The Walking Dead, pt 2

I have to start at the end of this thesis first, which, I know – everyone hates non-linear storytelling, but deal with it.

All of the commentary so far (including my own) has failed to mention the BIG REASON there may be no writing staff for Walking Dead next season.

Nope, nothing to do with Darabont’s ego.

No, it isn’t that they think it’s the better way to go.

It’s not stupidity at work (seriously, it’s not).

IT’S MONEY.

“The Walking Dead” is the first series produced by AMC Studios.  As such, it was a HUGE investment…an investment they haven’t recouped yet.  AMC (the network) will recoup from ad sales and that will flow back to the studio for the second season order, but the producers are faced with a major problem: They need to make 13 more episodes of this thing.  As quickly as they can.  AND THEY HAVE NO MONEY.

I don’t blame them for going the freelance route — it makes total sense.  If you understand the money issue, you understand the logic.

But as I, and others have already argued, this is an issue that needs to be considered without the money crunch entering into the equation right off the bat.  For the show to continue being successful, and thus feeding the coffers of the studio and network, the show needs to be cohesive, feel ordered and well constructed.

To do that, you need a super human working non-stop for a couple of years or you need a staff.  AMC doesn’t have 2 years.  They don’t even have a year, though that’s how long it will take to get the second season on TV.

Freelancers will speed up the process considerably, but it will come at a cost to the quality of the show.  It can’t be helped.  This is an episodic show – one episode leads into the next.  It is very hard to freelance that.  You can freelance the heck out of Star Trek or shows in the 70’s or 80’s because they are a completely different construct for storytelling.  Most episodes exist independent of one another.  I can turn on Star Trek: TNG and watch a random episode…and not worry what happened right before it or right after it (unless it’s “Best of Both Worlds, part 2” or one of the other 2 part season finales).

Trust me, a freelance show would be in my best interest.  The point has been made all over – it’s a way to find new writers! Fresh blood!  But let’s get real — if there’s no staff, there’s no chance that new writers are going to get a shot at writing a script.  The smart move is to find seasoned writers, people working on other shows who have pedigree (like, Glen Mazzara, who wrote an episode this season and is currently running “Hawthorne” on TNT) to make sure that you are receiving high quality writing which can be massaged for continuity.  That means going to heavy hitters — Whedon alums, LOST scribes, BSG writers…you get the picture.  Li’l ole me is not going to get a script.

BUT

I MIGHT have had a shot of getting the writer’s assistant job (probably not, I know no one over there who could work that miracle, sadly) and as an assistant you have a shot at co-writing an episode later down the road or getting your own script.  If the show goes enough seasons, you might get bumped up to staff writer and then you’re even better off.  As a freelancer…there’s no shot of that.

So, the whole ‘no staff for the show’ thing still strikes me as a very bad idea.  The showrunner (presumably Darabont at this point) didn’t create “The Walking Dead” — Robert Kirkman did.  Neither of them have run TV shows before.  They don’t know what it takes to do the job which is far beyond vetting scripts from freelancers.  (For more on what a writing staff does, go read Kay or Lee’s posts).

Okay – I got that piece out of the way, now I’ll back up to the Twitter conversation I had over Sunday/Monday with my good friends Dave, Kira and Michael.

After “The Walking Dead” ended on Sunday night, I tweeted this:

"Trying to figure out how best to write up my thoughts on "The Walking Dead" thus far.  Nagging in my brain starting to take hold full time.I further tweeted that I had identified three issues with the show, which I felt, if addressed properly would really elevate the show (you can see the actual tweet in the image below).

In response, Dave piped up with:

[Okay — this method is gonna get exhausting. I’m gonna start typing in the tweets we sent and you’ll just have to take my word for it — if you want to verify the conversation below, you can do a twitter search on ‘davidanaxagoras’ or ‘teelajbrown’ to see most of them.  Sorry – just trying to speed the process]

So then Dave tweets further:

Dave: Is the other one the fact that the Sheriff has no reason to be invested in the survival of these strangers, unlike Jack?

Now, I did have an issue with this but not nearly as much as Dave does:

Dave: I have no idea what Rick is about. He’s a chump for being cheated on, he left his family moments after finding them again…

Shawna: i thought ‘why does Rick care about rest of the group’ was an issue but there are bigger story construction fish to fry.

Dave: There may be larger issues, but you can’t hang a show on a char like him and you don’t come back weekly for story constructs.

Dave: I think they’re improving, and I find the show mildly enjoyable, but LOST casts a looooooong shadow over TV drama.

