This site will work and look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

Whedonesque - a community weblog about Joss Whedon
"Can't even shout, can't even cry, the gentlemen are coming by."
11945 members | you are not logged in | 31 October 2014




Tweet







June 17 2008

A Review of "The Middleman." A BtVS mention in the final paragraph, talking about shows' performance after their pilots. He calls Buffy a show "that doesn't find its legs for at least a season."

OTOH, he calls Studio 60 a show that started great, but went downhill from there.
I wish I knew if the writer was talking about the unaired BtVS pilot, or "Welcome to the Hellmouth," which was quite good. And I definitely think that the show was well underway by "The Pack" and "Angel."

[ edited by BandofBuggered on 2008-06-16 23:54 ]

I know number of people who don't like the first season. It's one of the reasons I find it hard to get people introduced to BtVS. The show was good back then, but I personally don't think it truly reached greatness until "Innocence."
Seconded. I always tell people, "It was filmed in 1996!" If I want to introduce someone to the series, I always show Hush first. And if they love it, I take them back to the beginning.
I like the first season, but I watched it when it first aired and I was in high school at the time.
I've always felt that the first season is the weakest of the lot, but I still love every minute of it! Certainly wouldn't call it 'shaky'.
For what it's worth, I actually really really liked this pilot. They had me at, "Have you ever read comic books?"
Buffy was certainly a show with potential in season 1 that became actually good in season 2. Angel, despite a great pilot, was shaky for a few episodes before finding its feet. Firefly's pilot was (yeah I'm going to be slightly controversial) less than stellar but the show found its feet with the second episode.

Joss seems to be getting quicker at cementing a show ;) I'm sure that while he's no doubt immensely proud of everything he's done (as he should be) he's probably also happy to be able to look back and see his own standard improve the more stuff he's made.

Here's hoping Dollhouse is at the top of its game from the start. I certainly have complete faith it will be. Er, that wasn't meant to be an Eliza pun...
Um, so "The Train Job" is better than "Serenity"?

Um....
Um, so "The Train Job" is better than "Serenity"?

As a pilot? Yes.

Serenity, while marvellous, was not as good TV. The first act of The Train Job introduced everything in the way it needs to be done - while moving an episode forward. Serenity moved too slowly and dwelled too much on introducing the characters to grab an audience.

I've introduced Firefly to a lot of people and without fail the response after Serenity is 'yeah, okay...'. I haven't seen anyone get really into it until after Train Job (and after that you can't pry the box set from their hands). Serenity is far more enjoyable *after* you're already a fan.

It's fascinating to watch Joss get better at introducing the world & characters, he had to do it 3 times (pilot, Train Job, BDM). Each time he got better at it. Of course, I'd be fascinated to hear his opinion on that ;)
Wow. I totally disagree with that analysis of "Serenity" vs. "The Train Job". Weird.
Well 'analysis' is a strong word for a passing observation... I'm not surprised there's disagreement. Care to elaborate? Always keen to hear what draws people in to a show.
I do too. "Serenity" for me, is two beautiful hours of plot, characterization, and color. Just wonderful. I felt like it was a world lovingly imagined and depicted. The scene between Badger and the crew; Kaylee tempting Book onto the ship; Mal tellng Simon that Kaylee was dead; the entire Whitefalls encounter. Every scene was quality, and I wanted to live with these people for years to come. By contrast, "The Train Job" is fun, but inevitably slides over the gorgeous details. I can't speak from a "what grabs the audience" POV - only from a what grabbed me place.

And I love BtVS Season One. It hooked me from the first episode I saw ("The Puppet Show").
The Middleman pilot was kind of horrendous. I recommend avoiding it at all costs.
I've always felt that "Serenity" was a great pilot because it was bad TV. Yeah, it moved slowly and was more focused on character and theme than action. This may count as "bad TV" but it's excellent storytelling.

"The Wire" starts like a glacier, for example, and it probably counts as "bad TV" too -- which is why it's so darn great. Most "good TV" is dreck.

