Friday, April 24, 2015

My Parents Watched 'Veep' And Hated It.

Last week my parents told me that they had just watched a show that was completely atrocious. It was so bad that they could not believe that Yle, our public broadcasting company (like BBC in Britain) had acquired the rights for the show. 

My parents were angry. 'The show made no sense', they said. "We know they don't set the bar very high over there, but still, that was a new low". They asked me whether I had seen the show - to which I said no. I had not seen it because my gut had told me to stay away.

So we're of course talking about the show 'Veep', that had deeply upset my parents. Their reaction was so strong that it made me curious in a weird way. I wanted to check exactly how bad the show was. It had to be really, really bad.

As it happened, another episode of 'Veep' aired yesterday and I forced myself to watch it. Even though it didn't really take more than five minutes to come up with an informed opinion about the show, I spent 28 minutes of my time watching it.

Indeed, it turned out that my parents were completely right. 'Veep' was even worse than I thought it could be. I couldn't come up with a single good thing that I could say about the show. All I could I think was that I'm never going to watch it again.

There are so many things wrong with 'Veep', starting with the bad premise. That is that the premise of the show is about the daily life of the Vice President of the United States - which is totally lame and uninteresting because in general Vice Presidents don't do that much.

There are no stakes. Just like on a show like Parks & Recreation, nothing that is even remotely interesting happens. Everything that happens on the screen is about superficial nonsense that is not connected to the real world at all.

I mean, who really gives a damn that the veep is having a bad day? Or that she doesn't think that the birthday cake looks good enough? Or that her assistants don't worship her enough? These examples are pretty much what the show is about.

The thing that really turns me off is that wasn't able to relate to any of the characters. None of them are likable. The main character - played by Julia-Louise Dreyfus is an abomination. There's absolutely nothing funny about her and she is completely one note.

To make it even worse, the show is full of foul language. Since the series is on HBO, the producers tried to make 'Veep' as edgy as possible by putting in as many F-bombs as possible. The episode that I watched had at least 30 f-words.

That is of course totally pathetic but not really inconsistent when you put things in context. The show as a whole is so empty and so void of actual content that you can barely believe your eyes. It has to be seen in order to be believed.

Nevertheless, all these unfortunate flaws haven't stopped critics from liking the show. For some reason they even happen to think that 'Veep' is an awesome series. They can't stop from raving about the amazing moments on the show - which is just unbelievable.

In the end, I so wish that I could say that Veep is the worst show that I have ever seen on tv. I've seen stuff that is even worse - but the fact that our Finnish BBC bought the rights for this show is honestly mind-boggling.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Writers need to be enthusiastic about their craft.

One of the most disappointing things of this year's television programs has been the lack of quality in general. Just about every television show - at least in my opinion - has let us down. Comedy shows especially have been disappointing.

One of the biggest problems that I have had with shows like Modern Family and The Big Bang Theory this season is that the writers have lost their enthusiasm. They don't seem to care enough anymore about providing quality entertainment for us viewers.

It seems that for them it's enough that their shows are on the air. When it comes to educating us and pushing hard in order to create something worthwhile, those aren't really their priorities. It's apparently enough that they're making a buck writing tv.

Even when it comes to making speeches at the Emmys, it's not about stating that they do their very best every day to make us happy. Instead the speeches are mostly about 'at least we're still working'. How exciting is that really?

The truth is that writers should be passionate about their craft and acknowledge that it's pretty much the only thing that really matters. It's about us, the audience - not about them. It's about making the audience feel enthusiasm towards life in general.

Being passionate is really that important. When you're excited and enthusiastic as a writer, it will show. Everybody wins and feels better about just about everything. That enthusiasm is wildly contagious and is also one of the biggest ingredients for being creative.

For example, the single biggest reason that I fell in love with a show like The Big Bang Theory is that it was so obvious that the writers and actors involved loved making the show. There was a huge amount of energy that you couldn't help but to notice.

The scripts were of high quality. There was a good amount of genuine laughs, the characters were likable and you couldn't help but to get excited about the show. The series became must see tv for all those who had a little geek inside them.

Or how about Modern Family then? It used to be such a solid series that usually delivered quality shows week after week, episode after episode.  I genuinely liked everyone involved with the show, which is why I even decided to write specs for that show too.

Nowadays way too many times I just keep looking at my tv during an episode and wonder how these writers can live with themselves. I keep wondering what's going on and can't believe that I'm only halfway through the episode. Nothing happens that makes sense.

It's just too obvious that many of the writers have simply given up when it comes to being genuinely creative. They are not giving us all that they have when it comes to writing quality material. They are not living up to their fullest potential.

I mean, what's really the point in being a paid writer and not trying your hardest? If I happened to be on a show that had the potential to be great, I would be so ashamed if I didn't give my all and everything that I had inside me.

At least that's how I see it. In my opinion the only thing that really matters is how good that final product is - and if the show has potential, that product had better be damn good. Everything else is just nonsense.

Friday, April 10, 2015

'The Last of Us' Could Have Been an Even Better Game.

So I finally managed to finish The Last of Us - and for the most part I really enjoyed playing it on my playstation 4. It is probably one of the best games that I have ever played. It had almost everything that I could have asked for as a player.

At the same time, as good as the game was, I think it could have been an even better game. There were parts that were somewhat inconsistent - parts that got me to wonder whether certain moments made sense in the game's universe.

Nevertheless, The Last of Us has many great things going for it - and perhaps the best thing about it are its main characters, Joel and Ellie. They are genuinely relatable, which is rather rare when it comes to games in general.