Dave: Also, LOST had the good sense not to show us what was in the hatch before they opened it…look what you’ve done I can’t stop

Sorry about that, Dave.  I didn’t mean to stir anyone up, but clearly I’d struck a nerve with SOMEBODY.  Imagine my surprise when this got picked up hours later by Kira who chimed in:

Kira: Hmm. I’m not bothered by the same issues in Walking Dead as you are. (SPOILERS ahead for any mutual followers)
Kira: Rick’s caring about the group — without having to — is precisely what makes him a leader…

Kira: …as opposed to everyone else who just wants to look after what’s theirs.

By the way, I totally agree with this — in the comic.  So far in the TV show, I don’t think this has been adequately illustrated.  As I mentioned before it always feels like there are scenes missing — the stuff cartilage between big moments that help us understand the ‘whys’ of character actions.

But let’s continue:

Kira: And the show makes Rick face the emotional and survival costs of that approach. Lori calls him on it.

Kira: Re. pace: since the CDC’s like 10 miles from where they were, I appreciated them not dragging the journey out.

Kira: Esp. with that wrenching (and, I suspect, not over) story point of Jim on the road to cover the distance.

This, by the way, I have a split opinion on – I think the CDC goal feels non-organic to the story, even with Jim suffering so.  But I agree that we’ll see Jim again.  It’s the nature of this show (or, at least, what I imagine the nature of the show to be).

So now here comes Michael with his thoughts:

Michael : I see Ricks char as being driven by his role as an idealist police, now burdened by the fact…

Michael: …his shift will never end. The quick arrival at CDC also seems to be a direct answer to Lost…

Michael: …we not only opened the hatch right away, we showed you what was on there at length 1st as if to

Michael: say “this is in no way about answers. This is not the island. Doesn’t matter why zombies are here”

Great point by Michael — I think this is exactly what the CDC story is about, but that doesn’t make it right to do it in the first 6 episodes — we’re just meeting our survivors. Now we’re meeting THIS GUY (Noah Emmerich) and it’s just an abrupt departure.

Now the tweets get fun:

Kira: Agreed. And I see the CDC as different from the LOST hatch. Both are valid story devices.

Kira: Don’t see what’s inside: mystery. See a messed up guy in a messed up situation: suspense.

Kira: Will CDC guy save our gang? Can he? Is this an even worse place?

Michael: I would [wager] this is a preemptive strike at “curing zombism” There is no cure, now go survive.

This is where I note how much I love my friends.

Dave: Not a mystery, I agree. But narratively speaking, it takes the wind out of the stories sails.

Dave: I’d be much more invested in Rick if we had stuck closer to his POV — not knowing what CDC held.

Dave: I do like the whole CDC set-up. Just wish we had discovered it as our main chars did.

Michael: conflict for Rick is between his role as father and husband and his role/need as group leader.

Dave: Good point but need to see this dramatized–jack did not believe he could lead, no conflict for Rick

At this point, we all agreed we need to settle this with some mud wrestling and a night watching the finale (okay, I made up the mud wrestling part).

So why did I go to the trouble to recreate this whole conversation? Because it was good, for one thing. For another, I like that we can discuss the show without it getting into ‘WHATEVER U HATERZ — THIS SHOW ROXXORS” and other fine examples of discourse that populate the web nowadays (darn kids).

So now it’s your turn — You’ve heard what I had to say, what a few other people have to say…what say you? Who’s right? Who’s wrong? What brilliant point are we missing, but you didn’t?

[Thanks again David, Kira and Michael for allowing me to repost their tweets!]

Posted under analysis, writing

This post was written by Shawna on December 1, 2010

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Lie to Me review and thoughts at Seat42F

I’d actually be really interested in feedback you might have on this piece.

You can read it here: LIE TO ME Summer Preview Review

Posted under analysis

This post was written by Shawna on June 7, 2010

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“Glee”ful no more.

I’m done with GLEE.  This may be the most controversial thing I’ve written in awhile.

Yes, I started out on the train, right from last fall.  I was inspired by their rendition of “Don’t Stop Believin'” but since the break, I feel the show has gone 0 for 3 in making me feel as charmed as I did a few months ago.

Problem #1 TOO MANY SONGS

I know.  It seems blasphemous on the surface to even say that, but the last three episodes have been nonsensically stuffed to the gills with songs.  The Madonna themed episode can be somewhat excused, but really – what the hell did the “Vogue” video have to do with telling that story?  NOTHING.  It was there because the writers wanted it to be.

