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Lost the plot

February 19, 2010

I miss Lost.

There, I said it.

I know, season 6 is underway, but I stopped watching at the end of season 4 (gosh, looking back I can’t believe it was only 4 seasons.) Forget what the fanboys say, the ending to season 4 was so poor¹ it was a frustration too far and tipped me over into the I-can’t-be-in-thrall-to-this-life-suck-any-longer crowd. Lost’s magic has always been a little tarnished by its frustrations. The weirdy-beardy shenanigans, the ghosts, the polar bears, the time warps etc., they are not why people tune in – I’ve now come to realise. Sure a lot of people get a kick out of trying to second-guess the ins-and-outs of what is really going on, but they wouldn’t bother if it weren’t for the terrific characters.

It’s said that if you have great characters people will forgive you a lot – and I think Lost demonstrates that’s right. Now, as an unknown would-be writer you need to be firing on all cylinders, getting everything right. But the one thing you absolutely have to nail is making characters that people want to spend time with. I miss Jack, Kate, Sawyer and the rest. I don’t miss some of the silly stuff, but I will be firing up the DVD to see how they are getting on. There’s an emotional attachment here, something the writers of Lost have mostly been very good at nurturing, and a key lesson for my own writing.

There has been quite a lot of new or returning TV to catch up on recently, a fair amount of it good, and it’s the characters and the emotions they illicit in the audience that mark out the more successful ones. Being Human was an unexpected treat in its first series. Like Lost, the premise marks it out as inherently silly, but it was charmingly so. But the second series has struggled, partly, I think, because of a lack of focus, but perhaps more importantly, because the quirks of the characters have been pushed too far so that they have surpassed endearing and become irritating. So that has fallen into the maybe-I’ll-watch-it-in-the-summer-when-there’s-nothing-else-on folder on the PVR.

Caprica has been a disappointment so far. It’s early days, but I only have so much time for TV. Battlestar Galactica was thrilling and intriguing right from the get-go, and Caprica, well, it isn’t. Some of it is very well done, I love how Zoë’s avatar has ended up in the prototype toaster. But, for me it has two big problems, enough for me to turn off for now. The Adamas-as-wannabe-Sopranos (who look more like they belong in a grown up version of Bugsy Malone) look and seem ridiculous. The steampunk-lite mix of the old and the very new, I personally find it very jarring as employed here. The other problem is the amount of screen time given to the new religion.

A non-religious audience can buy-into a story about devout worshippers of Christianity, Islam etc., because, whether we are believers or not, these religions and their reach and effects are very real and tangible, and all but the most ardent-atheist probably harbours a smidgen of doubt about things spiritual. But a fictionalised religion that we know to be completely fabricated. Humph. Spend too much time with it (as Battlestar Galactica sometimes did to its detriment) and it becomes silly and you start to take the viewer out of the story. Better get in and out of the religious parts of the plot much more quickly and move on. I put Caprica down as an example of how good characterisation on its own is not enough, when the other flaws are too deep.

Back to characters and emotion, I’ve only seen the pilot so far of Life Unexpected, but it does what American shows seem able to do effortlessly, push the right emotional buttons to have you caring about these people within, what, fifty minutes? Yes the child is a little too precocious, and, yes, she doesn’t look like she could be the offspring of her purported biological parents, but, hey, you can forgive these things, it’s character that matters, whatever their hair colour.

¹ Why, or rather, how did season 4 end poorly? Because, with the benefit of flash forwards we had been told pretty much everything that was going to happen as they got off the island, and the two-hour special finale was just a procession, as if we’d been shown all of the floats on the parade before they set off and we knew exactly what to expect. Even the big reveal at the end – it’s John Locke in the coffin! – was undramatic. We knew it was one of a handful of characters, and we knew that’s what the episode would end on, and there was no dramatic context to make a judgement about it. Anyway, enough. You’re forgiven.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 19, 2010 6:49 pm

    I’m with you on Caprica needing to find its sea-legs. Ron Moore’s focus on the importance of religion in people’s lives has delivered some great tv in the past, but I don’t now if a new show like Caprica – even if it is a ‘prequel’ – has earned the right to digress so much just yet.

  2. terraling permalink*
    February 20, 2010 1:00 am

    Thanks Somnopolis for the comment. You are right, I think, to say Caprica hasn’t earned its stripes yet. It was a looong way into BG before the religious cult took centre stage, by which time we were deeply involved in the characters’ lives and could indulge them. I think the characterisation in Caprica is pretty good, especially on the Graystones side, but it is being asked to shoulder too much too soon. Very good, your own post, btw.

  3. March 26, 2010 12:45 pm

    Haven’t seen Caprica at all (to be rectified over Easter) and have yet to see the last 10 eps of BSG (to be rectified over Easter. I know. With all that and the return of Doctor Who, I’m not gonna do anything else…) but I have to say that I’ve always loved BSG. It’s fantastic, complex, exciting, great plot twists, great storytelling in general, wonderful flawed characters, etc, etc, etc. I find it STUNNINGLY good. Except… the religious stuff. Right from the off, I’ve found all that stuff silly and boring. Who is Baltar talking to? The second Baltar? The cult of Baltar? Don’t care. Never did. And I don’t agree that they waited before weaving all that stuff in. It was there (and just as boring) right from the mini-series.

    Apart from that, I still love it.

  4. terraling permalink*
    March 30, 2010 12:57 pm

    John, how remiss of me. Not only do I not update my blog in a timely fashion, I don’t reply to comments either. Actually, I thought I already had, but some baby-related thing probably interfered with hitting send.

    Not that I had much to say, other than how I’m a little jealous you still have the last ten eps of BG to watch, though it is equal parts entertaining and frustrating. Trying to be Six Feet Under but falling a little short. Or outstaying its welcome. I couldn’t quite decide. Anyway, how do you square watching that and Caprica and getting on with Script Frenzy?

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