Archive for October 18th, 2008

How TV shows should be

As you well know by now, I am a demanding person. And the series currently on TV (except “Lost”) just piss me off. I don’t really enjoy any of them. Some are ok by leaving them on the background while browsing the net with the Powerbook on my lap, but they are not good enough to put me in the zone, make me throw away my laptop and get glued to the screen.

What I need is this instead:

I need the TV series to be big. Grand. Epic. Be about big, important, things. Not casual things like 2 detectives with different murder stories each week, or other episodic-style TV that might even have a fade background longer story. I need the series to affect many lives, I need a complex story and mystery, I need action, and I need intelligence. Here’s an example that I just thought about:

The humanity in the 24th century is about to make a big discovery. They come in contact for the first time with an alien race. But instead of having 5 or 10 main characters with episodic style action, I want each episode to use completely different characters, spanned in completely different locations. In one episode you are dealing with the military and how they see this new race. In the other episode, you get to know a large cast of doctors who find something mysterious about the capabilities of the race. Another episode deals with the politicians or the security agencies about the issue. Another episode deals with scientists who are told to work in a specific thing. Another episode is dealing with exploration expeditions to another planet and what they find there that ties back to our main story. Another episode deals with normal travelers who happen to travel through the alien space and what happens to them. Another episode deals with some people back on Earth and their take on the whole thing and how that affects their lives etc.

This allows the show being military, scientific, romantic, political, or all in once.

The point is that the story and the mystery should be unveiled slowly, but at many-many different levels. For example, something mysterious seen in one episode, might get explained in another episode with different characters, far away from the previous location. Of course, most of these characters will be recurring. For example, the doctor you saw on episode 2, you will see him again on episode 8, or the General you saw on episode 1 you will see him again on episode 5 and then 12 etc etc. There should always be some connection between some of the characters, like a complex web that becomes more complex as time goes by and the mystery unveils little by little. And you will get your surprises between some of the characters or their history too. It’s just that the majority of the story should get progressed mostly by new characters each time (more than 100 recurring characters, even more non-recurring ones), rather than a very specific “main hero” character. I don’t want a main hero because it’s not realistic to have just one smart ass guy who can magically fix the problem on each episode. People don’t shine that often!

Instead, I need to see a UNIVERSE. Like Star Trek had a whole “universe” background story, with many many recurring characters and stories. When you talk about Star Trek you identify with the whole story of humanity up to that point, not about 7 people on the Starship Enterprise. ST is bigger than that. Star Wars too. Which is why George Lucas has expanded the universe of SW to many new details and information that you can read online or on his novels, about characters and situations that don’t show up in his movies. In other words, I need the creation of this virtual universe that shows me how big it is and how grand it is by showing me many different situations of many different people in it, with only tie-in being the main plot and their occasional path-crossing.

If I was to give an analogy for what I want, is the online massively multi-player version of a computer game rather than a single-player PC game played by just one person. I am not sure I can make it clearer than that. It just has to feel “bigger than life” by taking place in a believable new universe. Heck, why else would I watch TV? If I wanted to watch reality TV, or traditional TV series, I would just record my own life during the day and watch it at night. I would probably be less bored.

Yes, my TV show idea above is indeed something like what “Lost” does right now. “Lost” is the first series to have so many main and recurring characters and have the viewer in the gaming seat, but I need the series I imagine to go even further. Even on “Lost” we don’t know the names of all of the 47 survivors, let alone their stories. “Heroes” is one of the shows that also tried to be “grand” (many characters, big thematic concept), but it fails in its implementation rather than the idea.

The only problem with this show idea is that it’s very expensive: not only you need completely different sets for each episode (or 2-part episode specials), but you need to make sure your many-many recurring actors are available for the job whenever you need them. Having an actor on call costs extra. Lastly, I need to know that there’s an end date, like on “Lost”. I don’t want the story to go on forever until it fails with the ratings and the series gets canceled. I need to know that the story is structured so carefully that there’s story for 3 or 4 or 5 seasons — and then it’s done.

But damn me to hell if I will ever enjoy a new TV series that’s not as “big” and “complex” somehow. I need to feel emerged with the story and their world, otherwise they are dead pixels to me.

New Fall TV Shows: The Review

I blogged about the new sci-fi/fantasy shows of the season a few weeks ago. Now that the fall season series have all being aired, here’s a quick review of each — to save you some TV evaluation time.

* Fringe.
Boring. I can’t pinpoint why, it’s just badly structured. It feels stupid at times. The background story just doesn’t make sense, I care not for the heroes. The episode with the bald man was interesting, then it fell back to obscurity again. Rating: 6/10

* Crusoe.
This is one show that it’s bound to become repetitive fast. Crusoe could be an interesting mini-series, it looks fabulous, but it doesn’t have the durability and flexibility of being interesting every single week. Rating: 6/10

* Life on Mars.
The most engaging series of the new season. It’s just cooler than the rest. It has more mystery and action too. Not perfect, but promising. The Brits had the right idea here. Rating: 7/10

* Eleventh Hour.
The worst of the new series. This is crap, crap, crap. Just bad. It’s just, I don’t know, it feels like an ’80s series. I was really unhappy to see that it does well in the ratings while “Life on Mars”, airing at the same time, dipped. It just shows how shallow viewers are. Look, it ain’t THAT terrible in absolute value, but it has nothing to hook me. There is no background story, it’s just individual episodes where we learn nothing about the main two characters. And there are only two recurring characters. I’d say that this series feels like “scifi for old people”. Rating: 3/10

* Knight Rider.
Oh, come on. Suckiness reached a new level. Rating: 4/10

* The Mentalist.
It’s just a cheap detective series, a’la “Life” and “Psyche”, but while it really doesn’t break any new ground, is well done for what it is. It airs at the same time as Fringe, and it has kicked its ass in the ratings so far. For a geek, it is a very mediocre series, but for old people who like CSI and the like, this is actually a breath of fresh air for them, a breath that can actually take without feeling lost. Rating: 5/10

* My Own Worst Enemy.
One of the worst. It’s just badly made. There’s nothing else to say here. It sucked. I feel bad for Christian Slater who tried to revitalize his career with this. Rating: 4/10

* Sanctuary
Oh boy. I hate to sound like a bitch to its producer Damian Kindler, as he was kind to let me interview him in the past. But I just can’t lie either. I hate its dark look, I hate its non-realistic computer generated backgrounds. I mean, honestly, is it cheaper to pay 3D artists to model a drawer rather than ask the studio to buy a real one? I really don’t like the premise of the series either, it just feels like a “monster in the closet” bedtime story. Just not my cup of tea. Rating: 4/10

* The remaining shows, “Kings” and “Dollhouse”, will be aired after January 2009. I will revisit them then.

The conclusion is that this is probably the first TV year where absolutely none of the new TV series are actually great. Last year was bad too, but “Pushing Daisies” kinda saved the day (although the series is really suffering right now in the ratings).