Friday, March 6, 2009

Correct Drama

Daniel's recent post about the visceral suck that is Heroes after season 1 and the awesomeness of Friday Night Lights (the way I reference NBC shows, I should be drinking a McFlurry at Applebee's right now) got me thinking about long-form tv drama's in general. I've been pondering what makes the big-arc dramas (not Law & Order et all) worthwhile, and I've got a few thoughts for the writers and show runners.

First, know as much of the scope and arc of the show as humanly possible.

The Wire is the ultimate example of this. Five seasons, each built around a different theme but integrating a core of characters into it. David Simon build it like a novel, or a series of novels, and having George Pelecanos writing for it only helped things more.

Then on the other scale there's a show like Lost. At some point during the run, the folks on Lost knew how things were all gonna end, but I really question if the end, whatever it will be, was known from the beginning. And then a show like Heroes will limp through until it gets canceled.

A really interesting test of this point will be Mad Men. Where will it stop, and what is the proper end year: 1965, 1969, 1963? As a show about the evolution of an ad agency at the tail end of the '50s, it'll be really interesting to see where the cutoff is.

Second, be true to your characters.

I will mention Buffy, because despite being an overall fantastic series, it had a lot of obvious issues with this aspect. The biggest problem was Buffy's sister, Dawn. Dawn speaks to both of my pieces of advice. Her existence is a gaping plot hole, and the integration of such a close character midway through the show always felt off.

Also, many will disagree with me, but the prevalence of Spike in the later seasons spoke of desperation. For the first half of the series, Spike was a badass. Sure he had a lady, Drusilla, but in most episodes, he'd come in, kick up some trouble and head back out for a while. As a regular cast member, he devolved into a sad lonely vampire trying to take advantage of Buffy.

And then there's Willow. What can I say? She changed from the smart, sassy girl next door to an evil lesbian witch from hell. It just doesn't parse, now does it?

I think that these two things take care of the majority of problems with long-form dramas, and the non-Network shows seem to thrive because their creators have tended to be so dominant over these two aspects

1 comment:

Ozkirbas said...

Oh? What about character evolution and growth? A character could become stale and formulaic otherwise. Did you really feel that Willows witchcraft and lesbianism was that core to her character that it couldn't be introduced? So many questions. So little time.

Your post also reaffirms for me that I actually need to hunker down and watch an ep of the Wire. (+5 points for the term hunker down)