Wednesday, June 29, 2011

People Are People

Looks like my new foil has decided to slink away. Dammit, Ndroid!

Peter: Dude! If you read the blog, then you KNOW I mostly rant! Hopefully I'll have some stuff upcoming that's more to your liking, so stick around.

Cory: Appreciate the comments greatly. I'm going to ponder a writing and not a ranting topic in the next little while, but I've got a few things in the pipeline. I'll do it, though! And also, I do wish Josh Friedman would blog more. Although you can count him in amongst the successful showrunners, he's also had ridiculous struggles and when those we consider successful highlight those struggles, it does mean something. Most recently, of course, his show didn't get ordered. Which was insanely wrong.

Spicy Salmon:
The energy here should be focused on continuing to keep amazingly talented female genre writers on the front burner and not getting disproportionately angry over a joke.

Ah. I see. You're of the "it HAD to be a joke" school, because nobody would ever say that seriously. And because I take umbrage at the article, I am disproportionately angry? How do you figure? Did it occur to you that Elizabeth Perle isn't a deft enough writer to actually MAKE that joke and get away with it? Because she isn't. She thinks she's more clever than she really is. She gave herself a forum to actually make a point and she chose the coward's way out, instead attempting to prop herself up as a zany geek girl. Her list was pretty offensive and believe me, I'm not the only female TeeVee writer who felt that way. So are we ALL disproportionately angry, then? Or have we tried to make a mark in this business and found it an uphill battle when the executives and showrunners settle on an Approved Female Genre Writer and if they don't get her, they don't hire one? This goes much deeper than simply the singling out of one writer. And like I said in the post, who it is continues to be irrelevant. Because if you talk about male genre writers, you absolutely do NOT land on only one name. So someone's not paying attention.

Getting annoyed with this bullshit is kinda the point. Getting annoyed with it and explaining WHY it's annoying is doing exactly what you want -- shining a light on the problem. Because even a JOKE from someone with far more skill than Elizabeth Perle is an issue. There's more than a kernel of truth in that joke. I wish you'd be able to see that. But there's also another issue that goes beyond this, and it has more to do with women CREATING shows and not just being on staff. As limited as the opportunities are for women to write for other peoples' shows, those chances are even slimmer that they will get the chance to develop their own voices and create their own shows. So to a certain degree, their subservience to the male showrunner is still intact. I would like to say more on voice and the divide between creating and staffing but I shan't, because I will likely get myself into trouble. Suffice to say that if you want to become a TeeVee writer (and I don't know why ANYONE would jump into this pool right now), make sure that no matter WHAT, you continue to develop your voice. Don't rely on staffing to last forever. And don't think that if you work your way up to co-executive producer and are given the chance to do a pilot, that your voice hasn't been muted by your years of mimicking the voice of someone else's show. In other words, just stay vigilant. The audience will thank you.

Dan, regarding River Song: Yes, well said. That's why I like her, too.

This should be my last bit on Doctor Who. And a lot of what I'm talking about in these posts, while specific to Doctor Who, also has relevance towards television in general. While inspiration is a beautiful thing, just going with your gut and not exploring the effects that has on story isn't optimal. But neither is beating your idea to a bloody pulp by over-analyzing it and then throwing it out because you've forced it to not work. I don't like either way of working, nor do I respond very well when the shows I watch go too far down one of those roads.

I think Moffat is going too far down the former road, and I think he does that because he is the Scottish (he's Scottish, right?) version of a Native American trickster. He's clever and by GOD he will show you HOW clever. Clever isn't a bad thing but it can be destructive if that's all you're offering but the show and characters demand more.

Moffat doesn't develop characters. He reinforces them. In the case of Sherlock Holmes, he has two marvelous characters with whom to do this. He also has a throughline -- a big old puzzle, which Moffat clearly adores. There's nothing wrong with a writer who loves puzzles. And there's nothing wrong with the way he reinforces the character on Sherlock, because it's three episodes. I love how he cleverly reinvented Sherlock Holmes while staying true to who Holmes and Watson are. The little tweaks are wonderful. And he's blessed with two astoundingly great actors. There's a bit of cheeky reverence to his Sherlock, an appreciation of what Holmes has meant to literature and England more specifically.

Then why doesn't ANY of that exist in his Doctor Who?

As beloved as Sherlock Holmes has been over two centuries, Doctor Who is the television age's version of Sherlock Holmes. I honestly think that if you're British, your favorite Doctor's picture is embossed on your passport. People grew up with this series. They stuck with it through the rough times. And when it came back via Russell Davies, it was shiny and breathless in its dramatic potential. Finally, the effects had risen to the level of the setting. Daleks weren't made out of cardboard. The TARDIS could actually FLY. And the structure of the show, so simple with so much room for complexity, could take on modern storytelling.

Davies made that happen. He rebooted the Doctor as a modern hero, but he was also conscious of the history of the series. So much, in fact, that he continuously brought it back. The genius of Doctor Who is really in the simplicity of its premise, and the ever-changing companions allow the show to always come into the modern age. With Davies, there were three very modern -- but very different -- women. All had different strengths and weaknesses, and all affected the Doctor in very different ways.

