I Blogged Myself

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Thursday, November 17, 2005

My Addiction - Part 3

So, after heaps of television shows have been listed on this blog over the past few days, I've been fielding many questions about possible omissions and so on.

Maybe it would be a good time to clarify what it is about these shows that struck a positive or negative chord with me (in general terms).

To make the 'Good' list, a show must either appeal to me the same way it might to any other viewer. This is fairly obvious, and I mention it first because presumably it's something most people can relate to. However, there is often much more to it than that.

I am also drawn to anything that might be ground-breaking about the show. This could be format, writing, characters, actors, editing, camera-style, music, drama, humour, location, theme/s ... the list is basically endless. Naturally clever writing and snappy editing are not enough to carry a show on their own, but if one or more of these elements are new or impressively-handled enough to capture my interest, it's more worthy than most of the shows that see the light of day. The Amazing Race is a genuinely thrilling show for me, as I love car rallies, and this is basically a huge-scale version of a worldwide car rally. Solving clues, completing tasks, high-stress relationships being put to the test, a team eliminated at almost each leg, ... I absolutely love it and it's definitely my favourite reality TV show ever created. I'm very glad that many people agree with me, because ever since a special 'Reality TV' category was created at The Emmys three or four years ago, my understanding is that The Amazing Race has won it each time. There must be a message in that. It's not a bitchy show (although if some characters bring those elements to the show it's at their own peril), but relies on teams working together and racing against each other to win. Addictive and fun! I love it.

Survivor was ground-breaking when it came out, but for reasons mentioned previously, it reminds me too much of a terrible 10 days I once spent in the wilderness with a bunch of bullies when I was just new to my school, so I can't get into it. Also, the contestants have to conspire against each other, and I'm not really into that kind of behaviour of other people.

The Office (UK) was ground-breaking, if you forget about other mockumentary-style shows that did it first, most noticeably Frontline here in Australia, back in 1994. Brilliant writing, acting, humour, parody and realism all rolled into one. Excellent.

If a personality is already known to me (stepping away from scripted character-based shows for a moment), such as a presenter of a variety show or a comedian playing a role (like Dame Edna Everage, although I can't think of what role she plays ... I think it might be Barry Humphries), then that will intrigue me enough to want to see what's going on. If done well, I'll appreciate the show for what it is.

With scripted character-based shows, we have the usual complaints of realism, impractical occurrences, etc. I don't really hold with that sort of complaint unless the execution of the show is tedious. Take 24, for instance. The stuff that happens within a 24-hour period on that show is nuts. Completely unbelievable - especially when you take into account that the main string of terrorist plots start and end within 24 hours exactly, and that 'cliffhanger' complications happen every hour, on the hour. Even putting aside for the moment the usual complaints like when the characters get to eat, sleep, go to the toilet, etc, how quickly they're able to travel around Los Angeles, how easily they can contact each other on their "cell" phones without a single line dropping out or voicemail message (unless it intentionally adds to the stress), how simple it is to "upload that information to Jack's PDA" within seconds or decode massive amounts of cryptic information on screen, etc, the show is full of ridiculous assumptions that all have to do with the plot. I agree with all of this, but I don't take issue with any of it.

In my view, you're watching the show to be entertained, so if you're going to allow the entertainers to do their job, you've got to enter into their 'world' and accept their rules. This is called "suspension of disbelief", and it's imperative to enjoying any show. It's not serving any purpose to accept the premise of a show and then get angry with how they let it unravel. Unless we're talking about severe cases of flying in the face of its own logic, I will always sit back and let the show entertain me (whenever possible).

I look for elements of the show such as the opening credits sequence (I will discuss this in greater detail in a future Part of this multi-post), the people they get to play the roles, the music they use, the 'messages' or morals they're leaving the viewer with and what they're trying to say by that, how seriously they take themselves, etc, and I assess whether or not the people putting the show together actually believe in their own product.

Then I study the writing (arguably the most important element to any show), and decide whether or not it is snappy and original, funny (if it's meant to be), dramatic without being melodramatic (if it's supposed to be), and above all - despite it sounding like a word meant for prep kids - clever. If twists and turns are the order of the day with the show in question, do you see them coming? Are they the massively obvious twists? Are they the twists you just knew they'd go with if they didn't go with the massively obvious ones? Or are they something else entirely; something which you genuinely didn't see coming? If laughs and humour are the order of the day with the show in question, are the jokes predictable and lame? Are they designed only to appeal to the lowest common denominator? Or are they upbeat, intelligent, subtle, understated, brilliantly executed, character-driven, and memorable? Etc.

Let's look briefly at themes. Another massively important element to many TV dramas. I don't want to talk too much about this one because I'll never stop, but Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are possibly the best examples of this working superbly. Any of you who haven't watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer (probably because of the mental image you get when you hear its name) are seriously missing out, here. Yes, it's a fantasy world, but it's actually a fantasy world set in our own world (unlike The Lord of the Rings, for example). If you look past the titular character's name and her titular occupation, you'll discover a brilliantly-scripted series of thematic plotlines and two- or three-season-long story arcs that are played out through exceptional characters and impressive events. But through it all - every single episode - the point was always to resemble the themes of girl power; of high school and growing up to be hell; of relationships being wonderfully joyous one day and monstrously disastrous the next; of doing the right thing even when the odds are stacked so high against you; of choice; of loneliness; of friends; of duty. These things were embodied in the very lives the characters lived, and were mirrored in some abstract way in the horrors they faced each week. It was clever and skillful; not schmultzy or lame, and anyone who never watched it should rent or buy the series on DVD and watch them from the beginning. (In order!)

