October 12, 2006
Two shows with characters that are so annoying I don't think I can stand it anymore.
Lost and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip are two shows with a lot of potential, but both of them are filling too much screen time with irritating characters who make you want to change the channel rather than stick around to see what happens next. I've already given up on Studio 60, but I'm hoping Lost will figure out what it's doing wrong and get back to the stuff we care about.
In the first few months of Lost, we got to know and care about those castaways in the same way we cared about the characters on all of our favorite ensemble shows. You know the feeling from E.R., or The West Wing, or Melrose Place. Everyone has their quirks, but most also have their charms. You want to see what happens next because you care about them and you like watching them interrelate. For its first two seasons, Lost did a great job of developing these characters and their relationships with each other, and it had that added twist of various mysterious threats lurking within the jungle. When the show's creators wanted to mix things up, they brought in some new characters -- the tailies -- who also had some good character development and were able to become audience favorites, too. (Mr. Eko, for example.)
Everything was going along great, but then the show's creators apparently decided that what the show needed was more plot. I already liked the plots we were getting, but I guess J.J. and company soon learned what the X-Files people eventually did: your audience will only put up with being teased for so long. They had set up this giant "mythology" and, due to the nature of audience reaction, had to start paying some of that off. So in the later part of last season, the faceless others got a face, and the story became more about Castaways vs. Others than just about the Castaways. That was great and exciting at first, and it was nice to finally get some answers, but now, it feels like we are spending so much time with the Others, we're losing touch with all our favorite characters.
The Others will not be like the Tailies. They won't endear themselves to us because that is not their function. Their function is purely antagonistic, and the show's writers seem to revel in just making them as mean as possible. Last season, the writers were able to show us how mean and ruthless and scary they were in just a few short scenes. This year, they are filling up entire episodes with taser guns, shackles, cages, apparent druggings, and silly supervillain dialogue like "The next two weeks will be very unpleasant." I liked it better when they were shot from the knees down, moving silently through the jungle. Less was more.
Now that we've gotten to know the Others, they are much less engaging. They seem to be just a bunch of sadistic, slave-driving pseudo-behavioral-scientist know-it-alls who like abusing people for no reason. Does that make them interesting? Does it add to the suspense? Does it clear up some mysteries while giving us new ones that we actually care about? After watching the other night's episode, did you really care at the end when Henry [spoiler alert] mentioned he had lived on the island his whole life? I didn't, because I don't care about Henry any more. By the end of the episode, I was practically longing for a scene featuring Charlie sidling up to Claire and offering her some more of that stupid imaginary peanut butter. I don't care about Henry, or his ambiguously evil ex-wife, or any of these people. They are not "real" people in the way that the Castaways were in the first two seasons: they are caricatures, and that makes them unappealing and very difficult to respond to, let alone care about. And don't even get me started on the World Series scene with Henry and Jack. I am trying to purge it from my memory so I can still care about the show.
So here's hoping that J.J. abandons this plot line posthaste and terminates it with a Sayid-and-Sawyer-led massacre of these cartoon villains. I never thought I'd say it, but I really want to get back to Charlie, Claire, and the polar bear smoke monster.
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
It certainly seemed like Studio 60 had a shot at being good. Lots of quality-TV pedigree, an interesting chance to take us behind the scenes of something we've always wondered about, just like The West Wing. But somehow, it's just not coming together. The main problems: it's not funny and, damn, the characters on this show are annoying.
On West Wing, everybody could be curt with each other, or even mean, because important things were happening. "No time to be polite, John...I gotta go order that bombing strike (again)!" The intelligence of these characters was written into the show, but we could already assume they were intelligent, competent people: that's how they got where they were, and since they were so competent we could forgive their being rude to each other because we knew they had a reason and they were just trying to do the right thing.On Studio 60, we get characters who are even nastier to each other, but why? What is so fricking important that they have to be insulting each other and yelling all the time? What...your sketch about George-Bush-is-stupid didn't get in this week? Who cares! What about these whining, self-important, know-it-all characters is at all appealing? Nothing. The issues they are confronting are ultimately not worth getting emotionally invested in, either for them as characters or for us as an audience.
The characters' unlikeability might be forgivable if the show were actually able to lighten up once in a while and be funny. But, it isn't. So far, about the only thing that was remotely funny was the Tom-Cruise-on-a-game-show sketch, which was not very funny at all except for the impersonation. The actual writing was abyssmal -- they should have just stuck with the script from the 1998 SNL sketch they ripped it off from.
I finally gave up tonight after a scene in which the characters were so simultaneously annoying and not funny, I couldn't take it anymore. Here it is:
So this is what passes for great comedy among the supposedly brilliant writers of the show and the show-within-the-show? "Dyslexia is just another word for stupid." Brilliant. "Americans are fat and we drop food and bombs on people." Good lord. The jokes on The A-Team were funnier than that. Somebody needs to tell the writers of this show that being offensive and tasteless is not the same thing as being funny. No wonder these guys are writing for the late-night weekend sketch comedy show that isn't SNL.
Now, of course you could say, But the show is really a drama, it's not supposed to be funny. Bullshit. The show should carry the weight of its own drama (which it doesn't) and be funny enough to be charming (which it isn't). Thankfully, this season NBC has such a surplus of material about its own programming, they've given us another show about SNL in which at least some of the characters are both funny and likeable, and stars ALEC "5 inches but it's thick" BALDWIN.
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