And as for the first season of Buffy... I usually skip a lot of episodes in the first season, and go back and fill in later if my convert catches on.
Well, "The Train Job" was the pilot that everybody saw who watched originally. And viewership dropped for the next week's episode. Also, I remember exactly the same 'yeah, okay' reaction on the boards after "The Train Job" aired as Swil says he got for "Serenity". People did like the Crow-in-the-engine ending, but they still weren't completely sold.

Out of curiosity, Swil, did you start trying to convert people by starting with "The Train Job" after a while? Personally, I feel that no matter what ep was chosen to start the series, it was going to take time for people to get used to the concept and get a feel for nine different characters. I think the comparison to "The Wire" is apt here.
I'm not utterly sure there's enough here to justify a mention on the front page.
I thought Serenity was a fantastic pilot. I would never show Train Job to anyone as a first episode, even though I think it's alright. I've had a friend start with Train Job recently and later come to Serenity, and he complained he hadn't seen the original pilot first, because it's amazing.
Season One of Buffy, while I do think it was a bit shaky, still had amazing moments. The Puppet Show was one of them, I agree!
Loved the 1st series of Buffy, not my favorite by any means but still would watch over the last 2 series.

[ edited by SmileTime on 2008-06-17 09:56 ]
"And viewership dropped for the next week's episode."

That's pretty much always the case, though, isn't it? Even when the first episode is an undisputed success, lots of people just don't turn back on.
I've always felt that "Serenity" was a great pilot because it was bad TV. Yeah, it moved slowly and was more focused on character and theme than action. This may count as "bad TV" but it's excellent storytelling.

There's a fascinating falsehood that is once again surfacing here you see a lot when people are discussing film & TV.

Here it is in a nutshell:
Slower & more 'character based' = higher quality, regardless of how well it engages an audience

It's a myth.

For one, the business of a story being more character based if it slows the plot? Completely untrue. Like any good screenwriting teacher will bat you over the head with, story is character. Your characters drive the story. They are what move it forward. 'Plot', when you boil it down, is merely a way of describing your characters. If your story slows down, it's probably because you've got issues with your characters not being strong enough. By the way, I'm talking in general terms, not critiquing the pilot with this point. Joss certainly didn't let something other than his characters push the story forward.

It would be strawmanning me to suggest I believe The Train Job is objectively "Better" than the pilot. I simply said it was a better pilot. But you know what introduced everything the best? The BDM.

In a single shot (albeit a long one) Joss introduced us to everyone and gave us their roles not only on the ship but in each other's lives. He not only did this while story was happening but quickly allowed us to engage with the characters and let them pull us in to the story.

Once your audience is in, you can get away with slowing things down. One of the things Firefly did so well is get you so involved with a group of characters that just watching them sit around and have dinner was enthralling (as long as it's still well written drama, as the creators can't help but write). You can't expect audiences to be in with that immediately though. That's why the pilot's a much better watch if you're already a Firefly fan.

The Wire is an interesting example. Sure, it's the best thing ever, but that doesn't mean the "glacier-slow" start is good storytelling. That's the other part of the myth I mentioned earlier - that if an audience doesn't get engaged by some high brow story it's somehow their fault. No, it's not. It's the storyteller's fault, and any storytellers worth their salt will accept that responsibility. When you're telling a story, you pick your target audience, and if you don't engage them it's your problem not theirs.

Just in case I haven't annoyed enough people by going against the conventional wisdom (around these parts anyway) about the Firefly pilot, yes, I will say The Wire started off badly and it was lazy storytelling. Luckily they're on HBO and they can get away with it, and it clearly led to later brilliance.

That's enough incoherent ranting from me for now. If anyone's still hanging around this comment thread please do throw in your thoughts :)
I agree with the gist of what you're saying Swil, I just don't agree where 'Serenity Pts 1 and 2' are concerned (quelle surprise you may be thinking ;) since to me they really tell a nicely balanced story that has enough incident without feeling forced, enough time without feeling slow and that hooked me almost immediately (probably from Mal's "Yeah, we win" - there's a world of character in those words and their delivery).

