Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Loneliest Star

First show on death watch? Fox's Lone Star, a show that garnered some of the best reviews of the new season. According to the reviews, it is daring and original, with amazing characters that challenge and engage the viewer. If you haven't seen or heard about it, Lone Star is about a con man who finds himself married to two completely different women, both of whom he loves. The audience is asked to identify and sympathize with this guy, whose love is so great that it must be spread between two victims -- erm, lovely ladies. But the con man has a problem -- His mean dad David Keith wants the con man to pull the con on his Rich Wife's dad, played by Jon Voight. What IS a con man to do?

There's a movie called The Bigamist, where the magnificent Edmond O'Brien plays a traveling salesman (shut up; it's an old black-and-white) who finds himself falling in love with a woman on his route, even as he's got a wife at home. And you sympathize with him, because he is a lonely guy who really does begin to fall in love with this other woman. There's something about the journey of him falling for this woman that engages you in his struggle. The problem with Lone Star is that there IS no journey. When the audience meets this guy, he's already married to these two dupes. And this folly continues with the marketing. You've seen the poster: Pretty boy sitting on the bed, with anonymous lady legs wrapped around him. Underneath that, same poster, different bed, different lady legs. What does that poster say to you? Well, it says that this is a show that is going to use women the way they are always used on TeeVee, and that you, the audience member, are supposed to really feel for this poor fucker. But the women? Well, they have hot legs and are otherwise anonymous, just the way men like their women. And they love this asshole. That's all you need, right?

So who, pray fucking tell, is the audience for this show? It isn't men, because it's about a guy who loves two women. He does not have sex with them at the same time, so the men are out. It's not women, because the two anonymous sets of lady legs don't exactly lure women in. SO WHO IS IT? Which segment of the audience is Lone Star for? The reasons are coming fast and furious: It's serialized, it's too out-of-the-box, there was too much competition on against it, it's too Dallas, it's not Dallas enough, nobody even remembers Dallas... but they are overlooking the simplest explanation of them all -- nobody wanted to watch a show where the bigamist was the hero.

I realize that people are shouting all over the Internet, "IF YOU ARE A WRITER AND YOU DO NOT LOVE LONE STAR, THEN THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH YOU." May I submit an alternative? Just because a show is distasteful ("daring" is the euphemism for that in television) doesn't make it great. Sure, there are different types of heroes out there and anti-heroes get just as much play as regular heroes. But if your anti-hero just really has a lot of love for two women and it's his DAD who's the real villain, well... did his dad just fucking marry two women? No. He did not. So I'm kind of on the dad's side. Stop fucking around and get the job done.

It's not a bad thing to be on the dad's side, unless the show is NOT on the dad's side. And the show isn't. The show tells the audience that you need to feel for the con man. He's the true anti-hero, and the dad is a bad guy. For what? For knowing that this is just a terrible fucking idea?

There was an easier way in to Lone Star. I wonder if that was even explored, or if the whole anti-hero idea just took over to such a degree that it turned the character into a skeevy asshole. It's a salacious premise, and they obviously thought that that was all they needed to draw people in. I'm frankly shocked at the number of women who think this is an awesome show. Seriously, is there a problem here? Have we become so inured to how women are treated on TeeVee that this is acceptably gritty television?

There was a scene in last week's Rubicon episode where one of the (many) powerful male characters pays his secretary for blow jobs. Seriously, so she can go shopping. BECAUSE WOMEN WILL GIVE BLOW JOBS FOR MAD MONEY. This was also treated in a salacious way, like, "Hey, this is a very complex character. Get it? What, the girl? Dunno. Just some whore."

Now, Don Draper is a total fucking asshole on Mad Men. He treats women horribly. I hate the way he treats them. BUT I UNDERSTAND WHY HE DOES IT. And the female characters aren't just used the way they are on every other show. Betty Draper is in every way Don's equal in the "fuck you" department. Anyone who thinks the women on Mad Men aren't as complex as the men is not paying attention. But why oh fucking WHY must women be constantly used to develop what passes for male complexity? It's like some kind of a shorthand. I HATE that we are still using women as a reflection for men. And while I really do NOT want to see dramas fail because it's bad for business, I understand why people didn't tune in for Lone Star. I don't think it's the best new show of the season. Not even close. And I'm flummoxed as to why more women are not hurling flaming arrows at the tainted morality of this show.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rule By Secrecy

So tonight, I live-tweeted The Event. You've heard of The Event -- NBC has been shoving it down your throats for months. Now, that's the job of the network: Promote the show. With The Event, NBC decided to promote what it wasn't: Jason Ritter losing his girlfriend, something happening to the President, a bunch of other stuff. That, of course, was supposed to whet the audience's appetite -- then just what IS the Event? This works awesome for a movie, but it's not quite effective for a TeeVee show. And it also makes the audience ignore the shit that isn't The Event. I know I blathered about this before, but forgive me. I've had two glasses of wine and I've seen The Event.

