11 March, 2009
I was reminded of Showcase/Five dramedy Californication recently and realised I forgot to have a rant about it on my blog last year. So imagine it's a year ago: McCain was going to be the next President of the USA, the economy looks strong and Birmingham City was going to stay in the Premier League.
As I watched the first series, I enjoyed the quality dialogue and frank sexuality but the hack plotting began to wind me up each week until the daft last quarter .
Hank has long-term writers block. While away from home he plays around with an old typewriter and ends up writing a novel on it in a couple of weeks - the best thing he's ever written. And yet he doesn't bother to photocopy it. Predictably, the book gets stolen and to cut a crap story short, the ex-girlfriend publishes it as her own.
That plot is an old one and there's nothing wrong with using old plots - recycling is good - but what annoyed me was how the writer didn't make the effort to update it to incorporate new technology and instead pretended they don't exist.
Rather than ignoring a problem, inconvenient technology like computers, photocopiers, mobile phones, etc gives us a chance to make more of an effort and avoid hack writing, should we want to. By going beyond the easy and most obvious solutions we may find stronger and more truthful stories. TV Guide called the plotting "absurd" with "more logic-holes than a hunk of swiss".
The thriller/horror with people trapped in an isolated place with no landlines to call for help is harder to do in the present day as everyone's got a mobile. It doesn't mean we can't still do that plot but we have to deal with the mobiles. Hence my impression from the movies that the USA must have the worst cellphone coverage ever. Even in the middle of cities, they can't get a bloody signal! But at least they've made the effort to deal with the problem and it stops the audience asking the question: "Why don't he use his mobile?"
The example with Californication also shows suspect if not bad characterisation. Would any writer - just out of a long writers block - really not safeguard their manuscript like a newborn child and photocopy it several times like a newborn child? Although, saying that, I knew one writer who sent a typewritten spec script to a prodco for an existing show ages ago and the company lost it. He sued and got a considerable settlement out of court. While he was complaining about the prodco in the pub, no-one wanted to ask the question hanging in the air, "You mean you sent them your only copy?"
So script loss clearly does happen in real life but up until then Hank, as a character, was just very self-destructive, not very stupid. He had to act stupid for the plot to work when maybe what was needed was a cleverer plot.
I did give Californication a second chance with the second series. TV Guide called the set ups "mechanical" and the characterisations "improbable". But to be fair while I agreed with the critics and gave up on it, enough people stayed watching it for it to get a surprise third season.
Actually, Monday night's Heroes (UK pace) has another more clear-cut example of bad characterisation which I'll attempt to rant about next.