Tuesday, July 26, 2011

When to give up on a show

Here's a question I recently heard posed on the Television Zombies podcast. When do you give up on a tv show? For me, probably like a lot of you, it's not any set specific moment but a culmination of things that will make me either give up, or power through.

I really think we've moved past the "jumped the shark" moment in our media watching culture to some new stage of acceptance. As unfortunate as it initially sounds, even if you want to find a point to label as the moment it all started to go downhill for any particular program, I find that I rarely if ever let that single moment stop me from watching a show. So am I just more accepting of substandard tv than I used to be? No. I think instead that I, and we as a television watching culture, understand now that over the lifespan of a show there is a natural ebb and flow. Serialized storytelling is understood and accepted on such a better level by the general public than it was even 5 or 10 years ago that I think we've started looking at our shows on a larger scale rather than any the success or failures of one single episodic chapter. There are distinct advantages as well to sitting through some level of tv crap to get to the good stuff. Shows often need to find their legs, voice, and tone; as well as refine their characters and relationships over the course of a first season for example. And larger stories understandably have bigger payoff in the end. I think we're also so much more aware of the process of creating television these days that we give writers, directors, and actors the benefit of the doubt more. Third acts are tough to put together and often lag, but we all know that now, so I think we're more forgiving.

The really annoying thing though, is that networks still don't seem to understand that. Shows with great potential are still mercilessly cut down before they're given a chance to find themselves every Fall and its a real shame. Thankfully there are a few exceptions to this trend as is the case with Falling Skies, which is not a very good show, but one that can hopefully get better as it moves into a second season.

Recently I watched the entire 18 episodes of Caprica with my wife. Is it a great show? No, not at all. The actors may have all been really great, and the writing wasn't bad, but the show lacked the direction, sense of mystery, and action of BSG. Additionally it all but complete ignored the large and complex mythology already established for the series through Battlestar and instead focused on stories that their already built in audience didn't care about. The show turned its back on a fanbase that wanted to love it from the start, and that's why it failed. But would I have watched more? YES. The show had potential, possibly even as much potential as Battlestar Galactica itself. And given even the little I know about the behind the scenes of Caprica, it sounds like the creators were still really looking for the right tone to strike on the show.

What might we have seen in Caprica if it was given a second season? I think the answer to that could have been really amazing television. And I think that's never more clear than in the final 5 minutes of the last episode, which was shot after they knew the series was ending, but actually starts to tie the series into the larger mythology that we all know and already care about. Those 5 minutes proved to me that there could have been something great in store for Caprica.

On the other side of the coin comes a show like SyFys newest original series Alphas.

This show is one I feel I've given enough of a chance to, and almost immediately after only two episodes, have decided to stop watching. My reason? Lack of potential. This story is pretty close to an exact ripoff of the X-Men, but lacks the fx budget for anything visually interesting. Additionally even if the characters might develop into something more nuance, their set ups are so cookie cutter that I just can't roll with it. The autistic super genius is a great example of a shallow, played out character concept. The only even remotely interesting character on the show is David Strathairn's Professor X, I mean Dr Rosen... everyone else is totally forgettable. So really it's not just the unoriginal concept, but the bland characters, and low fx budget that combine to put this show on my chopping block. Could it come back? Could I hear about it becoming great somewhere down the line? yes, but I doubt it.

We may be a more forgiving tv watching culture in some ways, but we're also more critical in others, and I suppose that comes down to the fact that we're just more savvy viewers than ever before. So deciding when to give up a show isn't an easy question to answer anymore, but its definitely still an interesting one to ask.

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