As a writer, I look to many different sources for inspiration and for learning about my craft. Most professional writers will tell you that screen writing informs fiction writing, whether it’s episodic television to short stories or chapters, or full length movies to novellas and novels.
I love television. I know that there are some writers out there that vilify the medium as a time-waster and brain killer, but I try to look at the quality of the story, the plausibility of scientific elements in sci-fi, the depiction and development of character, and so forth.
I’ve told you how I read as a writer in the past. I’ve also reviewed a few movies on here and the lessons I’ve taken away from them, well, now I’m going to talk about television series.
Phil and I are fairly critical in our television watching. If something doesn’t make sense, one of us will be the first to lambaste it 😛
This year, we’ve unsubscribed from the movie network cable package. It was the one that allowed us to watch Game of Thrones and True Blood. But now, we’re just not interested in what’s on offer.
Phil holds up Babylon 5 as his favourite series. I agree that J. Michael Straczynski is a masterful storyteller and B5 is one of the best series I’ve seen, but I’m also a little more critical about B5 than Phil is.
I know that JMS planned the entire 5 year arc of the show before he started working on it, but it’s fairly obvious where real life events required accommodation and revision. Still, until the rights struggle, of which I shall not speak, started to affect things, the show was fabulous.
The fifth season was less than stellar, though, because of the afore-mentioned struggle, I think, Excalibur, the series that was intended to fill in some of the detail pre-B5 only lasted one season, and the hoped for Tales of the Rangers never got off the ground.
In the end, I was disappointed, but not because of JMS—he’s brilliant—but because of the creative differences that prevented the world he created from being explored further.
One of my favourite series of all time is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Joss Whedon took a slightly different tack, creating seasonal arcs, because of the fickle nature of network television. Buffy changed networks, mid-run, but managed to revive.
The title character’s death at the end of season 5 was to have been the end of the story, but somehow, two more seasons were wrangled.
There are inconsistencies in Buffy. I’ve watched the series enough to know, but they make the overall story no less enjoyable. The way in which details from earlier seasons eventually led to lovely pay-offs in later seasons spoke to how well Whedon understood his creation.
When Angel got his spin-off after the third season of Buffy, I also watched it. Phil is a little fonder of Angel than of Buffy, but both series were made of similar stuff. Whedon is a very different kind of storyteller than JMS, but no less compelling.
Again, Whedon seems to have had poor luck with the networks after Buffy and Angel. Firefly did not even have a full season aired (except on Space and Syfy) and Dollhouse was dropped after a second season.
A more long-standing love for both of us is Doctor Who. We’ve both been fans for years and although Phil has, on principle, a problem with time-travel stories, the writing behind Doctor Who allows him to suspend even his hefty disbelief and enjoy the story.
Other than those few series, many of the shows Phil and I hopefully latched onto over the years seem to have lost their storytelling ways.
Phil and I loved the first season of Heroes. We were avid fans and shared our DVD’s with everyone we could think of.
Then the second season aired with plot holes big enough to consume the entire cast. Even George Takei couldn’t save the show.
We were sceptical about the remake of Battlestar Galactica, but once we started watching the series, we were taken in.
Which is why we were also severely disappointed by the last 2 seasons and though we watched Caprica, we couldn’t regret its demise either. The “ending” answered fewer questions than BSG’s.
Lost lost me as a viewer before the second season ended. I could see the ridiculous factor increasing, and the writers withheld information when they should have revealed it, and revealed information that had no importance to the plot in the long term.
Phil never watched Lost at all.
Supernatural turned out to be mostly monster-of-the-week and Sam and Dean never really evolved as characters.
There was the short-lived Dresden Files series, which we both loved, but then it went out of production.
I was enjoying the adaptation of Tanya Huff’s Blood Books, Blood Ties, but it, too, was dropped.
I’ve continued to follow the adventures of Buffy and Angel through Joss Whedon’s graphic
novel continuations of both stories.
