Thursday, October 13, 2011

Concept v. Sustainability

You know, I think I would be the last person to claim that I am losing my obsession passion for television these days, but there does seem to be a definite drop off. The new fall season is in full swing and right now I am only actually watching two new series (two more that I will try premiere later this month though). That's kind of a record low for me. It's...weird.

At the moment I don't hold high hopes for either of the two I am currently watching (Terra Nova and Ringer) getting picked up for a second season. In the case of Terra Nova, I think that's a shame, because I feel like the show has a lot of potential and I am quite honestly enjoying the hell out of it right now. I am just pretty certain that the ratings have no shot at justifying another season of a show with this kind of budget. I'll just have to enjoy my dinosaurs on television while they last and hope that BBC America decides to air the next season of Primeval sometime soon. Ringer, on the other hand? Well, that's a different story.

Here's the show's premise in a nutshell: Twin sisters Bridget and Siobhan have been estranged for several years, and they live very different lives. Bridget is a recovering drug addict/former stripper about to testify against a mob boss in his murder trial and then (presumably) go into witness protection. Siobhan is a New York socialite with a wealthy husband and an artistic boyfriend (who happens to be married to her best friend). The night before she is supposed to testify, Bridget freaks out and runs away from police protection and reunites with her sister Siobhan. The two seem to be making up, hanging out at Siobhan's summer beach house and riding around in Siobhan's fancy speed boat. Then Bridget falls asleep on the boat, and when she wakes up Siobhan is gone, leaving behind an empty pill bottle and her wedding ring. Assuming her sister killed herself, Bridget then makes the snap decision to assume Siobhan's identity in the wake of her sister's conveniently timed suicide, and returns to New York to begin living her sister's life, all the while trying to hide out from the FBI agent and mob boss looking for her. She quickly learns that Siobhan's life is not as idyllic as she had believed it to be (shocker, that).

Okay, let's stop for a moment and acknowledge what this show is: It is a nighttime soap opera. Seriously. It's just got a higher budget and slightly glitzier production values than what you find on during the day. Normally, a show like this wouldn't even enter into candidates for my viewing time. The only reason it is on my radar at all is that Sarah Michelle Gellar (you know, Buffy) is the star of the show, so I have been hearing about it for months. I still wasn't all that interested. I mean, I don't actually really like Sarah Michelle Gellar that much to be honest (as an actor, that is, I am sure she is a lovely human being). She was never my favorite thing about Buffy. But early reviews of the pilot said it actually was a pretty entertaining hour of television and that there was real possibility there. Also, I found out that Ioan Gruffudd plays one of the main characters. Sure, sure, most people know him as Mr. Fantastic from The Fantastic Four. Whatever. He's Horatio Hornblower (from the series of television movies adapted from C.S. Forester's novels), and I will always love him for that. So, his presence got my interest up. Add that to the fact that it airs at a day and time when I'm not watching anything else, and I figured I could give it a try.

It's...okay. My husband was around this week when I was watching it, and I caught him giving me a sideways look of "Are you really watching this?" on more than one occasion. At this point, I feel like Ringer is a train that is destined to derail, I just don't know when or how, but I am kind of curious to find out. So I keep watching. I will give it the season, at least (unless it just goes way too far down the rabbit hole for me to follow). But unless there's a huge game changer, I don't see me watching past that point. Heck, I really don't understand how there could even be a second season.

Ringer is the perfect example of a phenomenon that I have been noticing in television a lot more often these days. Have you noticed how many shows have come and gone recently because as interesting as their concept was, it just wasn't sustainable for more than a season's worth of stories? It's getting a little bit ridiculous. It's like everyone gets excited by the pitch about how cool and original and all kinds of other excited adjectives the concept is, but no one stops to actually sit down and think about how much of a story there is to actually play out.

Because at some point? Bridget won't be able to pretend she's Siobhan anymore. The FBI agent will connect the dots, her "husband" will notice that missing scar, her snotty "stepdaughter" will overhear a frantic phone call, her jilted ex-"lover" will...oh wait, we've already gotten to that one, haven't we? You get the picture. Either way, the concept can't be sustained, and at some point the charade is over. Sometimes, that is okay, because sometimes it is in the aftermath of that revelation where the true story really lies. But way too often, nobody stops to figure out what happens next before they start making these shows. The stakes are so freaking high for Bridget's identity being discovered that sure, maybe she'll go down in a blazing ball of glorious flame, but once she's down, there's no getting back up. There's no story left, at any rate. So maybe the solution is to keep her secret, well, a secret? But no. Because once that goes on long enough, it also stops being interesting. How many near misses can she have? How many times can she talk her way out of an awkward situation? You see where I am going with this.

I mean, don't get me wrong, if they decide to blow the whistle on Bridget halfway through the season and actually turn the story's direction ninety degrees into a whole new direction and somehow manage to pull it off? Well, damn, I will give them a medal for genius storytelling. But right now I just don't see it. Right now it seems like this is just yet another high-concept show that would have made a perfect movie, but that really was never intended to be a long-form story.

It's like the people making television these days don't even grasp the concept that television is, in fact, long-form. Yeah, everything should have an endgame, but the best series actually take their time to get there, in a way that lets the viewers invest themselves in the story and the characters, and makes us actually care about what happens. Why do those shows seem to have become an endangered species?

Also, who the heck has twin daughters and names one Bridget and one Siobhan? I mean, really, who?

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