But yeah, i've had the same discussion with people claiming that something "takes its time" when, to me, it's just slow (whereupon they look at me like i'm simple and obviously just not able to grasp the complex nuances). I like stories that take their time, I don't like stories that take more than their time though. For me (as a non-writer) it's usually hard to put my finger on exactly why the two things feel different but different they are.

And yep, character is story in good writing because though the plot will to some extent be imposed by the writer, it should always seem like it's a natural progression from the character's current state (the next step being something Joss is a past master of IMO - making those progressions unpredictable while still being entirely natural. "Surprising inevitability" i've heard it called and that fits perfectly).

I disagree though whenever folk start talking about "objective" measures where stories are concerned - too slow to some may be just right for others and there's no "Well, you're just wrong" about it. It's fair to say though that if the creators have a particular audience in mind and those viewers consider it too slow, then the creators may well consider they've missed their mark.

(and FWIW BTW, someone disagreeing with the "conventional wisdom" in a reasoned, intelligent manner is sort of what this place is all about IMO. It's when folks are too strident and unbending about it that it becomes an issue. Being a fan, to me, doesn't mean unthinking cheerleading or turning off your critical faculties and maybe i'm kidding myself but I think that's the majority viewpoint on here too)
I think 'myth' is kind of subjective. The dramatic theory you discuss is not universally accepted, although it is the one most popular in America. European cinema does not necessarily ascribe to these Aristotelian notions of plot. On your terms, Swil, many European masters like Bergman, Tarkovsky and Kieslowski would be unsuccessful. Which is maybe a little contentious!

ETA: Incidentally, did anyone see 'The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford'? Because I absolutely loved it but a lot of my friends thought it was way too slow! Different folks, different strokes!

[ edited by Gil-Martin on 2008-06-17 13:37 ]
and FWIW BTW, someone disagreeing with the "conventional wisdom" in a reasoned, intelligent manner is sort of what this place is all about IMO.

Jolly good show.
But yeah, i've had the same discussion with people claiming that something "takes its time" when, to me, it's just slow (whereupon they look at me like i'm simple and obviously just not able to grasp the complex nuances). I like stories that take their time, I don't like stories that take more than their time though.

Very nicely put. There's that funny little human ego thing of wanting to be "in" and "get it", which often ends up leaving people "in" and "getting something" that isn't actually there.
I disagree though whenever folk start talking about "objective" measures where stories are concerned

Very true, I foolishly slipped that word in there earlier. Objectivity is a little meaningless when talking about story - the game ender is always "did it engage the target audience?".
And yep, character is story in good writing because though the plot will to some extent be imposed by the writer, it should always seem like it's a natural progression from the character's current state.

It's where a lot of writing falls down - an inexperienced writer tries to hamfistedly squish a character into a pre-imagined plot. It takes skill and guts to throw away the "cool plot points" you've thought of and let your characters tell you what should happen next. Sure, there's always going to be events happening in 'the world' but you've gotta have characters largely acting not reacting.
The dramatic theory you discuss is not universally accepted, although it is the one most popular in America. European cinema does not necessarily ascribe to these Aristotelian notions of plot.

Yeah, but I intend to keep pushing it until someone manages to convince me there's another approach to storytelling that actually works, rather than the odd happy accident ;)

Just kidding. About the condescending happy accident part anyway.

Again we hit the universal game-ender - does it engage its target audience? I'll happily respect any approach to storytelling that creates stories that do. Hell, some storytellers are born with something that lets them pop out stories that just work somehow. But I think realistically there's a craft to it, just like there's a craft to ship-building or cooking. People often fear craft in relation to art, I don't think that's needed, craft just helps you articulate your art.
I've noticed that. Some people don't want to see behind the curtain, as if the story is lessened because it didn't spring fully formed from the writer's brain. By strange coincidence I was just reading this interview with author Paul Cornell wherein he says
SFX: The first draft of a piece of writing is not enough, you have to edit. How do you know when you've revised your story enough?