Phil and I are both happy enough with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and hope that it breaks the television curse for Whedon. We’d like to see more of his wit and style on television.
Phil and I continue to watch and enjoy Doctor Who.
True Blood was okay to begin with, but after the first season again, we found the story wandering and not necessarily in a good direction. Unlike some other books turned into series, TB departs fairly distinctly from the Sookie Stackhouse novels on which it is based.
We have, so far, come back for the next season and each season seems to begin well enough, but then certain events are just drawn out for far too long only to end precipitously and in many cases, in a dissatisfying manner.
Consistency isn’t the best, either.
We knew, when Russell Edgington was encased in cement rather than shown the true death, that he’d be back, but we couldn’t stand it when he did.
The ending of this season left us completely cold. Sookie’s waffling and bemoaning of her fate got old very quickly. And Eric sunbathing instead of trying to stop the distribution of the Hep-V tainted True Blood? It made so little sense. If he did burn, he deserved to.
Mind you, not having seen the ashes, I’ll assume that he and Pam will be back, if not next season, then at some point thereafter.
Being Human. My advice: watch the British version. It was always better.
We are quite happy with Game of Thrones. Now this is a different bit of storytelling, because the novels have already been written by George R. R. Martin. The artistry of GoT is that the show runners have to pick and choose what bits to show and how to show them in a way that is truthful to GRRM.
And he’s consulting to keep them as much on script as possible 😉
Phil was enjoying The Walking Dead, but found that it too, was getting a little lack-lustre in its plot by the end of the last season. He’ll be happy to watch it in reruns when we re-subscribe to the movie package in the spring.
We watched the Netflix series Hemlock Grove and were impressed, though admittedly, the denouement seemed a little rushed. We are hopeful that future seasons will be at least as good.
Once Upon a Time. Not Phil’s bag, but I like retellings of fairy tales. So far, so good for me, but they are in danger of losing me if they get to far off track.
Grimm. More fairy tale-related shenanigans. I like the German take, but was so not impressed with how long it took Julia to deal with her recovered memories last season. Seriously? Plus, I wanted to see more of Nick’s mom. She kicked ass.
Lost Girl. Again, this is something that Phil doesn’t go in for, but I’ve been enjoying. I’m glad that it continues to be in production.
Arrow was another surprise for me. Though I enjoyed Smallville, I watched most of the episodes in rerun. Plus, Smallville started to draw out the origin story of Superman far too long. I was irritated with that.
Arrow is not taking the Green Arrow from Smallville, but focusing on the character independent of Superman. It’s a bit grittier and darker. I like it.
Orphan Black. This one was a surprise for me, but I definitely like it. Don’t have any other clone/genetic engineering conspiracy stories out there at the moment. Phil wasn’t so impressed, but I’m willing to give it a go again next year.
Defiance was a show that Phil got hold of by virtue of his interests in gaming. The concept was unique: a massively multiplayer online role playing game (MMORPG, or MMO) and a television series developed concurrently in the same world.
The game would start up earlier, feed into the hype, but when the series started, the developers promised weekly game upgrades based on story developments in the series. It sounded interesting, so we both tuned in.
Phil quickly tired of the game, in which the promised content was not made available. He gave up some time in the summer when none of the series-based content had yet been added.
The depiction of the alien people were different between the game and the series as well.
The Irathients were analogous to indigenous peoples in terms of spirituality in the series, but good warriors and tactical thinkers in the game. Not that they couldn’t be both, but both were not clearly options in the game and the series.
The Indogenes in the game were similar to Vulcans, dominantly logical and emotionally repressed, while in the series, they turned out to be political schemers and shape-shifters.
The last straw for Phil was that for two episodes in a row, they played the “s/he’s an Indogene” card. He cited it as derivative of the equally irritating “s/he’s a cylon” ploy in BSG.