What else do I look for in a show? ... Well, I enjoy a bit of science fiction (I'd never dress up as a Star Trek character, though ... however I did dress up as a Buffy character once, so I guess I can't comment on our Trekkie fans too harshly ...), and in particular anything that involves time manipulation. But those are personal preferences to do with likes and dislikes; they don't really relate to what I study a show for.

I have a feeling there's more I intended to say with this, but for now I have to sign off. So I'll leave you with that for today and if I think of anything I want to add, I'll do so with Part 4 (including what a show has to do in order to make the 'Bad' list).

11 Comments:

At Thursday, November 17, 2005 3:58:00 pm, Blogger Peter said...

I am finding these posts incredibly interesting. The thing that resonates with me is the way you judge TV shows based on what they set out to do. It is the single most important thing in criticism, I think.

Slagging Home and Away for a crappy looking car crash is missing the point. It's a soap. The only question you should ask of it is "is it good soap?"

If you want more out of a show that what that show aims to give, then you're going to be disappointed every single time.

Keep this up, Bevis, I'm loving every word.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2005 6:51:00 pm, Anonymous sbr said...

Hi there again. Good stuff - although you need to give Futurama another shot ("Roswell That Ends Well" has some good time travel stuff, if that's what you want.)

From the approach you're taking to TV, I really think you'd enjoy Jaime J. Weinman's stuff that he posts on his blog - http://zvbxrpl.blogspot.com. He writes about all sorts of things, in varying depth, but hits on TV reasonably often.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2005 7:15:00 pm, Anonymous The Truth Fairy said...

Are you for real?

You seriously need to get out more and get some sun, it is so sad when people take TV this seriously. Go live it up and stop staring at the idiot box - life is for living, not obsessing over TV shows.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2005 10:16:00 pm, Blogger Clokeeeey! said...

Bevis, agree about "The Amazing Race" it really does capture the imagination. It's the sort of show you watch and say to yourself "Shit, I should be on that show".
Survivor is an equal favourite of mine, I've been hooked on it since the first series and I'm having a very difficult time catching this series as the Friday timeslot is a bastard, but it's not a show I want to participate in.
My criteria for shows are:
Comedies need to be funny and not crass, eg Sienfeld vs Bullpitt.
Dramas need to engage you and draw you in with great storylines and characters. West Wing, Homicide:Life on the streets.
The rest just have to be entertaining. If it's reality or interviewing type shows, it just has to keep me watching.

Keep up the good work.

 
At Thursday, November 17, 2005 10:22:00 pm, Blogger littlefaeriegirl said...

aaaahhhh...buffy....

*smiles and floats away to a place where buffy is on every day!*

 
At Friday, November 18, 2005 12:05:00 am, Blogger BEVIS said...

Thanks Peter, that's very kind of you to say! I agree entirely about your Home and Away point. (And for the record, personally I don't think it's a good soap; but I think Neighbours is - at least it has been for the past 24 months or so in particular - and I know many would disagree with me on that, but that's OK. That's all part of it.)

SBR, I tell you what, if I'm able to borrow my mate's DVDs at some point, I'm prepared to give Futurama another shot. (Did you hear that, John B? What do you say?) Hehe. :) Hopefully the show will impress me on some level - and if so, I have no problems adding it to 'my list'. I'll also check out Jaime's site - thanks for the URL.

Clokeeeey, I like the way you think! :) The criteria you mentioned are great. Thanks, too, for the kind words. (Incidentally, I hope you and MelbourneGirl saw that I replied to your multiple comments from Wednesday in my previous post?)

Little Faerie, sounds like a great place to be! Save me a seat on the couch! :)

 
At Friday, November 18, 2005 2:49:00 am, Anonymous Til said...

I appreciate your comment on Buffy and 'girl power' movement. If you look at series 7 of buffy the feminist undertones are unmistakable. Especially the whole 'universalised women' (a la spreading the power of the slayer to all potentials) against the patriarchy that is Caleb (a la misogynist evangelical FREAK). And lets not forget the brilliant one liners that Buffy has provided us with...
'In LA everyone carries a stake; pepper spray in so passé'

 
At Friday, November 18, 2005 10:20:00 am, Anonymous Granville said...

I preferred "Muffy" over "Buffy"

 
At Friday, November 18, 2005 2:17:00 pm, Blogger sheriff of nothing said...

I agree with you on the Amazing Race - not so much Reality as a real 'game'...

 
At Friday, November 18, 2005 3:30:00 pm, Blogger Clokeeeey! said...

The problem I found with Futurama was that it was so Matt Groening (sp) that I instantly compared it to The Simpsons and therefore it came up short in the comedy stakes.

 
At Friday, November 18, 2005 3:31:00 pm, Blogger Clokeeeey! said...

And yes I did check out the replies, thanks.

 

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