Paul Cornell: "You get a feeling for when you need to stop. I tell you what, though, if you're reading this thinking you've got that feeling: you haven't, go back and do another draft. You need many drafts. Many drafts. This process is about rewriting, not writing. It's not about inspiration and dreaming, it's about craft, like working a piece of wood.

Seemed apropos.
Ah, see, your cunning use of the word 'storytelling' makes your argument sound too convincing! I prefer the word 'drama', which means I get to seem a little bit right too!

Essentially, I agree with you in principal, that drama=action, but its not the only way. Beckett, Pinter and Ionesco among others deliberately undercut this notion.
Action doesn't have to equate to plot. You can interpret it in a more abstract way, as internal for instance. Or dialogue can constitute 'action'. All that drama really requires is that something happens - what or how is fairly open to interpretation!

I absolutely agree with what you guys are saying about 'craft' though.
A good measure of agreement and disagreement, I consider that a good sign ;)
Action doesn't have to equate to plot. You can interpret it in a more abstract way, as internal for instance. Or dialogue can constitute 'action'. All that drama really requires is that something happens - what or how is fairly open to interpretation!

Absolutely.

I'll be trying to nut story out for the rest of my life, but my favourite view of story at the moment is summed up with the question: what are these characters fighting for?

It doesn't matter what form that fight is, whether it's literally a guy with a sword battering orcs to save his homeland, or if it's a shy clerk overcoming his fear of rejection to sit next to a girl (gads Girl in the Cafe was great), it stops being a series of facts and starts being story when a character puts themselves at risk for a reason we can understand.
I'm not utterly sure there's enough here to justify a mention on the front page.

What you need then is a back page. ;) The front page for things directly related to Joss and a second for articles of other things that give mention to anything related to Joss. Oh, and maybe a third just for things that the fans of Joss are doing. Or that could be completely cumbersome and I'll just shut my flapping mouth now.

BTW, I really liked Middleman. It was silly, smart, goofy, and good fun. And it had talking Al Pacino referencing gorillas. What was there not to love??
I also liked Middleman. It may not have been all together, but to me, it looks like it has great potential. I hope it stays on the air long enough to find it's legs.
My take: "The Wire" is slow as an attempt to show realism. Drug busts aren't made overnight, but piece by piece.

Whereas the "Serenity" pilot, at times, seemed to be slow for the sake of being slow. The scene where Mal and Zoe are scoping out the valley where they're about to meet Patience was painful. And just a shade of unnecessary, plotwise.

"The Train Job" wasn't a better pilot. But it was a better episode, in terms of narrative efficiency and entertainment value and whatnot.
Gil-Martin, I LOVED Assassination of Jesse James. One of my favorite films of 2007.
What you need then is a back page. ;) The front page for things directly related to Joss and a second for articles of other things that give mention to anything related to Joss. Oh, and maybe a third just for things that the fans of Joss are doing. Or that could be completely cumbersome and I'll just shut my flapping mouth now.


We actually have whedonesque.org for these kind of things, and for things even less remotely related, there's our Flickr Library, which is not only for picture sharing.
Just to drop in a couple of cents:

1. Buffy season one: absolutely loved it. Yes, the show is obviously still trying to find its feet in a few episodes, but the season features absolute top-notch moments (WTTH/The Harvest was a very good pilot, Angel was a great episode, setting the mold for many future stories, Nightmares was one of the best monster-of-the-week episodes of the show and PG was a grand finale - anyone left cold by Buffy's "I don't want to die" speech is dead inside :-)).

What's more, the first season sets the tone for what I love about Joss' storytelling: it creates a succesfull ensemble cast, with a very interesting group dynamic, likeable, interesting characters and creates tension and adversity which hits the main characters on a personal level. Of course, they really stepped up that lastg aspect in the second season (the big bad, world-ending murderer is so much more interesting if he's also a character you - and the main character - love), but the seeds were sown in the first.

2. Serenity vs. The Train Job: There is one main reason I disagree with what Swil is saying. Serenity isn't slow. It has a lot of action (it starts out with explosions, has the very memorable and stress-inducing Reaver chase, a memorable gun-fight, big revelations (ouh, girl-in-a-box) and shocking moments (someone just shot that übercute mechanic girl who I'm sure was going to be a main cast member). It's the best advertisement there is for the show and one of the best episodes of its short run.

