I am currently following the events of the Writers Guild of America strike with great interest. A titanic battle where art and commerce collide! I sense that they are hunkering down for the long haul on this one. Good.
It is estimated that the 1988 writers strike cost the American entertainment business in the vicinity of $500million. Good.
To paraphrase V: “Writers should not be afraid of their employers. Employers should be afraid of their writers.”
So now seems as good a time as any for a quick once-around-the-block look at my current viewing habits. The current American television schedules hold very little interest for me. I’m done with sitcoms. I may occasionally dip into the odd episode of Scrubs or My Name Is Earl, but the sitcom is a tired format at the moment and needs either resting or a serious smack around the head.
Which leaves me with only three currently airing shows that I follow on a weekly basis. Two of them are television at its best, and the other one is Heroes. And don’t worry; this is entirely spoiler-free, so read on without fear:
The life and times of a everyone’s favourite ethical serial killer, Dexter Morgan continues to juggle his personal relationships and his own murderous impulses as the second series seamlessly flows on from the events of the first. Despite the absence of a Big Bad Nemesis for Dexter like the Ice Truck Killer of Season One, all the sub-plots and character arcs are simmering away nicely and flowing naturally onwards. Dexter hasn’t taken a hit in quality from Season One, and Michael C. Hall is still as wonderfully charismatic and twisted as before.
Good news: All the episodes of Season 2 are in the bag, so Dexter won’t suffer as a result of the strike. It also seems like Season 3 has been given the green light.
Also worth mentioning: The opening titles of Dexter are without doubt the best on television at the moment – a montage of a mundane morning ritual, with innocuous household objects recast as ominous and unsettling with a judicious use of sound and framing. Check it:
Another anti-hero still on top of his game. Well into Season Four, and House continues to make a virtue of its limitations. The format – an obscure illness is endlessly misdiagnosed for 40 minutes until inspiration hits in the closing minutes and they work out what the hell is going on. Every. Single. Week. And it really doesn’t get tired, due to excellent performances and withering one-liners from the misanthropic disease detective. Shifting the supporting characters around has given this show a hypodermic shot in the arm. Sadly, it looks like there are only enough scripts to take House to the end of the year and we’ll be heading into 2008 with a handful of unresolved character arcs. Never mind. Always leave them wanting more, right? Pop a Vicodin to dull the pain.
Attempting to combine the complex multi-threaded narrative strands and mysteries-within-mysteries of Lost with the soapy mythology and epic sweep of old X-Men comics, Heroes never attains the heights of either, with the exception of the inspired cheerleader autopsy sequence in Season One. It’s always been entertaining enough, but never really great.
And Heroes continues to suffer badly from an over-reliance on nonsensical coincidence to make the characters cross paths, and the introduction of bland pretty-boys-and-girls-with-special abilities that do nothing for the story. There is a reason why Hiro Nakamura was everyone’s favourite character. He was the everyman who had a sense of wonder and awe about his powers, and the one character that represented the notion of an (almost) ordinary man in extraordinary situations.
Add to that a glacial pacing in the early episodes with only incremental plot advancement in every episode, and Heroes is really struggling. The last episode hinted that things are getting back on track and moving at an accelerated pace to hold flagging interest. This is all likely to come to a halt soon with only a few episodes left before the scripts dry up. This is A Good Thing. Maybe the writing team can reflect on what’s gone wrong and up their game for next year. Here’s hoping.
So with the clock ticking before the US schedules dry up and end up swathed in reruns, what does that mean for international television? Surely this must be a great opportunity for the UK’s best shows to find an audience elsewhere as American broadcasters look for The New to plug into their ailing schedules? Which neatly brings me to:
The Sarah Jane Adventures
The BBC’s latest, kids-oriented spin-off from Doctor Who, The Sarah Jane Adventures succeeds in all the ways that Torchwood failed. With the tone of the “classic” Who of the past, the show has the format of “monsters / aliens / ghosts invade Earth and are repelled by plucky teenagers and their experienced mentor”. The shows pop off the screen in a CGI squall of bright colours and lights. Lots of screaming and running and gadgets and cliffhangers and cackling villains and vanquished ghouls. This is what live-action Scooby-Doo should really look like. Terrific stuff, and far better than anyone could have hoped for.
So, what’s next? Don’t know about you, but this just about punches every single one of my geek buttons. Friday 16 November – BBC1. Oh yes: