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Golden Ages have a shelf-life

November 13, 2009

This is no thesis, just a few ramblings after watching the pilot for the reboot of ‘V’. Which was fine. I liked how the first glimpse of the alien motherships positioning themselves over the major city centres came from the uneven reflections in the skyscraper windows. Here is a screen grab. How freakin’ awesome is that?

The arrival

Man, it don’t get much better than that. Which is a shame. Being as how this is the golden age of American telly an’ all.

I was complaining about the shonky pilot for Flash Forward not long ago, and while I liked V a bit more, I’m starting to notice a pattern as each new season brings out a rash of expensive productions that are not bad. This year it’s ‘V’ and Flash Forward and probably a few others that I don’t recall right now (not a good sign), last year it was Dollhouse and Fringe and probably a few others that I don’t recall right now.

And the pattern seems to be that, although these are ostensibly different shows, everything feels so same-y. Is it because I’m a student of writing that everything seems so predictable? The carefully crafted web of flawed characters, the plot devices and set-ups that may as well be wearing high-visibility jackets?

It is difficult to put my finger on without giving it a great deal more thought than I’m about to now, but the experience of watching these shows always feels pretty much the same. There is some kind of comfort zone that is very much of our time that these shows all seem to operate within. Where are the surprises? They don’t take me anywhere. There is action but it doesn’t excite, three-dimensional characters suffer but don’t elicit emotion, everything is very measured. Shit, what do I know, maybe they just need to be shot with a different lens. Or maybe the characters are ciphers masquerading as characters.

They are not bad shows, they are just not very good. I had to chuckle today as the twitterverse was full of fans castigating Fox for cancelling Dollhouse (from what I’ve seen Fox were very generous to give it a second season), but among the vitriol for Fox and uncritical praise for Joss Whedon, the occasional tweet would go by along the lines of “Shame. Once you got in to it, it was quite good.”

Quite good. It’s probably just me, because these shows all rate over 8 out of 10 on TV.com, just about up there with The Wire, The Sopranos, The Shield, personal favourite Six Feet Under and other flag-bearers of American TV’s Golden Age. But in a year when even Mad Men has been of variable quality (haven’t seen the finale yet, though), it all seems to be lacking a bit of lustre.

Reflecting a little more, there’s something to that point about shows operating within a comfort-zone. The great TV drama shows are not frightened of making their viewers feel uncomfortable, and are all the better for it.

Footnote: US comedy seems alive and well. If you haven’t seen Modern Family, check it out.

Update: I’ve been catching up on Mad Men, and after a bit of a mid-series wobble, I’m thrilled to report that it is really hotting up as season three draws to a close. All is not lost. And having seen more, I should re-iterate, Modern Family is great, crackling comedy.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Vera permalink
    November 20, 2009 10:48 am

    “Is it because I’m a student of writing that everything seems so predictable?”

    I ask myself that same question all the time – but then I consider my 11-year-old daughter who has a knack of guessing (correctly) what’s going to happen next and think that it’s abit of both – gut feeling and acquired knowlegde? And perhaps without that gut feeling we would not have chosen to be students of writing?

  2. terraling permalink*
    November 20, 2009 11:56 am

    Hi Vera

    thanks for the comment. I think lazy writing has to feature in there somewhere if the shows are incapable of surprising us, or maybe I’m being unfair and everything has been done before already. Now I’m being too kind. I dunno.

    I see you’re up and running, still have to replace that graphic, though!

    -Nigel

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