This is probably the reason that game has been that big of a success. It is a survival adventure game - so it's crucial that you care about the characters. Otherwise there wouldn't be much point in playing the game through.

The story of 'The Last of Us' is basically about these two characters. The male character - the main character - Joel, is the one that the player starts with.  He's a man who has lost his purpose in life after he lost his family during the virus outbreak.

Ellie, the female character, on the other hand, is much more optimistic about life. Even though she too apparently has gone through a lot, she thinks that not everything is lost. At the very least, there's this organization called Firefly somewhere that she needs to find.

What makes Ellie so crucial to the story is that she's a person who got infected, but for some reason didn't die or even get any symptoms from the virus. There's a specific reason for her to find other survivors and to perhaps find a cure.

So these two go for a rollercoaster ride. Before they reach their final destination, both have to survive difficult situations - which leads to the body count getting pretty high. You need to kill a lot of people, ranging from the infected to other bad guys.

What makes this ordeal and game play so challenging, is that you don't have unlimited amount of ammunition at your disposal. What makes it worse is that your melee weapons won't last long either. So you need to be smart, otherwise you won't survive.

The first half of The Last of Us is a lot about getting out of the city. In my opinion the game gets much better when it reaches its second half. This is when you start to invest in the characters. Joel finally starts to like Ellie and figures out he has responsibilities towards her.

Very likely the best part of the game is the final third, that has the majority of the story beats. This is also when you get to play as Ellie, which I think is something that most people wanted to happen at some point in the game.

When it comes to the ending, it's about making hard decisions and dealing with them. I found that the ending was really emotional. I'm really glad that they didn't water it down, which is something that might happen to the movie version of this game.

In any case, what were the things that I had reservations about? I'm not sure what others thought, but there were some rather obvious ones. Like for example that vignette with those black characters happened too early in the story. It was also way too dramatic.

The other complaint that I have is that there were a couple of moments in the story where there was just too much action - killing - without any good reason. Especially when it came to the 'safe haven' parts, that I otherwise liked very much.

During these phases I had thoughts like "this was supposed to be a safe place, what are these enemies doing here and where did they come from?". Also, right after when Ellie 'disappears', there's really no reason why there should be any enemies out there at the farm.

But I guess those flaws are not really that important, even though I'm confident the game would have been even better had they polished the script a bit more. Perhaps they should have had a bit more confidence in their story.

Yet, as a whole, 'The Last of Us' was pretty awesome, and I'm already feeling a bit sad that I'm now done with the story mode. The game in my opinion lived up the hype and was well worth getting for my Playstation 4. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What are the things that make you a great writer?

I think this is a pretty relevant question: What are the requirements for a person to become a great writer? What are the qualities that are needed so that one can write better than pretty much everyone else on this planet?

In my opinion there are at least four things that are required: 1) having the ability to understand drama better than others 2) having the ability to read characters better than others 3) having an unusually creative mind and 4) being really competitive.

So let's start with the first point - having a sense of drama. This is one of the things that you can't really practice that much. When you have a good sense of drama, you have a clear idea about the things that actually matter in life.

Drama always comes from people, events and ideas. Good writer knows what's essential and what's not. Some people and some of their behavior is worth writing about. Some events are more important than others. Some ideas are good, some others aren't.

But having a sense of drama is not only about knowing what's important and crucial. It's also about knowing how to represent your case - how to pass information and facts to your audience. It's about making sure that people care about what you're writing about.

This brings us to your ability to read people and characters. In order to be able to create characters that we care about, you need to have an idea about how people behave in different situations. You need to have the ability to know what makes us tick.

What do we want, what are the things that we like, what are the things that we dislike? What are our strengths and weaknesses? What are the things that we feel strongly about? What are the things that we in general like and don't like to do?

It's about having the ability to recognize our strengths and vulnerabilities and knowing how to 'exploit' them. Whether you're writing drama or comedy, you need to know what to do with your characters in specific situations.

Naturally, having a reading ability is largely something that cannot be taught. When it comes to having a read about specific situations, you either have the talent or you don't. If you can't read people and their motivations, you shouldn't become a writer.

That leads us to the third point, that I think is also crucial - having a mind that is capable of creating good stuff. This is yet another instance where you either have it or you don't. Unless you were blessed with a specific type of brain, you can't be a great writer.

So what does that really mean? From a neuroscience perspective, I've read that in order to be really creative, you probably need to be at least a bit 'schizotypal'. This allows you to be more perceptive than others and allows to you think more clearly than the rest.

Not surprisingly, David Kelley (pictured above) has spoken about how he sometimes feels a bit schizophrenic when he's writing. Even though he's obviously joking about it, there's probably at least some truth to it too. After all, schizotypy is a milder form of schizophrenia.

In any case, my fourth and also the last point is about being competitive. In my opinion one really can't underestimate the importance of having the desire to compete with others. You need to be a competitive person in general.

For example (again) David Kelley used to be a professional hockey player before he became perhaps the greatest television writer of all time. He was the captain of his hockey team and even spent time in Europe as a professional ice hockey player. It prepared him well.

In my opinion being a competitive person is one of the very few things that might actually 'teach' you drama a bit. What makes it especially great is that it's not about anyone teaching you - it's about you learning by yourself while you compete.

Being a competitor is about drama - meaning that the stakes are usually high. You either win or you lose. You're also 'in the zone' and you likely get to experience 'flow' too. These are all important factors. After all, writing is about taking your audience for a ride too.

In the end it comes to this: if you have the ability to get drama, if you have the ability to read people, if you have a positively different brain and if you're a competitive person, chances are that you could become a really good writer - perhaps even the best in the world.