on Saturday.

Zenyatta was in for a race from the second choice, St Trinians, a European import who failed as the favorite in the Santa Anita Handicap, but that's been her only poor start since arriving in the U.S. She figured to have several advantages in the Vanity. The distance, the weight, her running style. The goal for jockey Martin Garcia would be to get some separation from Zenyatta on the turn for home, and hold off the big mare to the wire. And then, of course, not get ripped apart by the fans, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Hollywood Park had a giveaway day on Sunday - a Zenyatta bobblehead honoring the mare for what she had already accomplished, which includes winning the last two runnings of the Vanity. If she could win this third straight Vanity Handicap, she would join horses like Forego, John Henry, Native Dancer, Flawlessly and Kelso for winning at least three runnings of a major race. Ever since Zenyatta shocked the world by winning the Breeder's Cup Classic, there's been a special kind of "event buzz" around her. People have started to gather when she runs, coming from all over the world to see her. It even spilled over to the Santa Anita Derby, which had about double the attendance of recent runnings.

There's a unique atmosphere to Zenyatta's race days. People who've met at her previous races come together and talk about her and the good that her name is doing for the industry. There were several horse charities visible on Sunday, selling Zenyatta shirts for the upkeep of retired racehorses. Nobody paid much attention to the earlier races on the card, not even the people involved with them. We all just counted down to the eighth race. And as it approached, people began to gather around the paddock, zig-zagging up the stairs and to the balcony overlooking the paddock. People wore Zenyatta hats and shirts and jerseys. If they didn't have anything official, they made their own shirts. Or they wore the Moss's colors -- pink and green. One adorable older guy was dressed head to toe in pink and green. Yes. Even his shoes. The crowd surprised owners Jerry & Ann Moss with spontaneous applause when they entered the paddock. Even Zenyatta's OWNERS get an ovation. Shortly afterwards, jockey Mike Smith entered to his own ovation. Former jockey Julie Krone brought her daughter, not wanting her to miss out on seeing a horse like Zenyatta. And Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert didn't have a horse in any races that day. He just wanted to be in the paddock for Zenyatta.

When the horses came over, fathers lifted their daughters to see Zenyatta walk into the paddock. The one thing you don't want for your racehorse is for people to just start applauding and making noise when the horse is getting saddled, but there was very little anyone could do about it. People who'd come to see her for the first time couldn't help themselves. They get EMOTIONAL. The buzz was incredible as John Shirreffs boosted Mike Smith up onto her back. Zenyatta arched her neck and stretched her legs, delighting the crowd. And then we all good-naturedly streamed towards the track for what promised to be the race of a lifetime.

Everybody knew what Mike Smith needed to do in the Vanity. Zenyatta was going to be the victim of yet another slow pace. Smith needed to keep an eye on St Trinians, who would be sprinting for home just off the turn. He couldn't let St Trinians get away from him. Because Zenyatta's a closer, she generally sits at the back and loops around the field, so she doesn't interrupt that massive motor of hers. While Smith could have gone down inside with her he didn't want to take any chances, especially with all that weight on her.

So when St Trinians began to sprint for the wire, Zenyatta was only a few lengths behind her. If you watch the race, you'll see St Trinians' jockey Martin Garcia take a peek back under his right arm when they make the turn. He's looking for Zenyatta, and he was probably muttering "Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear," because she was RIGHT THERE. He got going on St Trinians and that little horse took off, floating Zenyatta even wider than she was, forcing her to lose valuable ground. In midstretch, the flying St Trinians looked the winner... at least against any horse other than Zenyatta. I've never seen a horse look as terrified as St Trinians did, as in, "I'm going as fast as I can! HOW IS THAT OTHER HORSE CATCHING UP??"

But Zenyatta is no ordinary horse. She knows exactly where the wire is; she's known sixteen times in a row, and she knew for the seventeenth time. Somehow she caught a filly who wasn't stopping. And when she caught St Trinians, her ears went up. Just like they do every single time she gets the lead. This isn't just about winning the race. She knows that getting the lead is the goal, and so far she's been able to accomplish that goal every single time. And with her running style, nothing is ever going to run past her. Especially when you look at her time for the final eighth of a mile. It was freakish. Racehorses who are 7-wide and are carrying 129 pounds aren't supposed to go that fast.

