Monday, April 30, 2007
TV is character building!
Last week, Park Bench reader Shan posted a breakdown on his site of ten top episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It got me and my husband thinking about the Buffster, and so we decided to start watching the series from the beginning all over again. And you know what? It’s just as good as I remember it -- although I still have no idea how Buffy slayed in those skirts. Which got me thinking some more: what makes some shows infinitely re-watchable and other shows instantly forgettable?
For me, I can watch shows like The West Wing, Buffy, Firefly and The Office over and over again. There are other shows, though, like24 and Lost that I enjoy “in the moment” but have zero urge to watch again. Here’s what I think it boils down to: character versus plot.
Whereas plot driven shows are all about the big reveal and what comes next, The West Wing and Buffy are about peeling back layer after layer of character. And if those layers are revealed through extraordinary dialogue, well then all’s the better. The moments we all remember in The West Wing have nothing to do with passing legislation or balancing the budget. The moments we remember best are Leo telling Josh he’ll always have a job or Toby discovering that “babies come with hats” or Bartlet calling the Butterball hotline or giving Charlie his Paul Revere carving knife. Right there? Character.
Compare that to Jack Bauer killing a guy…and then killing a guy…then flying a helicopter so he can go kill a guy. It’s exciting. It’s action packed. It’s well made. But it’s like those old Saturday serials in the 40s: it’s what you watch until something better comes along. With Lost, it’s all about the big surprises. I’ll watch week in and week out because I want to see how the mystery ends, no more and no less. And let me just say, if that Rambaldi guy from Alias turns out to be the big mojo maker, I’m going to be pissed. I’m giving you fair warning, J.J. Abrams!
In the end, just give me a Giles, a Josh, a Pam or a Mal – all characters with depth and charm and awesome vocabularies – and I’m yours forever. The minute you start mistaking explosions and car chases for depth and development, my Tivo and I are dumping you. I hate to be harsh, but that’s the sitch -- as Buffy would say.