I've also introduced the show to friends, and Serenity is the place I start. And people tend to like it a lot more than 'The Train Job'. Not that that's a bad episode, but there's one major problem: it's very much a western. And everyone I know has trouble accepting the western-vibe for a scifi show, which is a combination that's not very intuïtively logical and needs explanation for suspension of disbelief. Maybe that's because the western isn't as ingrained into our collective pop culture conciousness here in Europe as it is in the States. But when the Train Job starts with a bar fight anf centres around a train heist and features all sorts of other small western elements, that is off-putting to a lot of people I know, first time round. Only when they've learned to like the characters and their story in Serenity, are they able to take that leap into more Western-centric storytelling in the next episode. I know it worked that way for me, and I know that's what happened with most of my friends. As statistics, obviously, that's completely meaningless, but there it is :-).

As for writing good drama: I agree with much of what Swil is saying. But drama can álso be good if it doesn't engage, or bad if it does. While I agree that there's no objective way to quantify quality in fiction, one can certainly try to objectify their arguments with factual observations about what the story does or does not do. Slow-moving stories should still try to be engaging by setting up interesting conflict or insightfull dialogue and fast-moving stories should still be about the characters (while also moving forward the plot). My point is: good stories do not automatically equal fun or engaging stories for everyone. I completely love bad sports movies, for instance, and they are engaging to me, but I know they're not good fiction because they feature over-used clichés, bad dialoque and little or no rounded out characters with realistic motivations. On the other hand, a really good movie might depress the hell out of me so that I never want to rewatch it again, but that doesn't mean the movie is bad. So while it should try to engage, the effect of a work of fiction on a single viewer (or reader) or even a group of like-minded viewers should not be seen as proof (or evidence against) its quality.
Oddly, I don't think The Wire started off slow. I think the first season is fantastic. It was the second season that was nearly-unwatchable poo. But to get into the general issue:

That's the other part of the myth I mentioned earlier - that if an audience doesn't get engaged by some high brow story it's somehow their fault. No, it's not. It's the storyteller's fault, and any storytellers worth their salt will accept that responsibility.


With the proviso that I'm not knocking this outright, it does lead me to ask a counter: Is the audience not expected to bring anything to the table at all? If a story fails its ALWAYS the fault of the writer?

[ edited by theonetruebix on 2008-06-18 00:25 ]
Well, I just watched 'The Middleman' and thought it was some kind of awesome! I was sniggering to myself all the way through. There isn't enough silly, ridiculous fun on TV these days!
Is the audience not expected to bring anything to the table at all? If a story fails its ALWAYS the fault of the writer?

An interesting point...

I guess you could say that if the audience isn't watching 'in earnest', they're not letting the writer (and director etc) do their job properly. It's hard enough to engage an audience in the first place, doesn't help if they don't want to be engaged. Probably also varies how much you need the audience to 'want to be in' depending on your type of story...

But aside from that, I think it's really a matter of intended audience. You're never going to engage everyone - but you live or die on whether or not your story works for the people you're telling it to.

Serenity isn't slow. It has a lot of action.

'Action' is not what we're talking about. You can have a story jam-packed with gunfights and car chases and still have no drama and be completely un-engaging. On the same token, you can have two people in a room having a conversation and it's the most engaging thing you've ever seen. I've already mentioned Girl in the Cafe, it's a great example (the first 2 acts anyway) of fantastic drama without raised voices or explosions.

Again, not saying the pilot didn't have drama - just that its pace and focus weren't up to scratch for a pilot, they were more of the type that are good when you're already engaged with a group of characters.
My point is: good stories do not automatically equal fun or engaging stories for everyone. I completely love bad sports movies, for instance, and they are engaging to me, but I know they're not good fiction because they feature over-used clichés, bad dialoque and little or no rounded out characters with realistic motivations. On the other hand, a really good movie might depress the hell out of me so that I never want to rewatch it again, but that doesn't mean the movie is bad.