From the time Zenyatta steps out into the paddock, myriad emotions are experienced by her fans (which also include all the other horsemen): Awe, delight, fear, dread, panic, something slightly less than panic, hope, despair, disbelief and finally unfettered joy. Hollywood Park was the cauldron for all of those emotions, people so carried away by a horse's great, generous heart that they didn't care that they looked like maniacs as they jumped up and down. Thousands of people joined it to make one sound, an otherworldly full-throated roar, that deep-seated instinct all living things have when they recognize something extraordinary. There simply weren't any words after the race was over. Everybody stood and watched and screamed. Even the racing pundits on TVG couldn't speak. There was literally not a word out of them for several minutes. One of those pundits, Ron Ellis, trains leading older horse Rail Trip. He's in AWE of her, and he wants NO part of her with his terrific horse.

When Zenyatta galloped back, the roaring increased. Even her connections -- owners Jerry and Ann Moss, racing manager Dottie Ingordo Shirreffs and trainer John Shirreffs -- didn't know how to react. How do you react to history? What can you say? When I was a kid, I read all the Black Stallion books. I mean, of course, right? And one of the things I loved most about the books was the hint of mysticism about the horses. There's a big match race in the first book and I love the way Walter Farley writes about it. Because it just transcends being "just" a horse race. The race takes on a life of its own because of the presence of this mystery horse, the Black. How DARE he take on these two superstars? The gall!

This is what Zenyatta in the Breeder's Cup was all about. It was the end of every horse-racing movie ever. The credits were supposed to roll, but they didn't because the Mosses decided to bring Zenyatta back this year, for a shot at immortality. And they've achieved it. But people complain that she hasn't been tested. They COMPLAIN! They're totally blind to the otherworldliness of this mare. She is the unquantifiable. She defies the numbers that are so crucial to the handicapping aspect of the sport. How can you handicap a horse who doesn't appear to have a limit? People impose artificial limits upon her, but she just keeps winning anyway. In all probability, Zenyatta will run three more times. With seventeen victories behind her, are the odds REALLY against her to win a measly three more? But who she has become is no longer about being undefeated and winning more races. She's already accomplished everything a racehorse can accomplish. There was no more pressure on Secretariat after he won the Belmont, and there is no more pressure on Zenyatta. Her place in history is assured, detractors be damned. History has a way of sorting out the bullshit.

I wanted to see Cigar transcend everything to win that seventeenth, but he found a limit that day. Last Sunday Zenyatta had every reason, every right, to find a limit. But she didn't. She won again, ears up, making history.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lost Highway

Okay. There's a lot of smart-assery about Lost. I'll get to it, and then I hope we're done because I'm exhausted and the latest issue of Entertainment Weakly had a lot of stupid shit I'd like to bitch about later.

Back a few posts, about novelists who will save TeeVee.

Dzof smart-asses:
What happens when you let novelists write TV scripts:
1. The Wire.
2. Treme.

If you're only going to mention one guy, you forgot about Homicide and The Corner (a mini, but still TeeVee). But, erm... are you REALLY only going to use ONE guy to prove this misguided notion? Because I found something for you. What Simon had to say (heh) about Homicide:

Simon was asked by Mutrux to write the show's pilot episode but declined, feeling he did not have the necessary expertise.

Hey, look! Someone who wasn't just all focused on how brilliant he was. He actually DEFERRED to the PROFESSIONALS. Then what did he do? He learned how TeeVee worked. By the time season four of Homicide rolled around, he joined the staff full-time. But he was NOT running the show. He wasn't even a PRODUCER until season six. So unlike this Peter Watts asshat who thinks that TeeVee writers need to be guided by novelists who don't even own televisions, David Simon was sensible enough to recognize that television is also a profession, and that there are professionals in it. Therefore, your entire point just flutters away because by the time The Wire came around, David Simon WAS a showrunner because he'd learned from TeeVee writers how to actually do the JOB. Thanks for trying, though.

What gets me is the notion that the audience should be happy with what they got. The writers knew what the viewers wanted and had two seasons to deliver the goods. And to many, they didn’t.

Right. But to some, they did. Why is this so hard to grasp? Millions of people aren't going to agree on what they're getting out of a TeeVee show no matter WHAT you do. The thing is, Lost DID try to deliver on what a portion of that audience demanded. And that led to several uninspiring seasons. But when they went back to what interested THEM in the first place, the show took a breath and relaxed and I for one was MUCH happier with the show. So ironically, what you're suggesting already took the show down a bad path. As for writers knowing what the viewers wanted... well, fuck 'em. The SECOND a showrunner starts changing his or her show to suit Internet opinion is the second that show dies. I don't expect every human watching to love everything that I do. That's an impossible task. There's only one choice to make -- Do the show I want to do and hope people watch. The episodes and scripts I'm most proud of happen to line up with what the audience thinks, too. You simply CANNOT listen to people about this. Of COURSE showrunners are trying to please an audience, but that has to come out of THEIR inspiration. If the only inspiration is the audience, you're fucked. I'm not sure you can understand this until you fuck it up.

