Thursday, October 18, 2012

Catchy vs. Smarter TV Storytelling

Sometimes splashy ideas fail to make a splash (at least with me). I can see the intended concepts behind some of this fall's new television shows but the scripts are weighing them down.

666 Park Avenue--- I get the premise: a young couple eager to move up in life takes jobs as managers of a high-end, historic apartment building that hides a dark mystery within its walls. But how many times must Jane, the female protagonist, gasp in fright when someone surprises her in a dark hallway? Too much naïveté in a main character dulls my interest in a story. Has Jane never watched an episode of Scooby-Doo or any horror movie?

Here's an example: Jane goes alone with a flashlight down into the dark, basement where there is a door that had been ominously hidden behind a brick wall . . . she goes through the door, hears a noise, and proceeds to do what you should never, ever do in this kind of situation.

This is not a recipe for suspense.

When you cast Terry O'Quinn as an antagonist, the protagonists must be equally strong or he will crush them with his presence. All the typical elements of primetime soap operas (infidelity, ambition, murder) are here mixed with the macabre secrets of the hotel. But the storytelling doesn't challenge the viewer. I've seen other shows that smartly deal with everyday people thrust into crazy worlds they don't understand.

The writing on 666 Park Avenue does little to break cliches. I guarantee you won't gasp along with Jane when the walls start to bleed (Yeah, that happened).

Last Resort--- At first blush this struck me as a story told by someone who watched "Crimson Tide" but didn't really grasp what they were watching in terms of character development and tension. The diverse story lines are not playing off each other well. The central plot point that got this story started just doesn't hold up.

The show's premise is so left-field I can't fathom people really reacting this way. In fact some of the storytelling is insulting. Case in point: LT Grace Shepard, the highest ranking female character on the submarine, is portrayed as someone trying to shake off a "Daddy's girl" reputation because her father is an admiral. UGH! Do we need this kind of weak portrayal of a military woman? I wish Kara "Starbuck" Thrace from Battlestar Galactica would show up and whip Grace Shepard into shape.

The resort island setting feels gimmicky with its exotic and lusty lady bar owner who is developing a romance with a conflicted Navy SEAL.

Last Resort has some redeeming qualities. Serrat is an effective antagonist; he's a villain who thoroughly believes in his own perceived charm and greatness even when facing off with the captain of a ballistic submarine. With the flick of a switch his broad smile turns into a menacing sneer.Unfortunately he is not the primary antagonist at the core of the show's conflict. He just one of the obstacles in the way and that is a missed opportunity.

Revolution--- This one is slowly getting better. I can see the influence Hunger Games had on this show much the way Star Wars sparked the development of the original Battlestar Galactica. Young woman skilled in archery and hunting fights for her family in a place that use to be America. The details diverge from there but I think you get the point.

Revolution has several strong actors in the cast and that helps give it heft. Mark Pellegrino, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Jeff Fahey are alumni of "Lost". Giancarlo Esposito had an acclaimed run on "Breaking Bad". Kim Raver and Billy Burke put in time on "24". The rest of the cast is largely new to me but they do a fair job.

The show does need to move away from some overused tropes in its genre but the story is revealing some interesting facets. I am concerned that by being a network TV show, "Revolution"might not have much time to grow its audience.

Flame and Bone

When I was made from fire
Poured into the tender vessel of caution
That keeps my smoke from rising
Quickly did I discover that apart from crisp drizzles or falling snow
The world chilled my touched
Walking the narrow cornered gap between girders and cut stone
One learns to tuck his shoulders in or risk
Jostling a neighbor passing by rapt with want
For a clear path without the distraction
Of another man's boiling eyes
The tip of a finger
That oldest of all weapons
Grown deadlier and pristine in its invention
Gathers a mote of a cinder on its bare flesh
And turns pondering how best to scratch the impious itch
Prying open the tender seam
Where the oil of thought dews
Offering a new wick to ignite
Squirming alive as a salamander of mischief
That yearns for a taste of air it is so ready to devour
The steam of breath betrays me
Before the glint of orange spreads
In popping bright waves
Eroding the fibers feeding it
Leaving naught but ash
As my shell of quietude falls away