Then Moffat arrived, bringing his giddy love for puzzles but revealing either a disdain or lack of interest in developing characters. For me, that's the real puzzle. There's some tricky stuff there that I don't think Moffat's aware of, stuff that Davies was able to navigate almost effortlessly. The world revolves around the Doctor. He's larger than life, of course, greater than great. He can do everything, and he wants to take you along on the ride. Everybody his companions meet, all the people who know the Doctor, are infatuated with him. How could you not be? So there's a trick to keeping the characters in his orbit but also slightly separate. They have to, at their core, remain their own people. This is as much for them as is it for the Doctor. We saw the evidence of this in The Waters of Mars. The Doctor tries to make a go of it on his own, but he can't. He's not capable of traveling without a human by his side because he turns into a monster. But he's conflicted because when he DOES have people around, he turns THEM into monsters. Hence the whole traveling alone thing.

This is the central conflict that eventually destroys the 10th Doctor. Each of his three companions affects him. He loses each of them in different ways. It's that kind of complexity that builds up to that great scene with Wilf, and the Doctor's rage at having to sacrifice himself for Wilf. Even thought for a brief moment the Doctor thought he could cheat death, in the end he couldn't. He was not, after all, a god.

Davies ended this storyline but it's not as if he didn't give Moffat plenty to play with. Unfortunately, Moffat either had no interest in playing with it, or just didn't pay attention. Because he's treading the same ground Davies walked and he's not doing it in an interesting way. It's as if he literally has NO idea that Davies already explored these themes with the Tenth Doctor. In the mid-season finale, Moffat has River Song say that the Doctor will never rise so high or fall so far. Erm, except that he already did. Splendidly. Gut-wrenchingly. And the Doctor was told so by his greatest enemy, as his humans friends (and Jack) were ready to blow everything up at his command.

While Davies wasn't perfect, it's annoying that so many people remind you of that. It's as if his imperfections negate everything that he did right. Honestly, I don't get it. Nor do I get the reverence for what Moffat's doing. I feel like Moffat has taken a deck of Doctor Who playing cards and keeps playing 52 pick-up with them. There are no throughlines. There are no character arcs. There are MOMENTS that are potentially great but a potentially great moment must evolve into an actual great moment in order to be, you know, GREAT. And just having potential doesn't make something worthwhile if it's never delivered upon.

The final reveal of who River Song is... eh. I don't have a strong feeling one way or the other about it, except to say that if Moffat's only interest in River Song was in her true identity, then he never really got the appeal of the character.

There's a lot of great TeeVee out there. At this particular moment, nothing is greater for me than Men Of A Certain Age, that show nobody is watching because the network (while saying over and over that they support the show) keeps farting out a few episodes every six months or so, then pretends surprise when nobody watches it. Even DVRs have a hard time keeping up. This show is letter-perfect. It's about very real characters who are insanely interesting, but because they aren't crime-fighting lawyers, former spies or some version of a cop, nobody gives a shit. That translates to TeeVee not giving a shit about putting regular dramas on. Which is a self-fulfilling prophecy, TeeVee viewers.

You know what other show doesn't do awesome in the ratings? The most perfect show that has never taken one wrong step -- Breaking Bad. This is a sneaky show. It draws in people who only love crime dramas, but it's not actually a crime drama. It's Men Of A Certain Age with meth. But some people have apparently gotten wise to the fact that it's simply a well told character drama and they'd rather watch something else. Not Men Of A Certain Age, of course, and definitely not Friday Night Lights. Shows that are just about people? What the fuck, right?

I say this going into development season, where we are all coming up with our stupid light crime dramas because nobody can sell a straight drama anymore. BECAUSE YOU ASSHOLES WON'T WATCH THEM.



Georgiana said...

It's extremely frustrating when people try to blow you shit for being passionate about your life's work. We should all be passionate and then the world would be a better place and not filled with so many hipster juiceboxes.

Spicy Salmon have you read Joanna Russ' How to Suppress Women's Writing? I would love to build a time machine and give this book to the younger me.

just some guy trying to write said...

Here's what I would like to say--

I get it, the emotional underpinnings to Davies's stuff were always the best parts. But he would put the Doctor into an impossible situation and then sledgehammer him out of it without skill. The plots had no intellectual resolve. He could build a situation but he sucked at being clever of getting the Doctor out of it.

Yes clever. It's not always bad. Moffat maybe skews too far to clever, but I appreciate watching stories that resolve in a way that is surprise and does not feel like a cheat (and I am not a huge fan of the mid-season ender either - fyi).

I don't remember what you thought of the end of BSG, but for me I thought it sucked. It was all emotional payoff, but completely missed on being intellectually satisfying in regards to the plot. Same with Lost - all emotion but just a sledge hammer to the plot resolve.

Whedon comes to mind as a writer who has been able to balance the two. Season 5 of Buffy - that ending, both clever and emotional, shows what a story is capable of when both attributes are valued.

My two cents.

Michael Taylor said...

I've never been able to understand TNT's habit of bifurcating each season of "Men," then running those half-seasons six months apart.

How is that supposed to nurture a solid view base?

It's puzzling. If the idiots were in total control of the asylum, "Men" would never have gotten the green light in the first place. But it did, so give them credit for that much. Then again, if an Intelligent Life Form was in charge, the seasons wouldn't keep getting chopped up and run whenever somebody feels like it.

"Men" is a subtle show -- no car chases, machine gun battles or ginormous explosions -- which would make it a tough sell in our Video Game Age under the best of circumstances. But TNT isn't really giving it a chance.

And that's a shame.

I'm totally with you on "Breaking Bad" -- a wonderful show all the way. It's something of a miracle, really. Vince Gilligan walking on water way out in the New Mexico desert...