Saturday, March 2, 2013

Discussion: My Problem With Genre TV

It would not be an exaggeration to say this man is the reason I watch. (c) Nyhms @DA

This was originally a post about The Walking Dead and the main problem(s) I've been having with the show since the beginning of Season 2.  This isn't to say I'm not enjoying the show, its a Cenni family tradition to watch it together and root for someone to die (usually Lori, or Andrea, a lot of times Rick) each week, but it was a nagging problem.

Then I realized its a problem I have with a lot of genre shows.  Walking Dead just gets the cake because of The Talking Dead afterwards (more on this later).

I've been watching genre TV since before I knew what 'genre TV'* was.  My dad (and mom) raised me on a healthy diet of Star Trek, Doctor Who, V, and Blake's 7.  As I got older the vast majority of the shows I preferred (that were live action) were 'genre'.  The Tomorrow People, Ocean Girl, Spellbinder, The Girl from Tomorrow--okay so a lot of them were also Aussie/UK shows, but I was drawn more to those shows than any other.

Over the years Genre TV seems to have fallen by the wayside, or been marginalized.  It once was a very popular choice for syndicated TV (Hercules, Xena, Andromeda, Highlander), really late night TV (Mortal Kombat Konquest, Adventures of Sinbad, New Adventures of Robin Hood) or kid's programming (Knights of Tir Na Nog, Back to Sherwood, Secret World of Alex Mack), but its mostly fallen off in terms of lasting appeal.

Some of this is that when it is done, its either done really well (Firefly! Defying Gravity! Farscape! Outcasts!) or its done rather shoddily (Terra Nova, Alcatraz, Secret Circle...) and most new shows try to stay more contemporary (Continuum, Lost Girl, Being Human--either version--Teen Wolf) to cut down on the expense of crafting expensive sets of fantastical origin.

And let's not talk about the fact Syfy manages to axe or ruin the 'genre' shows it does have in favor of cheaper reality shows.

So the few that are on the air excite me.  The Walking Dead especially since I love Zombies.  The problem is that it, like a lot of its current peers, is run from a false point of story telling.  What separates a (good) genre show from a non-genre show is that the mythology and world is, like its novel counterparts, immersive and richly layered. 

That seems to be largely forgotten in today's Genre landscape.

Watching an episode of The Walking Dead, say the third season premiere, "Seed", its fine to plop us down some months later to get the story moving.  Quite frankly watching them run around avoiding the horde of Walkers and scavenging for supplies while Lori got increasingly more useless as her pregnancy went on is not my idea of fun times** So to smack us down an indeterminate amount of time later (I think 6 months?) is fine and dandy. If things seem to have actually gone anywhere.  My first thought shouldn't be "6 Months later and they've been running around in a circle that has previously always skirted a safe Haven?" 

I should also not have a question about something--like the prison's close proximity to Woodbury--and have it answered in the after show.  There is a large difference between making something obvious an observant viewer, or building up to an answer over several episodes, and then not bothering to explain it until a fan asks a question via social media. 

A) that means you have no faith in your viewers to figure it out on their own based on the story you've crafted
B) you're certain the story you've crafted never explains it
C) you're banking on viewers either watching the after show, following someone who does or checking online at some point to learn what you were too lazy to put into the show itself.

15 years ago when I was watching Xena, Farscape and the other shows I loved the only way to find out more about the show was obsessively read interviews in magazines, troll the internet (which with dial up made it a torturous business at times) or buy the companion books that (if I was lucky) were released.  This is before DVD commentaries, or reddit AMA's or creators live tweeting or after shows.  Sometimes a special would be aired (Farscape had a couple), but by in large if there was an unanswered question I was SOL and had to figure it out on my own if I could.

And I think that made creators more careful to make sure things eventually became tied up.  Now it feels like they rely on commentaries and tweeting and such to cover their asses if they miss anything.  It just feels so lazy.

Am I alone in this?

(*) for the purposes of this article "Genre TV" refers to anything scifi, fantasy or supernatural in content

(**) which in and of itself is a problem. If I cared for this show and its characters/world/story I wouldn't mind sitting through episodes of them running around because at least I could say 'they were exciting and moved the plot forward!' instead of knowing 'it'll be useless and a time waste'