Monday, September 17, 2012

First season of The Newsroom.

I think there are two kinds of opinions about the first season of Aaron Sorkin's Newsroom. A lot of the Democrats like it. Republicans pretty much all hate it.

I think objectively speaking The Newsrom was in some ways good and yet in other ways not that good.

I'll list things that didn't work.  First of all, the relationship drama was not interesting at all. I couldn't even follow what was going on. The characters talked too fast and basically had only one voice.   

Another thing that didn't work, were those news segments. You have a show about the newsroom and yet those 'live news parts' didn't work. Instead of showing us, The Newsroom told us over and over again.

These things bothered me so much that I almost quit watching after three or four episodes. Almost.

Thankfully, there were parts that worked really well. I think Will McAvoy's transformation from a sell-out newscaster to a fearless truth-teller was really impressive and Jeff Daniels did a superb job playing the character.

I think the best parts of the show were McAvoy's character dealing with situations that happened outside his workplace. For example the opening scene of the series in which he answers to an audience member at a university by telling her that the United States is really not the greatest country on earth.

Scenes like that were really something. They were natural and weren't forced. They told the truth. There weren´t that many of those but each and every one was worth seeing - like Mcavoy confronting a tabloid journalist or him watching tv at home and reacting to a newscaster having 'Bieber-fever'.

I don't think it's really a secret that the media doesn't do its job in the U.S. Therefore it's more than important that somebody tries to call them out on that. I think Sorkin is on a very important mission here, even if the show itself has a lot to improve.

Looking forward to season two.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Premise, characters, storylines.

So, I thought about why I have liked or haven't liked certain shows and decided to write a list based on factors that make me turn on or turn off the television. (mostly I turn it off nowadays)

I chose three factors: premise, characters and storylines. Those should be enough, I think.

There are different kind of premises. Some are more intriguing than others. Simple usually works. Prison Break for example was about a guy trying to free his (likely) innocent brother from jail. A simple premise and it turned out that the first two seasons were pretty awesome television.

Another show that had an interesting and simple premise was 24. At first I didn't believe that it could work but it turned out that I was wrong. Things happening in real time was rather interesting after all. Jack Bauer trying to save the day.

Or how about Lost. An airplanes crashes in to the sea and the survivors have to learn to live on an island that they know nothing of. Simple and pretty interesting.

However, there have been cases in which I have thought that premise was pretty uninteresting and not compelling at all. For example,  Flash Forward had a premise that... ..I mean, wasn't the premise about different people seeing things happening ahead of time and then basically living with that knowledge? Well, I can't remember anymore. It wasn't simple and it didn't work.

Another factor that is important to me are the characters. It's a good thing that they are likable. For example, I have pretty much always liked characters on David Kelley shows. They're likable, interesting and relatable. They're trying to do the right thing. Except for the villains of course, but let's face it, you need them too.

Another example of likable characters is for example The Big Bang Theory. We had the nerds who were intelligent and yet pretty clueless about how they or we are supposed to act in 'our' society. This was a great show until the characters started to change and became less likable.

Characters don't necessarily have to be that likable in order for me to like the show in question. For example, The Shield had a main character, Vic Mackey who in the pilot (I think) shot and killed an innocent cop. Not a good start. But rather quickly the characters became relatable and even though these were so called dirty cops, you were rooting for them.

At the same time, it doesn't really work for me if the characters aren't relatable. For example, I could not stomach Sopranos. I could not understand why someone could buy Tony Soprano first killing some guys and then going to see his therapist and talk about his issues. To me it was just too implausible.

Last, but not least we have the storylines. Storylines are based on characters and the premise, which is something that people in the industry don't pay enough attention to nowadays. (it seems that anything goes) They expect that the show works no matter what they do.

Yet, even though a premise sometimes isn't that great and the characters itself aren't that interesting, the show can still be good. Characters and premise are important but you can still sometimes do miracles if you're a great writer.

Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm for example didn't have a great premise or that likable characters but they were both pretty good shows because both were (Curb still is) professionally written. So it can be done. As long as you know how to tell a story.

But just because Larry David has been successful doing it (I don't have any other examples), you probably shouldn't push your luck. The risk of having no likable characters and no good premise probably won't do you any good.

Well, except in Hollywood maybe. But still, shows are about premises, characters and storylines. If you don't pay attention to the first two, the chances are that you're screwed no matter good you supposedly are as a storyteller.