Thursday, August 6, 2009

"One Two Punch"

The main issue I have with American TV is the same one I have with mainstream comics. Basically these creative endeavors generally end in writers establishing the general plotted episode (or issue, as it may be) and avoiding changing character dynamics. This is what generally places cartoon characters into never ending cycles of the same age/grade. I understand this is the general fault of any sort of serial, the basic falling into a pattern and then later almost a template.

To step away from this habit in TV storytelling, I’d say you move to a less commercial network than say Fox. And of course I’m biased in pointing the way to USA, but then again, this blog post is about two of their shows, and I need to segue in on them at some point, somehow, got it?

Two shows that generally avoid what I’d see as a strict formula set-up that leaves virtually no character changes are Burn Notice and Royal Pains, a one-two line-up on Thursday nights that I think blends quite well, over all. Burn Notice adds a touch of the fantastic to a semi-realistic show involving a former spy and Royal Pains is House at a later time, minus Hugh Laurie, and injected with quite a bit more comedy than House’s dramedy.

My opinion on Royal Pains is perhaps a little premature, since the first season of a program tends to be the least formulaic, but the show seems to be overly fresh in its writing—the sort of thing that a complex almost never ending romantic comedy is made of, which, I guess, in a way, is what the show really is. I’m a sucker for the whole idea that entertainment is supposed to just entertain us (something I may have already attached to Chabon), so I think the happy go lucky ending is the best in romantic comedy, and Royal Pains has yet to really disappoint on that front.

The idea of the two shows as a “one-two” punch generally has to do with the way that Burn Notice is mainly an action program that has a bit of romance on the edges—a guy show that the girlfriend isn’t going to continuously complain about. While, as I’ve already mentioned, Royal Pains is a sort of romantic dramedy. Both shows have a similar feel to them—enough so that my father remarked that all USA shows seemed to be the same when he saw the promo for Royal Pains, but of course this was without really watching either program.

This, along with USA’s brand of co-advertising (something I noted on the first of the month) that throws characters from multiple shows into a semi-canon universe all their own, gives the two weekly programs the feel of a split movie that blends genres quite well. In a comic book, one could imagine one show ending and the next being introduced on the next page with the caption, “MEANWHILE…”

Both shows seem to know that character dynamics do not need to tossed completely out of whack or shredded all the time, but that subtle references and in-canon continuing storylines are even more than welcomed, more like strongly suggested.

Michael Weston (the ex-spy star of Burn Notice who is trying to get his old job back)’s narration during the show picks up the kind of mood as the anonymous narrator of Fight Club, telling all these little violent factoids, the kinds of things that got Palahniuk to represent the repressed male in today’s culture, and this is done quite well.

Weston helps accomplish the hard task of giving a movie or show a sort of first person feel to it, rather than your usual third person edge given to camera work (an idea referred to in my last post, that a camera records stories in third person while eyes are needed for first person work).

A tight-knit cast in each series helps keep character interaction important enough so that it is easy to spot at least one major progression in nearly every episode, which, like I’ve said, I find to be a good way to write any sort of serial. Expanding out from here, what is also necessary, in my opinion, is a strong background cast, enough recurring characters so that one to three can be featured in a episode here or there and not wipe out the stock of them.

What I want to be able to do one day is to write various pastiches of TV shows without naming characters and collect them as a book called CAN YOU SPOT THIS ONE?—an Eric Clapton quote from his album, Unplugged, before he plays “Layla.” The idea would be that I would at this time be good enough to characterize the different characters without naming them and without going straight to the physical aspects.

Interestingly enough, I guess, if I were to do this with shows that I particularly liked, I might enjoy formulaic scripting from the writers of the shows, but that would make it too easy, now wouldn’t it? I think the good benefit of a book like this would be the ability to blend so many genres so deliberately in one place, like sitting down and watching a night’s worth of television.

Of course I’m not that good of a writer at this time, at least I don’t think of myself as a good enough one. I fear that if I were to write them now, my own narratives would come off forced, my own writing formulaic, and unlike some talented bloggers, I can’t exactly give a solution to every problem I bring up. I can tell you when something is working for me, when I like what a particular is doing, but very rarely can I pinpoint the problems in a show that I don’t quite think is up to par.

I guess this is the secondary reason, other than the boredom no doubt caused by my writings, that I should shut my mouth and type no more—mother always said if you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all. Don’t bring up problems when you don’t know how to fix them, yourself. But I’m not going to listen to that advice that my mother probably never gave me.

Sorry for that, and as always, for consistently boring you.

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