Thursday, December 18, 2014

Modern Family: story logic problems that should have been avoided.

Modern Family hasn't exactly had its best season this fall. Some episodes have turned out to be surprisingly watchable, yet many of the episodes that have aired have left me scratching my head. How can so called professional writers make mistakes that seem so obvious.

For example the episode "Haley's 21st Birthday" that aired last week had some pretty weird timing and logic issues that were pretty hard to overlook. A lot of those who saw the episode went and commented on forums that this and that just didn't make sense.

In any case, the first storyline was about Haley and her birthday. She went celebrating her special day with Claire, Gloria, Cameron and Mitchell. This happened apparently during the evening which is a crucial point concerning the plausibility of the other storyline.

At the same time Phil and Jay were about to buy Haley a birthday gift - a new car that is. They had decided to surprise her, so what else could be a better and a bigger surprise than buying her a beautiful looking vehicle.

The problem with this all of course is that there's no way that a car dealership would be open at that time of the day. I mean, perhaps a single car dealership for a special event might be, but Jay & Phil went to visit another store too. That didn't really make sense.

These two storylines individually speaking weren't that bad, even though they were a bit too easy to predict - especially when it came to Jay's ultimate decision. However, when they intertwined together like it happened on the episode, they just didn't work.

Yet, that was likely not the biggest problem me and others had with these storylines. That is because when Jay & Phil eventually gave her the vehicle, Haley was - if not totally drunk - at least to some extent under the influence of alcohol.

So when she got out of the bar and got on the driver's seat, it was really hard not to cringe and think what kind of an example the show was setting for us. This felt like a major story flaw and simply didn't feel right at all.

Driving under the influence of alcohol simply isn't a laughing matter. It's one of the most reckless acts that you can do as a person. That the writers didn't notice it or at least didn't address the issue in any way was pretty disappointing.

To be honest, problems like these have been pretty rare on Modern Family, but this time it was pretty obvious for almost anyone who watched it. When it comes to logic and what's plausible, perhaps they should have thought about it a bit more. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

People are boring, events and ideas can be interesting.

Whenever I watch a bad television show, pretty much the first thing that comes to my mind is that the characters on that particular series are so damn boring. I could not care any less about them. They seem so vain, superficial and empty. I just have to quickly turn off the tv.

There are so many good, bad examples of these vapid characters on different shows. Anything that deals with people with no substance at all turns me off. From reality to sitcoms: Top Chef, Project Runway, Cougar Town, Parks & Rec etc. - boring people and boring characters.

The problem with us human beings (and characters) is that most of us - if not all of us - are actually pretty uninteresting. No matter who we are and no matter what we do, without a proper context and without real pressure we're usually not interesting at all.

This is a problem that is not that easy to solve as a person or as a writer. We're pretty boring and yet we need to find ways to make us seem more relatable and interesting. So how do we as humans and as writers deal with this fact? What should we write about?

Perhaps this famous quote from Eleanor Roosevelt could help us a bit. In it she says that small minds discuss people, average minds discuss events and great minds discuss ideas. That's pretty straightforward advice, but comes with certain caveats.

In any case her advice says that we shouldn't "discuss" people, which I think is a double edged sword. As I already wrote, I absolutely detest most shows because all that these bad shows contain is just nonsensical discussions about people. They're all about them.

This however doesn't mean that stuff about people can't by definition be interesting. The trick is to know how to do it. You need to make sure that you provide insight into how we think and how we interact with others. There needs to be substance, not just empty talk.

The other thing that she talks about are events. Events are perhaps the easiest way to create situations that make things interesting. I like creating events for characters, because events help to define them and give them something to do.

This is not to say that any event is going to be something that will automatically make us seem interesting. It won't necessarily bring out the best and the worst in us. Nevertheless, events give us a shortcut to write about universal things that we might be able to relate to.

Roosevelt's third point is about being idealistic. Great minds discuss ideas and ideas make us great - which in many ways is completely true. Without ideas shows are about nothing and without idealism characters can't stand for much - if anything.

The reason I love shows like Macgyver and Star Trek: The Next Generation is pretty much because of their idealism. These shows try to make us better human beings through change. They discuss ideas and what should be done to them.

Idealistic characters stand for something, which is why every writer should try to be idealistic too. It makes your job so much easier. If you just write about people without giving us substance or anything that we can relate to, you're pretty much writing about nothing.

So how do you make us more interesting? I guess in many ways it's about coming to terms with how boring we can be. Once you start to question the way we live our lives and how things should be, things might just start to get more interesting.