Adventures into the Madness

Tepring’s Frant about Serial TV


This journal entry was written more than two years ago and has suddenly become relevant all over again with the wacky buzz around Sy-Fy’s newest spinoff in the Stargate franchise, Stargate: Universe.   As a (big fat) fan of the previous incarnations (SG-1 & Atlantis) and as a very amateur student of fandom (I read Henry Jenkins, my single claim to expertise), I have been fascinated by the fan tizzy and ‘blog wars’ that have ensued.

Insert SG:U for BSG in the below, and you’ll see why I decided to dig up this old frant.

Frant: Serial vs. Standalone (June, 2007)

Since I’ve been in an “input” stage, rather than an “output” stage, I’ve been clearing out the Tivo of those episodes of shows I like, but not well enough to care about keeping up with, or even know what day of the week they are on. So far, I’ve worked through 4 Battlestar Galacticas in the last couple of days, which always makes me wonder: So why *don’t* I like it more?

Don’t get me wrong, BSG is a great show, well written, extremely well produced, acted, etc. But I just can’t seem to develop a real love for it like my favorites, (most of which are “only” adequately written, decently produced and acted.) Which is weird, because it IS so good, and in a genre I’m nuts for. My best guess is that, objective standards aside, I just don’t like “serials”. i.e. shows that emphasize long story and emotional arcs, weighing in heavily on the drama.

Apparently, the majority American audience is also skeptical. There was a lot of discussion after this years’ Network Upfronts (when the big stations announce their continuing and new shows for the fall) about the many serial shows that were NOT returning, and the number of new shows that were resorting to tried and true crime-of-the-week formats. So, what isn’t working here, and what IS?

As I suffered through last night’s BSG, a purely character affair with no action to the plot whatsoever regardless of it’s dramatic and arc progressions, it occurred to me that the shows I like involve action and situations where the characters triumph via the nature of their character and intellect. In contrast, BSG often portrays characters suffering due to the nature of their character, and as noted above, there is the occasional no-plot plot. I suppose the attractions lay in where you put yourself as viewer into the mix.

A. Do you, like me, find satisfaction in seeing characters solve problems and overcome their various dilemmas, leaving each episode with a sense of well being in the world and leaving the viewer with the comforting notion that all obstacles can be overcome… (and it doesn’t hurt if the hero doing the overcoming is extremely attractive and witty while he’s overcoming…)

B. or Do you find satisfaction in seeing characters wallow in the same obstacles we ourselves find ourselves in daily, overcoming some and sometimes falling deeper into the quagmire than we ever will, leaving each episode with a sense of pity for the character and a comforting notion that at least MY life isn’t as f***up at that poor schmuck’s…(and it doesn’t hurt if the hero doing the suffering is extremely attractive and witty while he’s suffering…)

For those of us who live in the A category, the serial show risks turning plot into a hackneyed device for finding yet another way for the characters to suffer. BSG, case in point: It’s not enough that these people are running from the genocide of their entire nation, AND their second attempt at a nation, but they also have to wallow in marital issues too??? OK, perhaps it’s realistic (as I know difficult life situations create difficult family situations), but really! The term “lugubrious” comes to mind.

To be fair, I’m sure the good souls who occupy the B category bewail the lack of depth and utterly unrealistic fantasy world of the happy ending dramas. And even I find it quite amusing that the first thing fan fic writers are apt to tackle are all those moments of suffering and character developing trials that obstacle-of-the-week stories lack. The writers are filling in the gaps, writing their own “serials” between the heroic moments.

But perhaps that’s the key? Could it be that some of us prefer the mystery of the characters rather than having it spelled out? Or is it that too much of a good thing is, well, too much? It occurs to me that the longest running, and best “loved” TV series are those that create a sense of closure and “all’s right with the world” triumph in each story, but also dole out those juicy, gap-filling character moments in the right doses to whet the appetite for more.

It also makes me wonder what about that formula is so innately satisfying. So much so that Aristotle was able to capture the concept thousands of years ago in his Poetics.

Fun stuff to ponder.

posted under Frants

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