If a story depressed you, then it engaged you. Engaging an audience doesn't mean keeping them exciting an happy, it just means pulling them into a story and digging out an emotional response.

As for those 'bad' films that you love watching - that's a fascinating phenomenon. You see it a lot - people loving to watch things they know are terrible. I think there's actually two different types of these. One is where it is actually a well told story with some of the surface elements being done a little poorly. The other I think is the story engaging us in a completely different way to a good story - ie, different parts of our brain are responding to it. That's something I need to contemplate a little more though ;) I reckon most of those kind of examples really fall into the former basket though - it's amazing what you can get away with when the core of your story is well told.
So while it should try to engage, the effect of a work of fiction on a single viewer (or reader) or even a group of like-minded viewers should not be seen as proof (or evidence against) its quality.

Actually I think it's the only way you can ultimately assess the quality of a story. You can get very academic when you critique a story, but really the purpose of a story is to engage its audience, and it should be judged on its ability to do so.

It would be unfair to pass judgement on a story based on a small slice of its intended audience (or even just a single member), but I don't see any other way of objectively assessing quality than its impact on its target audience.
It would be unfair to pass judgement on a story based on a small slice of its intended audience (or even just a single member), but I don't see any other way of objectively assessing quality than its impact on its target audience.


When I'm writing a movie review, I usually don't talk about how engaging the story was. Yes, I might throw in a cliché like "it will keep you glued to your screen" or say that the action is "very exciting" or something similar (I write in Dutch, so I can't think of any suitable cliché's in English straight away ;)). Really, the capacity to engage is only the lowest common denominator.

It's the more-or-less objective qualities of the movie that make it bad, mediocre, good or great. Thankfully a movie review gives you the room to make arguments why something is good or great so that people might disagree with your conclusion, but still find the review usefull.

Things I look at are, for instance: layers. Is there more going on, thematically, than just the basic story that's being told. Are these themes interesting or fresh. Is this movie doing anything we haven't seen before? How's the acting, is it simply up to par or are there performances so impressive they lift the movie up from being just avarage. How's the writing. Not just the story, but the actual dialogue. Is it forced, clichéd, exciting, minimalist-but-effective, witty, or a whole slew of other options? How's the technical side? Are there any interesting camera shots, angles, is the lighting used to good effect? Then, if I have room and if it's remarkable, I might look at the music. Etcetera. I pick the things I think are worth mentioning and try to write a fun-to-read critique of the movie.

My point is: this deconstruction of a story is based on the more-or-less objective elements of the story. Now you might say: yes, I agree, but all these things determine how engaging this movie is. Which would be a fair point. But then I'd like to point out that 'engaging' has become an empty-shell word, that can contain just as many variables that need explanation as 'good' did before, so that 'this movie is good because it is engaging' becomes an useless argument, needing exactly the same kind of semi-objective arguments as 'this movie is good' did before. And then we're back to square one.
... the more-or-less objective elements of the story.

Hobby horse ? I've missed you ! ;-) Everybody thinks their judgement is "more-or-less objective". But what's witty ? What's good dialogue ? Is a cliché still a cliché if 90% of those watching have never seen or heard it before ? Are shots interesting and inventive to an audience full of professional film critics/historians (who've seen them before) or only to the majority of the viewing public (who may not have) ? What if it has layers but you or I miss them GVH ?

"All" reviewers do is give their (more or less informed) opinion about a film - a "good reviewer" is one that you either agree with a lot of the time or one you disagree with in a consistent fashion IMO (or alternatively one whose opinions follow no apparent rhyme or reason but whose writing you enjoy).

"Layers" especially are an element that is very much down to what the viewer brings to something - a (black) mate of mine has always seen X-Men as being about racism, Ian McKellen sees it as being about homophobia, others i've spoken to look at me like i'm mad because clearly it's about a bunch of superheroes saving the world and reading more into it is sheer pretensiousness.

Which is why i'm more inclined towards the "engages its audience" as some sort of metric of successful art. You say "lowest common denominator", I say "fundamental" ;).
Hi Saje ;).