As we (should) all know, you don’t put things in a story just because you as the writer want them to be there.  It has to make sense for the story and for the characters.  The Sue Sylvester video, while cool and interesting, didn’t serve any real purpose for the show. 

I wouldn’t mind the number of songs per episode if they didn’t feel so obviously jammed in there now.  For some reason they’ve felt the need to really try to tie the songs together thematically much closer to the story, so now you get “here are some songs about saying ‘Hello’ while we are meeting new characters” or “here are some songs about ‘Home’ while our characters try to figure out where their homes are’ (metaphorically, of course.  Rachel didn’t suddenly get lost in town and couldn’t find her house).  The Madonna theme was even a stretch, though I understood why they did it.

Let’s break out the songs from one of the first episodes and compare with the songs in the most recent episode: 

Episode 2 (we’ll start with it, since it’s more indicative of the show I came to enjoy than the pilot):

“Say a Little Prayer”
“Take a Bow”
“Gold Digger”
“Push It”

That’s, on average, one song per act.  Yes, there are one or two other songs used in the episode, but not as full songs or only in the background.  Now, here’s what we got this week with Episode 16:

“A House is Not a Home”
“One Less Bell to Answer”
“Fire”
“Beautiful”
“Home”

On the surface this doesn’t seem like a big difference (only one additional song, right?) except that “A House is Not a Home” also got a HUGE reprise in “One Less Bell to Answer.”  Also, think about it from a number of minutes standpoint.  In episode 2, they spent, approximately, 12 minutes in songs.  Of course there’s some story stuff going on while they are singing, but at least two of the songs are just sung in the classroom or on the stage as show numbers, not as part of the narrative.  In episode 16, there was singing for nearly 18 minutes!  Out of 42 minutes, that is a HUGE chunk of time your characters are not talking or furthering the story.  There is so little dialog in fact, that the episode feels loosely strung together as opposed to intricately weaved.  Storylines which should all come together seem to wander off.  The strongest story for Episode 16 was regarding Kurt and Finn’s single parents dating each other (which, I like the idea of, in theory, but there being absolutely NO setup for this narrative thread was annoying and distressing).  That story kept getting bogged down with songs that really seemed to not deal with the issues of that story – that is, Finn moving on from mourning his dead father and Kurt feeling left out of the male bonding Finn has with Kurt’s dad.  Those are powerful, interesting character reactions, and yet they are given short shrift because, at least by the show’s logic, it’s more important that we find a way to work Kristen Chenowith back into the story (after her one and done episode felt pretty played out already), and allow her to sing 2 duets with Matthew Morrison.  Really?  I like the adults, but I thought this show was about the kids??

Problem #2 THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN WHO THEIR CHARACTERS ARE AND HOW THEY SHOULD BEHAVE

The bigger sin than there being too much singing, is that the characters aren’t acting like their established selves, and they haven’t actually been given good justification or reason to suddenly act differently.  Detailing all of the ways the characters have shifted in just 3 episodes could take all day, but I’ll just point out one: There is no way on God’s green Earth that Diana Agron’s Quinn would reach out to Mercedes.  Suddenly the evil cheerleader is nice to her?  NO. WAY.  They’ve established that Quinn’s a conniving itch with a B, and yet now she’s all sunshine and light because she’s pregnant?  What the hell planet are the (male) writers living on?  She may have some sympathy, but it’s almost character whiplash to change her so significantly so quickly.  If there hadn’t been a 3 month long break halfway into the season, I think the character differences would be even MORE noticeable.  Not to mention, there’s always been a certain level of silliness to the show (which I happily accepted) – like somehow Mr. Shue not uncovering Teri’s fake pregnancy for as long as that went on (I mean, come ON), but I gave the show a pass because it had been pretty entertaining anyway.

I guess I’m all out of passes now.

I like Sue Sylvester – she’s my favorite character of the show – the writers obviously love writing her lines, and she always has the best ones.  In fact, when they gave Shuster a “good” comeback for Sue, it actually felt out of character for him (worse they couldn’t settle for one comeback, they gave him two about her hair).  Worse, it didn’t work for HER character — she’s hurt that he made fun of her hair?? Seriously?  That is NOT how the character has been established.  I love the depth they’ve given Jane Lynch to work with, but the blackmailing story is so silly it isn’t even dignified for her to play it for more than one episode.

