There’s a trick to writing for television. Well… let me rephrase that. There is a trick to writing good, prime-time television drama, with interesting episodes and a compelling overall story arc. I am not talking about situational, episodic television, but series’ that focus on the extended story usually encompassing an entire season, if not multiple seasons.
CSI (and any of its 97 or so incarnations) is a fine example situational, episodic television. There may be a secondary storyline involving one or more of the actors, but the show isn’t about that storyline. It’s about the crime contained within a single episode. It’s about the situation of being employed in that department of that police department at that moment.
On the flip side of this are shows like Lost (which I never managed to get into) and Heroes (which I loved, but fell apart for me in the final, amazingly anti-climactic episode), whose the focus is on the overall storyline. It’s a different kind of writing. Not necessarily more difficult, but certainly more complex. There needs to be a balance in the writing that allows each individual episode to propel the overall story forward, and at the same time be interesting enough to stand on it’s own, hook viewers, and make them want to come back the next week. These are my personal favorite kind of shows when they are done well.
I can remember when The 4400 first aired. Everyone was talking about it. I read all the reviews are listened carefully as friends talked about it each and every week. It sounded like something I would really enjoy. Unfortunately, I didn’t have cable at the time, so I never tuned in, and eventually sort of just forgot about it. This season, I remembered it before the season actually kicked off, and not only do I have cable, I can DVR it and watch it at my leisure. So I let a few episodes accumulate, then sat down and started watching.
And I just don’t see it. Maybe I simply missed too much last season, but this writing is, to be blunt, awful. Not only are the individual episodes insanely boring, but the “willing suspension of disbelief” level is insanely low, bordering on suspending any and all forms of “belief” before I even press PLAY (as in… I can’t believe I just pressed PLAY!). Granted, we are talking about superpowers here, but there are still limits, still a line that cannot be crossed lest you fall into the realm of the comically ludicrous. Telekinesis, ok. Flying, it’s a stretch, but I’ll buy it. Creating a potion that not only stops the aging process but actually reverses it, turning the 20-something year old drinker back into an infant in a matter of hours? STOP. LIST. ERASE ALL. Even my vivid imagination has difficulty sorting through that one. Thankfully, the explanation behind how a mental ability was transferred into a bottle of water was not addressed to further insult my delicate sensibilities.
For those of you who have been watching it all along, have I just missed too much of what has happened previously? Or has the production company really hurt the show in an effort to stretch it out season after season (a la 24 and, I fear, Heroes)?
(PS- Dear writers, it’s a little trite, and a lot tired, to create a prophet/messiah type character that looks amazingly like the standard image of Jesus Christ. It’s worse to then have every other character refer to him as a prophet/messiah repeatedly while he spouts cryptic words of wisdom that any 4 year old could have figured out for themselves.)