Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Welcome back, 24 & Jack Bauer.

I guess I'm not the only one who's excited to see the return of Jack Bauer in less than two weeks. After all, 24, in my opinion is the best drama series that has aired in the last fifteen years.

Yes, that means that the action drama is better than Sopranos, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, West Wing and other darlings of the critics. I think 24 is better than all those others combined.

But what is it that made this show so good? Because, I mean, usually action dramas don't really work. There have been so many other shows that have failed - and yet, 24 is about to start airing its ninth season.

One of the biggest reasons that 24 has been so successful is its revolutionary, experimental concept. That is that, everything that happens on the show, at least in theory, happens in real time.

A lot of people - including me - thought that this would never work. I mean, how do you write a season that consists of twenty-four episodes happening 'live'? There's no way anyone can pull that off.

Yet, they have managed to do it and I guess the reason for this is the concept itself. It makes the writers work really hard, it forces them to come up with interesting plots, characters and situations all the time.

Another big reason for the show being so good, is its main character, Jack Bauer. He is depending on the definition, our hero or our anti-hero. I myself find him to be really relatable and I can't help but to root for him.

On the show he usually does things like saving his family, trying to save a president from getting killed, or he tries to prevent the terrorists from blowing up a nuclear bomb and other things.

This doesn't mean that all the things he does are necessarily good itself. That is because he shoots, he kills and even tortures people. But I think he always does it for a reason that I can buy.

There are other interesting characters too, although most of them at this point are either dead or in jail. Like president Palmer, president Logan, Tony Almeida, Bill Buchanan, Nina Myers and so many others.

The only remaining supporting character that has managed to defy the odds  is Chloe O'Brian, the computer nerd who has become Jack's loyal friend, a kind of a guardian angel to him. She will be part of this new season too.

But yeah, what makes the show and Jack Bauer so intriguing, is that the show has a main character who does all kinds of super daring Houdini tricks and who, in the end, manages to save the day.

I think this show says - as it manages to entertain - that an individual, at least in its universe, still can make a difference. 24 is kinda like Macgyver on steroids, with less social commentary.

In the end what I think makes us feel for Jack Bauer and come back for more is that he's a character who won't stop, won't give up, and won't let us down. What more can you ask for?

Monday, April 14, 2014

What to say when a showrunner wants to see your spec pilot..

Spec pilots have for some reason been the hot thing in the industry lately. Yet, nobody really seems to have answered the question why they're actually in. 

In order to illustrate the problem and to show why having a spec pilot might not necessarily be in your best interest, let me pose some common sense questions to an imaginary showrunner:

-Mr. Showrunner, before I let you read my pilot, I'd like to ask you; Are you happy with your current show? After all, you want to read my spec pilot. I can't help but to think that you're unhappy with your own show and that perhaps you'd like to move on to another project. 

-Mr. Showrunner, even when it comes to those spec pilots that will eventually be produced, forty-nine out of every fifty projects will be absolute horse crap. So why would you take a chance with my spec, that is, after all, written by a total amateur? 

-Mr. Showrunner, it may well be that the pilot is good enough, so that you'd hire me to write for you. But if it's good enough for you, it's probably good enough to be produced too, right? If I move on to that project, you can't really hire me.

-Mr Showrunner, finally, you're interested in knowing what my voice is. How wonderful, you're a much better human being than I am. Because in all honesty, if the tables were turned, I would hope that you would be interested in knowing what my voice is as a showrunner.

-Mr. Showrunner, you want to read my spec pilot. But before I let you read it, let me ask you, do you think that the fact that I wrote a spec pilot shows that I 'm a team-player and that I'm willing to adapt, or might it perhaps indicate that I'm more interested in my own ideas?

-Mr. Showrunner, shouldn't you be reading specs for shows that already exist? I've got plenty of those available, and I think you can easily judge whether I managed to make those shows better or worse than they currently are. Isn't that what counts?

-Mr. Showrunner, I know it's been pretty hard for you lately. But please don't tell me that the reason you wanted to read my pilot is because you wanted to read a spec that is so bad that it would make even you look better.

So anyway, why are pilot spec scripts in at the moment? I'm not sure what the answer to that question is. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Three random and totally awful moments from three different shows.

Even though this is a blog about television writing, I don't think that I watch that much tv compared to many other 'critics'. Most of the time I avoid watching tv, because most shows simply aren't any good.

Now, during the last few months I've watched television 'randomly' three times, meaning that I just opened the tv and decided to give the show that was on that particular channel a chance. So let's see:

I saw a moment from an episode in which Dexter's wife (?) is found dead. That made me sad because I had watched the first season of the show and I thought the show was pretty good.

What was so bad about this particular episode was the moment when Dexter tells 'his' kids that their mom is dead. It was so badly written that I could not believe my eyes.