Everybody thinks their judgement is "more-or-less objective".
.

Ah, see, but I don't. I would never say that my judgement is more-or-less objective. But you can try to base your judgements on more-or-less objective assertions. Might I miss themes? Yes. Might I interpret themes differently than others? Yes. Might a cliché not be a cliché to its target audience? Certainly. This is why these assertions can never be one hundred percent objective, but this is also why you put them forward and give them context while writing a review, so that people who are not working from the same set of concepts and pre-conceptions can see what you're talking about.

Even if I see a racism theme, where someone else sees an allegory about homophobia or even nothing at all, that assertion itself is still more objective, more identifiable and explainable than the rather vague term 'engaging', which needs further explanation. So yes, engaging your target audience is fundamental. Just as being 'good' is. It just doesn't say much of anything.

'Engaging' is not an objective assertion, even more-or-less, that can be expanded beyond the individual or even the time of viewing (I have had multiple cases where things grabbed me in second viewing that did not 'engage' me the first time) and as such it's a comparable concept to 'good'. Just as useless without further explanation on a basis of 'more-or-less' objective assertions.

ETA: fixed annoying typo ;)

[ edited by GVH on 2008-06-18 13:32 ]
I have to put in my two cents about The Wire. I didn't think it was a "slow starter" at all, I was mesmerized by the first episode.

Which comes back around to the Serenity vs. The Train Job debate. I'm firmly in the "Serenity was the far superior pilot" camp. I don't see what quality has to do with "how well the target audience" responded, which is IMO just catering to the lowest common denominator, for the sake of ratings.
I'm not talking about the reality of what it takes to make a series a hit, which again, I believe has zip to do with quality.

I didn't see a single episode of Firefly until SciFi did a marathon, in order, with the Serenity two-parter shown first. Later, when I found out how Fox had originally aired the episodes, I couldn't imagine having seen it that way. I loved The Train Job, but the character introductions and plot structure set-up in Serenity was just magnificent TV.
I find it incredibly depressing that the general TV watching public apparently has the attention span of a knat, and doesn't appreciate that a good quality pilot will by nature be a little slower in pace than the episodes that follow. It's the setup, it isn't meant to be rushed.


Oddly, I don't think The Wire started off slow. I think the first season is fantastic. It was the second season that was nearly-unwatchable poo.

I have to disagree, b!x I do believe that season 2 of The Wire was the weakest season (I was seriously disappointed with the first few eps) but I think it improved 100% about a third of the way in, and overall was far better than most anything else on TV ever, even at it's weakest.

I missed who said this:
"That's the other part of the myth I mentioned earlier - that if an audience doesn't get engaged by some high brow story it's somehow their fault. No, it's not. It's the storyteller's fault, and any storytellers worth their salt will accept that responsibility."

I totally disagree. If a storyteller tells a great story but the majority of the TV viewing public .... the ones who watch the really bad shows that make up the majority of what's on TV .... don't like it, this is somehow the fault of the writer? What, he/she should have dumbed it down?

b!x asks "Is the audience not expected to bring anything to the table at all?"

My answer to that is yes, absolutely. If the audience is to lazy minded to invest some real attention in a quality production, to engage in something beyond the formulaic, one dimensional crap that dominates our TV screens, that is the fault of the audience, not the writer who gave us a good story.
Even if I see a racism theme, where someone else sees an allegory about homophobia or even nothing at all, that assertion itself is still more objective, more identifiable and explainable ...

Ah, I think we may just disagree over terms GVH. To me that's not more objective, that's just more specific. Objective to me means something that can only be debated by those without all the facts, something not subject to (perfectly legitimate) differences of opinion, something that's "out there" rather than "in here" *touches head, heart*. If criticism was objective then every critic would have the same "check list" of criteria they judged films on.

Even which categories you personally use (i.e. cliché, wit, photography etc.) is a subjective choice that not every critic will make in the same way, never mind how to judge those categories.