While all this is very interesting from a writer's POV, it's totally irrelevant from an audience's POV. A great majority of the loyal viewership wanted to know what the island was and the show denied the answer. The End. And by the way, they also wanted to know more about some of the characters, like Eloise and Widmore, but I forgot - Fuck it, right? Riiiight.

Completely irrelevant? Really? No. And if you didn't poll everybody who watched Lost, you can't insist that "a great majority" of the audience wanted every answer. The show didn't work for you. Fine. But the show worked for other people. And this may surprise you, but it worked for people WHO WERE VIEWERS OF THE SHOW. I am also an audience member, Johnny. Therefore, this is NOT totally irrelevant. Don't be an idiot.

L. Ron:
Very interesting, and maybe you do have a valid point....

So Fucking What?

Doesn't change the basic feeling of being cheated, and no reiteration of "It's the characters, stupid!" is going to change that.

Not for you. But seeing as how this is my blog and I am giving my opinion, then... well, it's my opinion. Isn't it? It's not YOUR opinion, nor am I asking for it to be. It's mine. And for me, for the Goddam hundredth time, it WAS a character show, the characters DID work, and I LOVED the finale. Apologies for not having the same opinion you have. I'm not trying to shove my opinion down your throat. If you'll look back at the numerous times I've stated that this worked FOR ME, then you'll see I'm not pulling your leg.

This was supposed to be a shortish post, but GEEZ, guys. How many times...? Ah, forget it.

I think this is a fantastic post. What it can seem like to people who don't like the finale is that you're just trying to rationalize the show's faults. Maybe?

But what's really going on is a good dissection and discussion about expectations and disappointment.

Thanks. And I don't think I'm trying to rationalize anything because I've said exhaustively that it works for some people, and doesn't work for others. What I've been TRYING to do is show you WHY it works for me.

Two words for you: Babylon 5. All that pre-planning you think is impossible? It's been done.

Well. One word and a number. I didn't say pre-planning is impossible. I said you have to give yourself room to work. You all seem to be making everything I say into either/or and I'm not saying that. Now when you talk about something that's SO planned, as Babylon 5 was, I have to say that it didn't work for me. I found the show too dry. I'm not saying it's wrong, but if your point is that because Babylon 5 did it Lost should have too, I'll point out that they are two completely different shows. You can keep trying to trip me up but if you continually try to force hard-and-fast rules by offering exceptions, then you're not doing it right.

The fallacy to your argument is that I don't think Lost failed. Sorry it failed for you, but it worked for me. I'm puzzled as to why you keep trying to change this...

He lost me when he admitted he had never seen an episode of Lost and doesn't really watch any TV (with your standard "I don't even OWN a TV" comment thrown in for good measure -- though I'm confused on how he's keeping up with Dexter and Sons of Anarchy if that's the case). Yet he knows how to fix it? That takes some balls.

Man, I LOVE it when some pretentious knob says he doesn't even own a TeeVee. I ABSOLUTELY FUCKING ADORE IT. Because it negates EVERYTHING they say. Especially now, when TeeVee can be downloaded and bought on DVD. If it really offends folks this much, then they shouldn't watch ANY of it. Be true to yourself, Sport.

It's funny. I just saw an article about FLASH FORWARD on this subject. It claimed that when the show was sold, it came with a five year outline. They were trying to avoid some of the perceived pitfalls of doing a LOST. But now that FLASH FORWARD has fizzled, the article reasoned that maybe having such a detailed outline actually hurt the show because it hindered the writers from expanding on the aspects of the show that were working and dropping those that weren't now that the show was a living, breathing thing instead of just an outline.

You can have that but you HAVE to be willing to roll with it, too. And when you plan something out too extensively, you fall in love with things that you're either not willing to change, or unable to see how it CAN be changed. Likewise, if you don't plan something out at all, then you have TOO many options open to you and nothing against which to compare them. This leads into...

It's interesting you use Buffy as an example of planning not being necessary.

It IS interesting, because that's not what I said. But then that seems to be the theme with all the talk about Lost. NOBODY seems to be able to figure this out. Are you guys even trying?

I used the Jenny example as an example as inspiration. God, if the Internet does ONE thing extremely well, it somehow transforms EVERYTHING into black and white. I can't say that Yes, planning is important but that there's a fine line between too much and not enough? I mean, seriously? Because that was the entire POINT of the example! You simply have GOT to feel free enough to change things. But you also must have something there to CHANGE. I don't know how much simpler I can put this.

I could tell you that whenever I pitch or write a pilot, I've got a lot of stuff figured out. I think it might surprise you.

