glaurung_quena: (Default)
I remember being intensely disappointed by "The L-Word" - it was too fluffy, not very well written, it was set in the alien universe of LA-LA land, and its roots were in comedy and soap opera and I much prefer drama. I remember thinking that I really wished someone would make a lesbian version of "Queer as Folk," with good writing, good acting, and drama rather than soap. A cast who actually looked more or less like lesbians, instead of members of the Hollywood species Models Who Have Never Eaten a Meal in Their Lives, would be a nice bonus.

Well, someone at the BBC was listening to my wishes, and they made Lip Service. We watched the first episode the other evening, and it rocked.

Lip service is set in Glasgow, and follows the lives of a group of lesbian and bisexual friends. While very much a relationship based show, so far it doesn't have any of the stigmata of soap opera (contrived situations, and the feeling that the characters must be unnaturally stupid to be acting the way they are). So, drama, check.

To date, the cast consists of Frankie (back in Glasgow after two years in New York because the aunt who raised her has died, still has a thing for Cat but has issues with committing to long term relationships), Cat (had her heart broken by Frankie two years ago and is only now re-entering the dating scene), and Tess (aspiring actress, friend to both Cat and Frankie, on the rebound after a bad breakup). All of them are out lesbians. Cat's brother Ed and her work colleague and university chum Jay are the token men on the show. So, lack of annoying "Jenny" characters who make you want to travel out to the production location specifically so you can drown them, check.

Things I particularly liked:
1. They're totally using the "gays are everywhere" paradigm pioneered by Queer as Folk.
2. Frankie is in many ways a female version of Stuart/Brian in Queer As Folk. She meets women who are attracted to women everywhere she goes, but it's always just sex without commitment for her. I always regarded Stuart's antihero stance that "commitment is for suckers" stance as one of the least likable things about him, and Frankie's behaviour isn't much more likable. However, with Frankie, we get the feeling that she acts this way because of dark things in her past, which means she might someday grow beyond it.
3. While none of the people so far (with one exception) are notably butch, the show doesn't seem quite as scared of butches as the L-word was. I was actually able to tell who landed more on the butch side and who more on the femme side (distinctly different vibes for Frankie and Cat, as well as for Tess and her ex), which is a huge step forward from the L Word, where everyone wore lipstick and nail gloss.
4. These are ordinary people with ordinary jobs and ordinary income levels, not inhabitants of the Hollywood Fiscal Reality Distortion Bubble.

Airing on BBC 3 in the UK, it's been picked up by Showcase in Canada. Sadly, I have no idea when or if it is airing in the US. However, the first 6 episode season is already available on DVD from amazon.co.uk, and a second season has been scheduled. And for those who wish to "check it out from the library," all six episodes can be downloaded from torrent sites like the pirate bay or thebox.bz.

edited to clarify my point comparing Frankie and Stuart; also to remove a point about nudity that doesn't apply past the first episode.
glaurung_quena: (Default)
Many feminists wiser than I have commented at length about Heroes, and how the series suffers from the same sexism and lack of non-cookie-cutter female characters that permeates modern superhero comics. I am sure many of those bloggers have already noted that, in last week's premiere, the first new female character for this season -- Lethal Guatemalan Girl -- is essentially a darker skinned version of Multiple Personality Girl from last season -- both have awesome powers not fully within their control, which manifest only when they allow their darker nature to take over (said darker nature then calmly and amorally solves the problem at hand by killing lots of people).

That said, yesterday I caught up on reading Steven Grant's column, and then wandered into the living room where [livejournal.com profile] morgan_dhu was watching the series premiere of Moonlight, a cheap knock-off of "Forever Knight" which seemed to have no faith in the interestingness of its basic premise -- it wasn't enough that he's a vampire private eye and she's a journalist and together they solve supernatural crimes. No, he also had to be the detective who was hired to track her down years ago when evil vampires kidnapped her when she was a young girl. I had seen and complained to [livejournal.com profile] morgan_dhu about this recent trend of new TV shows loading down each character with enough angst, secrets, mysterious pasts and unlikely coincidences to fully flesh out three or four characters before.

