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.


annie said...

West Wing! I love you (more)!

I really think it's time I start watching Buffy. I've always associated it with the WB, and shows like Dawson's Creek or 90210, mostly out of ignorance.

But I loved Firefly, and have enough smart people I respect say good things about Buffy, that I should knuckle down and get Buff(y).

Liz said...

Ah, West Wing is my deepest, truest TV love. I miss it enormously.

As for Buffy, yes, you absolutely, positively have to watch it. It loses a bit of quality in year 7 (because Joss was working on Firefly), but it is wonderful. I was very anti-Buffy before I started watching it and it took me three tries to really get into it, but I found it to be one of the most emotionally true and rich shows I've ever encountered. Plus, very, very funny.

Mickie Poe said...

Actually, I was thinking about this tv-character building this morning on the bus as a big guy up front reminded me vaguely of Hurley from LOST. I immediately liked this guy for no other reason than I have fond feelings for Hurley's character. I've always believed plot is driven by character. You can have all the crazy Rambaldi hunts you want, but without Sydney and Jack...there's little reason to return to the show.

Liz said...

Also, Jack's ears. I consider them my favorite Alias character. :-)