Problem #3 SOME CHARACTERS HAVE COMPLETELY DISAPPEARED (SO FAR)

Ken Tanaka?  MIA except for a brief mention in Episode 14, the first one back from the break.  The man was LEFT AT THE ALTAR!!  And they haven’t dealt with that?  This is the problem of not keeping track of all of your characters in an ensemble and giving them fair treatment.  What about Teri?  She was also in Episode 14, but nowhere to be found in 15 or 16.  That’s a long time to not have any contact with a character who played a pretty vital role in the first half of the season.  Even Emma (Jayma Mays) had no lines in Episode 16, and she has a pretty big story going on herself – she left Tanaka at the aisle and started (almost) dating Shuster.

On the flipside…

Problem #4 THERE ARE TOO MANY CHARACTERS

The mix they had going into the break was good.  The snarky cheerleader spies Santana and Brittany were great for small bits, but now they are getting expanded roles.  Why?  In part, because they were so great in the small bits, the writers want to use them more.  The downside is the more ‘gay shark’ lines you let Brittany say and the more you let Santana take over the Quinn bitchiness, the less time you have for all those other characters.  It’s no wonder they are starting to get lost in the shuffle.  Like the poor Asian girl (who, I actually couldn’t remember her name as I was typing this) – Tina!  She already has a tough time establishing herself as one of the ‘minor’ characters.  She certainly doesn’t need anyone else eating into her screentime.  The actress, Jenna Ushkowitz, was the one person on the Paley Festival panel WHO DIDN’T GET ASKED A QUESTION. AT ALL.  That’s just wrong.  You don’t make the person sit on the stage with 10 of your coworkers (or however many were there) and then not ask her at least one question.  I felt so bad for her.

Problem #5 STOP WITH THE TOKENISM

It’s one thing to have diversity.  It’s another to consciously choose that diversity so that those characters become emblems or symbols…poor Tina is ‘token Asian girl’ and as much as the show would like to say, ‘hey, she’s not REALLY the token Asian girl – look! We didn’t give her good grades or some other horrible stereotype!’ She’s still there to make use of the fact that she’s ‘the token Asian girl’ in stories.  It’s ridiculous.  It all needs to stop.  Focusing an episode on each person’s issues/problems/whatever is fine, but when it gets to the point that we don’t really know who they are and what they’re doing there, it just gets stupid.  Finn is a great character.  Did he have to be white to be that character?  Nope.  But that’s who he is.  But Artie? — so far, Artie is defined by his wheelchair.  What’s weird is that the characters sometimes know this about themselves (as do the writers – they put it into their dialog all the time).  In the Madonna episode, Mercedes felt she was only being given small solos in songs so she could sing the power notes at the end… AND SHE’S RIGHT!  She’s had one or two solos on the show now, but usually her singing is to hit a particularly bluesy/soul/ power phrase in a song.  So, if the writers know this is how they are using their characters, why do they keep doing it?

I think they want to stop.  I think that’s why they’ve started changing up the character reactions to things…but unfortunately, those reactions aren’t organic to the characters as they have been established (see Problem #2).  It’s just a mess.

Problem #6 SUBTLETY IS NOT AN OPTION

This show doesn’t know nuance.  It doesn’t know how to make a theme interesting and tie together multiple storylines without hammering you on the head.  As I mentioned earlier, the theme of ‘Home’, that is, finding your own sense of home was so muddled and weird and made no sense, the characters had to keep saying ‘Home’ in lines of dialog just so it would make sense.  The effect: Like someone striking me repeatedly with a SLEDGEHAMMER.  When your characters keep stating your theme, it is no longer interesting, clever storytelling.  It is insulting your audience.  I don’t care if the themes are good or powerful – I know the show wants to be a positive force for kids – but kids are smarter than this show gives them credit for.  Hell, Disney Channel shows do theme better than this!  Kids do not need to be texted (modern telegraphing) WHAT THE EPISODE IS ABOUT.  They’ll figure it out without the characters telling them.

I thought my annoyance at the first two episodes back was an anomaly, but when this week’s episode was EVEN WORSE than the two before it, I knew I was ready to jump off the GLEE train.  Which is sad, because I really enjoyed it, but I think they learned the wrong lessons as to what was making the show work and what wasn’t.  Maybe this will change in future episodes and they’ll find their rhythm again.  All I know is I’m not going to jump to watch GLEE on my DVR as I did before — it has moved down the priority list pretty far.

So, what say you?  Do you still love it?  Did you EVER love it?  Am I out of my skull?  Inquiring minds and all that.

Posted under analysis, writing

This post was written by Shawna on April 29, 2010

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