I don't think every minute answer needed to be jammed down our throats, but on a certain level, we have to recognize that Lost wasn't just a character show. Lost was, from day one, a mystery. Mysteries like Sawyer's letter and the smoke monster were equally important from the pilot on.

Sawyer's letter was a character point. And as far as I'm concerned, Lost WAS a character show. I've already said a zillion times that it was NOT a character show for some folks. And that's fine. But for ME, the finale worked because for ME, it WAS a character show. If there's another way for me to simplify that, lemme know. I mean, JESUS. How many times do I have to say this before it sinks in? I'm not asking for you to agree with me but GEEZ. To wit:

Doesn't work for me.


Tell me when you want to go after Mills and Stronach & I'll join you. That man should never have been allowed to buy ONE racetrack, never mind multiple ones, nor own a horse.

Whenever one of those asshats is at the track, which will probably be NEVER. I eagerly await the ass-smacking Stronach is gonna get at the next CHRB meeting. I hope it's EPIC. Jerry Moss is on the board and you DO NOT FUCK WITH JERRY MOSS. Especially now. And as soon as I have come down from yesterday's incredibly historical moment, I will blog about it. Hopefully before Zenyatta wins #18.

I work in finance at a large entertainment company and have an MBA. I know it's easy to lay the blame on "those corporate types" and "Harvard MBAs" (the biggest douchebags on the planet btw especially the ones that come from consulting), but some of us actually love TV. Love it unconditionally and irrationally and do what we can to make a case for quality to survive. It isn't easy and we are bucking the system and are not rewarded for taking chances, but we try. I know I do in the tiny little corner of the business that I can influence. Daily.

Let me be a little more specific, because I wasn't before. Sorry about that. I've often said that there are marvelous executives that writers deal with on a daily basis. Just as it's not those executives I blame for the problems with the business, I don't blame people like you who work at these studios. The MBAs to whom I'm referring are the folks who are making decisions purely at a financial level, because they are beholden only to shareholders and boards and CEOs and the like. YES, television is a business but it's also a creative endeavor. Those two elements used to be able to duke it out a little and find a middle ground. I don't think that's happening anymore.

Roy Cooper writes:
As a novelist who's finding it an assload tougher to write the pilot script I've been asked to write than I thought it would be, I think this may be my favorite rant ever. If it helps any, not all of us novelist sorts are A) stupid enough to publicly admit we've never watched an episode of a show we are now going to tell you how to fix and B) elitist enough to think Tee Vee is a hive of writing inferiority and showrunner villainy, but rather a very different form of a very similar art. Jazz and Rock, baby. Greats in both venues who change the face of the world, be their tunes improvisational riffs or rock operas written in a grotto with a pen dipped in blood ink.

I know you're not all like Peter Watts, and bless you for it. Good luck with the pilot!

And yeah, actually, I have written in a room with random spewage from what was euphemistically termed "a roof." I think that's why I decided to become a novelist instead. Well ... that and the fact that I wanted to write about exploding dinosaurs, and I heard Tee Vee didn't have the budget.

TeeVee doesn't even have the budget for two people to talk in a room anymore, unless it's in Atlanta or Buenos Aires. Can one person do all the talking and the other guy just nod?

Sasha, regarding Gossip Girl:
The unreliability/inaccessibility of Chuck’s POV for the second half of the season (and sort of the first half) was weird enough, but I figured his thinking/actions would be explained at some point…I guess because I bought into the “omniscient camera” of the show’s first two seasons/almost every TV show. But now the season’s ended and we STILL have no explanation/access to his POV. Instead they left him bleeding out in some alley?

Much as I hate to be stodgy and concrete, I’m really unhappy that the writers cut this character off from the audience. I miss him! And am now totally not only confused as to what’s going on with him, but (more importantly?) what’s going on with the “rules” of the show. I don’t understand why they’d want to break their POV "pact"…or if they even realize that they did?

That's interesting. I don't think you're being stodgy. I think the writers switched things up on you without telling you they were going to. And that's not really fair. Gossip Girl is ostensibly a soap with the gossip girl voice-over. It didn't seem to set itself up as the type of show that could screw around with POV like that. So it seems kinda lazy to me, like they hadn't REALLY decided what they were doing with Chuck. Strange.

More later. Tired now.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Lost Weekend

Oh, yeah. BECAUSE THERE'S MORE. In a nice contrast to all the genre blogs complaining about how Lost didn't answer any questions, here's an NPR blog.