Everybody wants to recreate a hit, and the golden mean for television is to recreate a show that everybody watched AND talked about. A water-cooler show that makes them money. That's what they all want. Lost was that show, and networks have been trying to recreate that success ever since. FlashForward didn't work. V didn't work. And now NBC brings you The Event: The biggest, most sweeping, globe-spanning, history-making, world-changing drama of them all.

And that's the problem. Lost was the antithesis of that. The networks are confusing a global phenomenon for a show about a global phenomenon. Lost was about a group of people. It wasn't about saving the world from some vast conspiracy. And although a lot of people only watched it to get answers, it didn't begin like that. It was a character drama.

As the legend of The Event goes, NBC was looking for an event show. Now, as far as network development, they are looking for different things weekly. No, they literally ARE. And they've gotten into the habit of not even buying things for months, so by the time the development season is almost over, they suddenly go, "Oh shit, we gotta buy some stuff." And then they start issuing the directives that are not procedurals: Soaps, dramedies, event shows, and "ideas writers are passionate about." We all fall for that last one, like Lucy pulling the football away from Charlie Brown.

But NBC wanted an event show, and Nick Wauters had a pilot called The Event. I think you know where this is going.

The pilot certainly looks fantastic. They obviously spent a lot of money on it. The cast is solid. And the pilot is directed by the wonderful Jeffrey Reiner, who did a marvelous job with our episode of Haunted. He was also the producing director on Friday Night Lights. He does a nice job with The Event, but... I think he could do more with something a bit less conventional. Because at the end of the day, The Event is a pretty conservative, predictable show. The gimmick is that you don't, of course, find out what The Event is. Beyond that, the show flashes back and uses false beats to ratchet up tension. It's not effective in a TeeVee show. It barely works in a movie. On TeeVee, you're asking the audience to invite your characters into their homes. But if you're constantly being dishonest with them, they will disengage from your show. You simply cannot have a show that is entirely about the secret. An audience needs more. People didn't sign up for Lost because of the secret. They signed up because of the characters.

The Event doesn't give the audience time to get to know the characters. It's too busy being clever and trying to tease the audience and hide information at the same time. If you need to do that, then your show just isn't going to work. Sure, people may tune in for awhile. Like I said, the show looks fantastic. And the secret is intriguing (although not at all hard to figure out, based on the pilot). But soon, the audience will tire of the constant teasing. It will require characters. And it will drift away.

Networks want to reach for the sky with their shows. They want their Mad Men, or their Lost, or their Breaking Bad. But reaching for the sky isn't going to get them there. Sadly, they need to trust that writers are coming in and pitching shows they are passionate about, with worlds they have developed and characters that come to life. Writers pitching ideas they are directed to pitch doesn't work. Because if nobody has a handle on the framework of the show, then that show will not succeed. But passion shows fail as often as the big event shows do, unfortunately. And the networks would prefer to have a Lost or a CSI than a Friday Night Lights, or a Gilmore Girls. So they don't buy family dramas, or quiet shows. They still go for high-concept premises. But characters carry TeeVee and if you don't have them, you don't have a show.

The Event is named after its secret. There are myriad ways to have fixed the show in development, but it seems that it was always pointed towards being big in scope. We'll see if this is its downfall, but I rather think it will be.

Conversely, Hawaii 5-0 also premiered tonight. A remake, of course, this show knows where it lives. The writer creates and develops distinct characters with backstories and lives, and plops them down in paradise, giving the audience a peek inside a culture we haven't seen since Magnum P.I. As an advocate for fun television, I can't appreciate Hawaii 5-0 more. Impeccably cast and directed and cleanly and economically written, this show should be a hit. Because sometimes, making entertainment is harder than making event shows.

I still want to talk about this insane development season, and some Fringe stuff, and get to comments. But for once, I decided to be current. Props, right?