(I totally understand the desire to make art appreciation objective BTW, IIRC you have a science background and it makes sense that you'd want things to make sense, I totally agree. It's just not everything does because some things are subjective and some things are like gravity - it doesn't matter how low you rate it, or how clichéd you think it is, you're still gonna go splat ;)
Ah, I think we may just disagree over terms GVH. To me that's not more objective, that's just more specific.


I see your point, Saje. And I think we're both right. There's no doubt that these assertions are more specific. That's the point. But I think they're also more objective.

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm viewing objectivity as a sort of sliding scale. It's not either fully objective (which you do a good job of explaining as a concept), or fully subjective, but you can move toward a higher degree of objectivity by taking only slightly subjective statements as your basis, and making the subjective nature clear in your language.

If I for instance, would spot a racism theme in something like X-Men, I would try to not only state that it is there, but - possibly with a quick sketch, depending on the space I have for a review - state why I think it is there. And then you base it on ever-more objective statements, ending up in the móst objective "this happened in this movie" statement, which also happens to be the most specific statement one could make.

So I agree that:

If criticism was objective then every critic would have the same "check list" of criteria they judged films on.


And I also agree that criticism is no science (despite my background ;)) and can never be science because of its inherent subjective nature. But we can certainly strive to be as objective as possible, under the given constraints, by basing the critique on as-objective-as-possible building blocks. Obviously, the next step (picking which building blocks to use and how to use them) makes the resulting end-product (a review) very subjective again by its very nature (give ten people the same lego-building-units and everyone will probably build different structures), but at least it is based on semi-objective, or at the very least specific and transparant arguments, instead of something like 'this is engaging' or 'this is good', which should be the subjective conclusion, not the basis from which to start.
Ah, got you. I agree that we agree ;), we're just coming at it from opposite directions. I think i'm saying "It being engaging is what matters" and you're saying "It being engaging is what matters BUT describing why it's engaging is what's important in criticism".

You're kind of acknowledging the subjectivity and bias but making the effort to disclose that subjectivity and in so doing allow people to judge your subjectivity more objectively ;).

[ edited by Saje on 2008-06-18 15:56 ]
You're kind of acknowledging the subjectivity and bias but making the effort to disclose that subjectivity and in so doing allow people to judge your subjectivity more objectively ;)


Heh, exactly. Yay, we've reached agreeage (and just in time, this'll probably drop of the main page before too long ;)).
Ha. Always fun to read a thread bouncing back and forth that resolves itself. Good work GVH & Saje, by the end of that I agreed with the both of you.

Now, Shey...
If a storyteller tells a great story but the majority of the TV viewing public .... the ones who watch the really bad shows that make up the majority of what's on TV .... don't like it, this is somehow the fault of the writer? What, he/she should have dumbed it down?

If the majority of the TV viewing public is their intended audience and that audience doesn't like it, then yes, it is the fault of the writer (sharing that responsibility with the rest of the people involved with making the show of course).

It's a little condescending to say something needs to be "dumbed down" for a large audience to appreciate it. Thanks to media saturation, the average audience member is actually really quite savvy. There's plenty of examples of brilliant stories that have appealed to a mass market. Without wanting to get in to an argument over the quality of these examples, it would be silly to describe shows like Lost, The X-Files or The West Wing as dumbed down - yet all appealed to a very wide audience.

Doesn't mean you should make something to try and appeal to everyone though. Naturally, different people like different things, and narrowing your story to particular tastes is often a very good idea. I remember hearing somewhere that Joss kept the quite frankly odd title 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' for the TV show because people who can't get past that title probably aren't the kind of people who would like the show anyway, so he wasn't going to bother trying to grab them with the title.

It often comes down to an economic question (something artists really shouldn't be afraid of, but people often turn their noses up at such things). If I'm spending $1 million an episode on a show that has an audience that will only support a $500k per episode show, then the show doesn't necessarily need to be canned, it just needs to either be done cheaper to justify its existence, or have the showrunners rethink their target market and figure out who they're making the show for in the first place.

You know, given this article has disappeared off the front page, it's likely no one will ever read all that. Oh well :)

You need to log in to be able to post comments.
About membership.



joss speaks back home back home back home back home back home