Yes, the scene was awkward, but there's a difference between intentional awkwardness and the writer simply being clueless about what should be done and how the scene should be written.

I bet the writer tried to be ambitious here, but the problem is that when the kids show up and have no idea that something bad has happened and Dexter just says "your mom is dead", I was like noo...

This is the reason why off-screen revelations are so important. Some things you just can't show on tv.

My second example comes from the show 'Southland'. It seems that it was a rather gritty show. There's a lot of action where the cops are in bad situations. I'm fine with that of course.

The premise in this particular episode, that I managed to watch: Some supposedly suspicious guy is arrested and is put in the backseat of the squad car.

Later one cop says that he found drugs in the backseat. The other cop says he already searched the guy before putting him in the car and that he had nothing on him. He says the other cop planted the evidence.

Seemed good to me, but it's revealed that some other guy had already accidentally left those drugs in the backseat. The problem: the supposed 'dirty' cop _never_ defended his position that he found them. 1. Paint him as the bad guy 2. Reverse without any explanation.

It got worse of course. In the end the supposed dirty cop is mad at the good cop because he didn't  believe him. Well, duh, perhaps you should have convinced him you didn't plant the drugs.

Nevertheless, if you're not convinced that those two were bad, the last one is easily the worst. (As a side note, Ken Levine calls The Good Wife the best drama on tv.)

The premise: The court is in session. It's revealed that the defendant is posting her opinions to twitter which is against the court rules. The judge gets mad and they go to the chambers.

There's nothing wrong with that. A conflict and a complication. But what happens in the next scene is that the judge almost apologizes (!) about the whole thing and that if those tweets just stop, the case can go on. (I almost never laugh out loud but I did here)

But it gets even worse. Later on the defendant keeps tweeting and the judge gets mad again. An automatic mistrial and the defendant goes to jail for contempt? No, in chambers the judge again 'apologizes' and there are no consequences..

What I'm saying is that this is what happens when clowns that have no talent and no sense of drama  get hired to write for television. I honestly doubt it can get any worse than this. Three random moments, and all of them were awful.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

We need shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Last time that I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation was when I was like a thirteen year-old  kid, so I've been really fortunate that our channel-5 has given us a chance to watch episodes twice a day during weekdays.

I've now seen almost every episode of the series and I have to say that this show is one of the very best - if not the best - when it comes to portraying us humans as beings that are capable of doing something good in the universe.

So, one of the most important things about Star Trek: The Next Generation - and what makes it so special - is that even though it's a drama series, the drama doesn't come from the cast members fighting each other all the time.

Instead, the show relies on having likable, interesting characters and creative storylines. This is of course, universally speaking, easier said than done. Writing drama without 'drama' isn't easy at all.

This principle by the series creator Gene Roddenberry was one of the most ambitious in the history of storytelling, but fortunately it worked most of the time beautifully. The storylines turned out not to be just about characters. They were also about events and ideas.

This is also why writers who applied to get on the show (on board) were heavily vetted. If you weren't able to play by the rules, meaning that if you didn't believe that you can write storylines that aren't about internal conflicts, you were not hired.

When it comes to the actuals characters and the actors on the show, I think almost every character, especially today - since Wil Wheaton became a real geek and has nerd credibility - is universally liked.

The show had characters like, Jean-Luc Picard, Data the android, Worf the Klingon, LaForge the blind engineer with his visor, Riker as the second in command, Councelor Troi as the intuitive person and Beverly Crusher as the ship's medical doctor. They were all good.

If I had to choose my favorite character, it would be a pick between two special members of the starfleet: Picard, played by the wonderful Patrick Stewart and Data played by the always reliable Brent Spiner.

Picard, the commander of the enterprise is an ideal character to represent the human race. He's well educated, intelligent, determined, compassionate and knows what's going on. You could always rely on his ability to make good decisions. He's a safe pick.

But if I had to pick my personal favorite, it would probably be the benevolent android Data, the humanoid who has superior both physical and computational abilities. (For example, he was able to read a book in ten seconds.)

What made Data the fan favorite is that he was always accessible, never got angry, never betrayed anyone's trust and never judged anybody. He didn't show emotions and yet, it felt like he was the perfect human being, even though he was an android.

I think Data is more or less the show in a nutshell. In one character there's a whole universe. An idealistic, enthusiastic childlike thing that wants desperately to learn more and more about us and everything - and who won't hurt anybody.

What makes Star Trek: The Next Generation so good and precious in my opinion is that even though it's thoroughly entertaining, it dares to ask some big questions about life that others shows haven't been able to ask as well.

Questions like what is it that makes us human? What is out there in the universe? How might other races behave? What is a good way to exist? What is right and what is wrong? What are we as human beings capable of doing? These are all big questions.