Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Things we noticed watching tv this week 24 (spoilers)

After various end of season or mid season breaks, US shows have been back in force since the turn of the year. 24 came back, followed by Battlestar Galactica, Heroes, Damages and Desperate Housewives. There may be others, but these are the ones I watch - and that's probably more than enough!

24 has been good fun and exciting as ever. The move to Washington, the return of Tony and Jack generally kicking arse, has all made it a great watch. David has pretty much got this covered with a blow by blow account so head over there to check that out! What's been interesting in this season is that post Bush administration and Gumtanamo Bay, it's been super fun watching Jack run around smacking people, justifying all sorts of means to get the end he wants. Whether you agree with him or not, it's enjoyable TV!

Desperate Housewives has also started well, and continues to be an excellent study if you want to look at character specific motivations and dialogue. We know them so well by now, that we understand them completely, and yet things are never too predictable. And not being predictable is also at the heart of what makes Damages so sublime. We've talked a lot in recent weeks about how some shows are more character led and some are more plot led, how that works, and how indeed it can still work very well. But Damages is a fantastic example of how so much consideration has been given to both. The characters are fantastically complex, each with interesting back stories and secrets. But by the same token, the series is intricately plotted. Three episodes in and we haven't quite hit the heights of last year. William Hurt is not as much of a force as Ted Danson, and the flash forwards not as intriguing. But it's still top quality stuff and a great coup for the BBC (who still seem to hide it away in their schedule a little which is a bit weird.)

But the two shows that have really caught my attention are old favourites Battlestar Galatica and Heroes. Battlestar is now in its last season, earth found and ditched, the final five have been underwhelmingly revealed and major plot lines extinguished at the drop of a hat. But where the show still really works for me is when it functions as a comment on the world we are living in. This was most seen a couple of seasons ago, with the cylon occupation of New Caprica and the subsequent human resistance providing a handy reflection of Iraq. Some could argue the audience was a bit hit over the head with it, but what other shows were actually asking important questions? This season has at times been completely baffling as the final five have been dredging up their past, but the episodes focusing on the military coup and the moral questions that posed were really excellent.

After three disastrous seasons, Heroes is at last looking like it's back on track and echoing it's brilliant debut series. Gone is the mumbo jumbo about formulas and catalysts, back is the action and adventure. What's also noticeable is it's decision to dabble in some social commentary. This season the people with abilities have been labeled a threat to national security, and are on the run as fugitives. They are being pursued by a task force that does not seem to be bound by law, and if they are captured, the heroes face detention without trial. (The none too subtle orange jumpsuits and black hoods were also present just in case anyone didn't quite get it.) But hey, it works. It's exciting again and even manages to ask some moral questions. So I'm all for it.

Which brings me to my conclusion. I've read a couple of specs recently that have also attempted to use their plots, settings, themes etc to echo what is going on in the world today. One in particular I thought was excellent and until a winner is announced I assume is still in the running for the Red Planet Prize! It's always worth looking at the stories we are telling and thinking about what, if anything, does this have to tell us about the world today? (And 'tell us' can of course just mean asking questions about how we live our lives today.) A word of caution would be not to jack hammer it in. The primary job is to just tell a cracking story. If the metaphor is not there, then it's not there. Trying to force one would probably be disastrous. But think about it. There may even be something there that you haven't even seen yourself yet and it could be this very thing that lifts it from being good to great.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the plug Jez!

I'm snowed under with American TV at the moment. Currently I'm following 24 (obviously), The Shield, Supernatural, Damages, Battlestar Galactica and Lost.

BSG is amazing in the way it gives away major plot points during the first act of an episode that other shows would leave until the finale. What constantly impresses me though with the show is the way that it dables in the genres of other shows and actually surpases them in their execution. The episodes where Gaius was on trial was as exciting as any of the court-cases in Law & Order. And the recent episodes with the mutiny was pure 24 gold.

However my favourite show at the moment is Lost. I stopped following for two seasons but found it fairly easy to tune back in again for Season 4 as nothing had actually happened -- they were still on the island. Each episode is now baffling and revealing in equal measures but what they've done that is really clever is how they've made their fragmented episode structure now actually part of the plot.

Now only House, Prison Break and Fringe to return and there goes all my free time.

mark said...

You were doing well there, Jez, right up until the crit of Heroes, a programme which has lost all rhyme or reason for me.

Jez Freedman said...

to be honest Mark, you're absolutely right... but I live in hope!