Story-wise, it’s about as satisfying as “it was all a dream,” or an ending where the big bad, after waging war, and having the subjects of his rage in his sights, commits suicide instead (another BSG disappointment).
Sleepy Hollow. I’m liking the angle the writers have chosen and tying it all in with the four horsemen of the apocalypse and the end of days. We’ll see if it lasts more than a season.
Right now, the only thing we’re both looking forward to is JMS’s Sense8, his Netflix series.
I’m going to check out Once Upon a Time in Wonderland, just ‘cause, but I’ve learned not to pin too many hopes on new network series.
I’m also going to check out the Tomorrow People and Almost Human. We’ll see if either of those series live up to my expectations.
What series have you loved? Which have you hated? What are you looking forward to? And what shows have you learned from as a writer?
Continuous learning 🙂 That’s what it’s all about.
8 thoughts on “Series Disappointments”
Have you watched Fringe? Based on a bunch of the shows you listed, I think you might like it. Good arc, obviously plotted out ahead of time, and lots of weird, compelling sci-fi stuff to make you think. Sherlock is another fantastic one. I confess I’ve given up TV almost entirely in favour of writing – I just don’t have enough hours in the day for both, but I have a long list of ‘someday’ series I plan to watch, a bunch of which are on your list. 🙂
Actually, Phil started watching the series on Netflix a few months ago–beginning to end. I did enjoy it, but didn’t watch the first season and a bit. I’m thinking because of the method of watching, and the missing bit, that I automatically discounted it. Another friend has recommended Sherlock. I also watch Elementary. I basically restricted this blog post to the SF/F viewage. I watch entirely too much TV (!)
Agree with Nicole about Fringe (although the first season was a bit of a write-off) and Sherlock (although the Sherlock format means that you get three feature-movie-length episodes every year or two).
Let me recommend Justified. It’s not an SF series but there isn’t any better dramatic television out there right now. I can’t even describe how good the second season was. At the beginning of the third and fourth seasons, my wife and I were almost afraid to watch because they couldn’t possibly maintain such a high level of quality. And yet each time, we are blown away by how good it is. The new series is only three or four months away and I’m itching to see it already.
Btw, Orphan Black really surprised me too. It’s very compelling.
Thanks for the recommendation, Matt 🙂 I’ve also been curious about Longmire, because I hear the writing’s excellent.
I like to watch TV critically too, which drives my wife nuts to no end. She likes to enjoy most of her TV with brain switched off.
I envy your ability to find the time to write AND watch that much TV.
I watch too much TV, I’m quite certain. And it does affect the writing. I used to have a cable card in my computer, but since analogue has been dropped, I can’t get a signal anymore. I used to have the TV on in a wee window while I wrote. I’m good at switching attention between tasks. Since I can’t do that anymore, I have to negotiate my time more carefully. It usually means missing half or more of the show, or trying to write at commercials, which is worse. I haven’t worked out my new compromise yet, though it may have something to do with my lap top moving into the living room. Sometimes I suck. 😛
Season 4 of Vampire Diaries just came to Netflix! I’ve only made it through season 3, but I heart the Vampire Diaries. (If you can get past the first 2-3 episodes that are a little corny…)
I tried watching it when it first came out and it didn’t hook me. Maybe it was the first few eps you mention that I couldn’t get past 🙂 I found the same thing with … was it The Secret Circle? The witch one? I know it didn’t have the same staying power as a series, but both are based on books by the same author, are they not? Yup. Just checked: L. J. Smith. Anyway, I’m finding lots of good stuff on Netflix these days, even up here in Canuck-land. It’s a thing. Our CRTC (communications/radio/television regulator) insists on a certain percentage of Canadian content and will not let Netflix buy up licencing for shows that our cable stations want to keep hold of. They’re talking about slapping down harsher restrictions on Netflix and I’m afraid that will result in Netflix withdrawing their service from Canada altogether.
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