In particular, a wonderful point:
Here's one of the things about mysteries: not everything is a clue. If you went to the headquarters of a company and you were trying to solve a murder, you would find a few things related to the murder, but you would also find lots of isolated, noteworthy things that aren't related to the murder. That's because the building exists outside the murder occurring. The building wasn't built just to house the murder.

I'm humbled by the simplicity. And that leads me to point-of-view. Lost was a pretty heavy POV show. Most TeeVee shows are omniscient. Particularly procedurals. There's no room for interpretation there. The point-of-view is going to be your investigators and maybe your criminals, although networks (and audiences, apparently) tend to dislike showing the criminal's point-of-view. When you think about POV, it sorta makes sense. You're tooling along in your obvious, 2D investigative point-of-view when you toss in a scene of the criminal doing bad things. Holy smokes! What are we to think? Well, since we're so automatically invested in the POV of Our Heroes (this is what TeeVee teaches us), that Our Heroes are fucking stupid. Point-of-view in television is very, very simple and any messing with the formula confuses people.

Ensemble shows are pretty much the same thing, only you get many omniscient points of view from all the different characters. But Lost... the entire series opened on a guy's eye. Flashbacks came FROM those characters. There wasn't an omniscient point-of-view taking us into the flashbacks; the characters themselves were doing it. I just think there was a different focus with Lost. I don't know if the writers were aware of how much they were expanding point-of-view, or if they realized it later. It sure could've been a happy accident. It's super-tough to do this on television, mainly because nobody will let you. It's one thing for a plot-point or character's action to be open to interpretation but it's something entirely different when it's the entire show.

And now, I direct you back in time to Twin Peaks, a show that was strictly set in POV. And that's why it was so fucking scary. That spooky shot up the Palmer's staircase? That's not the omniscient camera. It's so specific that that's why it's scary. What people see is what THEY SEE and not just what the camera is choosing to show the audience. People compare what they perceive as Lost's failings to the similar failings in Twin Peaks. Totally true, but I'm not sure they know why. Lost gave us a few seasons of caring ONLY about the weird island shit, forgetting about the characters entirely while they tried not to answer any questions. Then they came back to what made the show work in the first place -- the characters. And the plot began to suggest itself again. Twin Peaks faltered after giving up its mystery, who killed Laura Palmer, and meandered around trying to find some other plot. But when Twin Peaks came back to itself, it did so because the writers got back into the characters and then plot suggested itself.

Both Lost and Twin Peaks had ensembles that were heavily into their own points-of-view. I think the shows that try to ape this success, like FlashForward, do so with the typical omniscient TeeVee point-of-view. And just before some of you wiseacres think I'm saying that ensemble shows are character-driven while single-lead shows aren't, that ain't the case. THINK ABOUT THIS. In most TeeVee shows, you're watching a chosen point-of-view. It's safe; there may be character or plot surprises, but you know that what you're seeing is what's happened. Stuff may get held back, but you watch because you know that the omniscient friend with which you've made a pact will faithfully reveal the truth to you at some pre-designated point in the future (end of episode, two-parter, episode arc, season).

Lost didn't make that pact with people. Now, if you went into the show expecting the answers that you get from other shows, then yeah. You'll be disappointed. And maybe that kind of storytelling just isn't your cup of tea. Doesn't mean it's wrong.

You know what other show does this? Damages. And I dig that show. Except for season two. But one and three? Fantastic.

There's more:
Does this approach allow the people who write the show a little bit of wiggle room, and allow them to get out of things that might originally have been envisioned as meaningful, but now just turn out to be blind alleys? Of course. But it also respects the fact that when you solve a real mystery, there are blind alleys. There are things that don't mean anything. Haven't you ever watched Law & Order?

This is a real frustration when you're breaking a procedural. It's all about the smarts of your detective. There HAVE to be twists (somebody somewhere made that a rule), and not every twist can lead to the final unmasking of the villain or the solving of the case. But not every twist can NOT, either. There's an appropriate level of smartness that the detective needs to have. This isn't a new thing but the perceived complexity of the procedural IS. Now, we've got technology that can help or hurt. And every moment, we're always asking, "Does this make our detective stupid? Wouldn't he know this? How do we get him to walk through that door?"

Lost started this way and then they finally went, "Fuck it. How about we just tell stories about these characters and don't explain every little thing because not everybody in every situation HAS all the answers?" For me, that's refreshing. Because I can wonder about the power source without being flat-out told what it is. Yes, one of the show's themes is faith but for me, it's a philosophical faith. And the power source is endemic of that. The "first cause" argument. Plato vs. Aristotle vs. Thomas Aquinas, for example. They never worked that shit out.

Backed up on comments. I'll get to them next. Swear! Now I've got to go argue with some stupid horse racing people... it's like crack to me...