The new Bionic Woman is another prime example: Jamie Summers has a mysterious past (sealed juvenile court records), a lost pregnancy, a delinquent hacker sister, a creepy stalker boyfriend she is too stupid to dump, and a nemesis who wants to kill her for mysterious reasons. It used to be that TV shows would either stick to a very simple backstory (A crew of men and women explore deep space in the future; a ranch family deals with the trials and tribulations of life in the old west), or else they built up a complex mythos slowly over time (X-files, Buffy, Forever Knight, Highlander) -- for instance, I think Moonlight managed to rip off a full season's worth of worldbuilding on Forever Knight into a single 42 minute show.

This time, however, the annoying stupid TV writers collided in my feeble brain with something Steven Grant said recently:

A problem is that the pressures of the market have encouraged a lot of publishers and editors to confuse gimmicks (a badge that exists mainly to set a project apart from other projects) with hooks (elements specifically calculated to arrest a reader's attention and make him want to buy/read the book). It's not surprising the talent pool has become confused about it as well. The desire is strong for material that at least on the surface seems to have something that allows it to bob above the vast ocean of identikit comics out there now, but desire and desperation are easy to confuse, and desperation tends to allow people to talk themselves into believing something that's not true is true, and a lot of missteps get made that way.


I think this has become unfortunately true of TV writing as well. And I think I know why (or at least one why - see endnote for a second why), but it's a complicated multipart why.

1, The huge proliferation of TV stations and TV shows, has made the demand for writers much greater, which in turn has meant that there aren't enough high quality writers to go around. (NB:the problem in comics is quite different, and has more to do with comics creators being increasingly drawn from the tiny shrinking pool of comics fans, instead of from the world of professional writers as a whole).

2, Those writers being hired to do TV today grew up in a society where the typical "avid reader" goes through only five to nine books a year. Which means most of that evergrowing group of writers getting work in TV are not readers; they draw their inspiration, their concepts of storytelling, and their intuitive knowledge of how narrative works, not primarily from full length books (novels, plays, epic poems, sagas, etc), but from movies, TV, comics, and video games.

3, Novels (read that as shorthand for novels, plays, epic poems, sagas, and other long-form narratives) are long. They can display the full range of storytelling possibilities. Movies, TV, comics, and video games are all short: like short stories, they have to use short cuts to tell their stories, and cannot display the full range of storytelling -- stuff inevitably gets truncated, abridged, or left out.

4, If you mistake the abbreviated, abridged form for the complete thing, you get a distorted idea of how it worked. Archaeologists looked at the artifacts from early American hunting camps and concluded that the late ice-age Clovis culture had killed off all of North America's large indigenous wildlife in an orgy of hunting. They forgot that what they were seeing were hunting camps, not full-blown settlements; so naturally there weren't all that many seeds and plant harvesting tools alongside the bones and spearpoints. And then ideas of Pre-columbian origins went down the completely wrong path for 30 or 40 years.

5, The same goes for writing: today's crop of TV writers has formed their ideas of how to tell stories based on comic books and other TV shows, instead of novels. So, instead of understanding, at an intuitive level, why TV shows have certain traits, they just assume that those traits constitute the essence of TV writing... and the result is an endless succession of shows that are bad, poorly constructed and poorly conceived, with characters who come across more as a collection of pitch points (gimmicks in Steven Grant's terms) than as real, believable characters.

Endnote: The above is an intrinsic explanation for a lot of the bad writing that I've seen proliferating on TV of late. A second, extrinsic explanation has to do with pitches. As studios have tried more and more to take the risk out of their business (because they don't understand that all creative industries are inherently and unavoidably crap shoots -- 90% of your products will not sell, and there's no way to predict what 10% will prove popular ahead of time), they have started micromanaging the creative process more and more. At the same time, they are working longer and longer hours, in the grand American delusion that quantity of work is the same as quality. So they no longer have time to even read a proper executive summary of the series ideas they are micromanaging. Instead, they base their decisions on pitch points -- so writers are forced to convey not just the overall concept of the show, but everything about the show in the form of pitches -- 30 seconds worth of talking, or 3 sentences of writing.

Add the two together and I think you've got a pretty good explanation for why TV shows these days seem to want to burden their characters with huge, complex, overwrought backstories, instead of keeping things simple.

Profile

glaurung_quena: (Default)
glaurung_quena

December 2016

S M T W T F S
    123
456789 10
11121314151617
18192021222324
25262728293031

Syndicate

RSS Atom

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags