It's just this little chromium switch, here... (derspatchel) wrote,
It's just this little chromium switch, here...

The TV things

Had a few examples recently of exactly how American networks like to muck
about in something good and diminish its impact for the rest of us.

First there's this week's episode of Scrubs. The refreshing thing about Scrubs is that it's a hospital comedy that has, through the grace of God and the temerity of its cast and crew, stayed out of "traditional" sitcom territory, opting instead for a dry but funny show devoid of laugh track and any other trappings of bland, "safe" fare.

This week's episode featured one character's daydream of what life in the hospital would be like "if it were a sitcom." After the first commercial break the show came back -- with an all-too-brightly lit artificial set (only one set, mind you, for budget reasons) and cheesy interstitial wipes and incidental music, "Friends"-like hairdos and skimpy outfits for the female leads, broad jokes and broader reaction shots to the jokes, plus a "crazy" talent show subplot, random celebrity cameo from Clay Aiken (who, of course, had to sing a number at the Talent Show) and a canned laugh track which laughed, "oooohed" at the right spots, and even applauded the entrances of audience favorites like the hospital janitor.

In short, it was everything Scrubs usually wasn't. And it was brilliant. Meta-parody is hard to pull off but they managed to do it just well. In my view, at least. Other fans of the show have complained (vociferously, of course, this being the Internet and all) that it was unfunny and tiresome and what the heck was Clay Yecch Aiken doing on my beloved show?!

But, d00dz, that was the point.

I saw this episode as The Big F-You from the show's creative forces to the network suits at NBC who have tried to "suggest" changes to the show, to water it down, make it more "accessible" or mainstream -- in short, change it into the tepid, annoying sitcom shown in the daydream. Ever notice the annoying and obnoxious laugh track which often punctuates the network promos for the show? The suits are trying to sell the show as the WACKY SITCOM WHERE ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN, LISTEN TO 'EM LAFF! and I betcha there's been a pitched battle over the laugh tracks in those promos.

Know what worries me the most, though? If the network suits saw that part and said "Hey! That's what we've been looking for all along! You guys finally got it!" Then I would cry.

Anyway. It was nice to see and I enjoyed the episode.

Then there's Firefly.

I shall start with a little conversation I had with a good friend the other night:

Miss Bar: To me it's like... it's OK to like Buffy and Angel and Firefly and whatever, right? But Joss Whedon is not, like, this generation's Mozart or anything. So give it a rest with "Ooh, Joss wrote this episode!" and "Joss this" and "Joss that".
Miss Bar: He's a geek with daddy issues who happens to have a flair for creating quirky television shows. Ta da.
Mr Spatch: ahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha
Mr Spatch: (mozart was a geek with daddy issues too.)

I agree with her point, though. Mr. Whedon is a very good creative force but he ain't the Second Coming of, uh, Paddy Chayevsky. (Work with me here, folks.) In fact, I've tended not to watch stuff he's done because I have developed and cultivated a certain dislike to his too-cutesy, painfully self-aware dialogue. People in his shows are always too witty for their situations. There's always a pop culture riff to be had when necessary. As the entire geek culture is built on quoting (thanks, Kevin) it's no wonder he's attracted such a following. Doesn't mean I have to like his dialogue.

Which is why the original two-hour Firefly pilot, "Senerity," was such a pleasant surprise to me. I got the entire series run from a generous friend last night and really enjoyed the original pilot. I really dug the Space Western concept (nothing new, of course, but shown here as a literal representation, as opposed to Wagon Train in Space) and not because of the mix of styles, but because it really worked as a western. Our Captain was maybe a bit too tacit for his own good, being all cold and detached, but it worked. At least for a two-hour presentation. For a full series run, however, you know he'd have to develop and change.

What I liked the most, though, was the fact that the dialogue wasn't rollickingly witty and annoyingly so. It was a good, serious Western drama. The production values were high. It could've been an HBO or Showtime series, even if there was no English cursing (but a lot in Chinese to get around the censors.)

But it wasn't what the network was looking for. Sounds like they wanted Western Buffy in Space. So when Whedon & Co showed them the Senerity pilot, they asked for something funnier. And more action-packed. So Joss and Tim Minnear (who'd helped Bryan Fuller on the similarly short-lived Wonderfalls) took one weekend to write a script for the episode that'd end up being the series pilot. I watched it, too, right after "Serenity"... and was rather disappointed.

The too-witty dialogue was back. The Captain was a bit more of a brawling goof. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a wacky laff riot farce, but it wasn't as serious as the pilot I had really liked. Perhaps watching them back-to-back really made those differences clear.

I still liked what I saw, overall, and I've got quite a few episodes to go over the course of the next few weeks. But I guess I was kinda hoping for more of what I originally saw.

So that's more TV fun. And I didn't even mention The Apprentice.
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