Sunday, November 12, 2006

CAGE MATCH: Prison Break vs. Friday Night Lights

Tonight I am admitting my love of Friday Night Lights. Yep. The Texas High School football show based on the non-fiction book of the same name which was made into a movie of the same name and now, thanks to Peter Berg I have something else to watch on Tuesday nights.

Now, admittedly, I am from a small town where on Friday nights the whole town rolled out to watch the high school football game...and my dad was a coach...and my brother a player. I am so so white bread.

Anyway -- all that aside -- this is a great show in the same way Prison Break WAS a great show and why both shows are helping my writing in a BIG BIG way. Here is what I've been spending way too much time thinking about...

The weight of both shows rest on two incredibly LIKEABLE MAIN CHARACTERS. Scofield and The Coach. It helps that Scofield is hot - though that whole Clint Eastwood tone of voice he uses, endlessly infuriates me and the Coach is always sweaty and sloppy looking (like a real coach). Both of them are fighting battles in which there is no gray area between winning and losing. Scofield if he fails will go back to jail or be killed and so far in Friday Night Lights if Coach loses I really think he might be killed or sent to jail too. Because of this stringent black and white both men are being morally tested and are PROVING THEY ARE WILLING TO BEND RULES and are NOT ALWAYS HEROIC. Scofield manipulated pretty nurse Sarah and Coach illegally influenced a high school athlete displaced by Katrina to come to his school to play. This shit comes back to haunt them all the time. As it should. Heroes can't always be heroes but they should feel bad about it. These kind of heroes are like romance gold mines.

Anyway, both men put forth Herculean efforts to get even the smallest amount of success which in GREAT story telling fashion, is only rewarded by increased stakes and MORE TROUBLE/BAD STUFF.

My editor constantly reminds me of the power of the +/- factor to scenes. If a scene begins with a positive event, or the character feels good something has to happen through the course of the scene - information has to introduced or events change that forces the scene to end on a negative note. Cliffhanger style. Both shows do an amazing job loading their scenes with the +/-.

Now, I totally understand this - but frankly it can be hard so I maybe get this 70% of the time. But, also I think doing that a hundred percent of the time gets predictable and you loose a chance to build into bigger climaxes. Prison Break is spinning off into completely unbelievable areas in terms of Scofield's boy scout preparedness for every single possibility. And the +/- reversals are coming so fast - that they are completely losing their effectiveness. Last week for instance -- Sarah and Scofield meet up Yeah!! Bad FBI guy finds them - oh no!! They get away - yeah!!! Scofield apologizes says he's glad she's with him - yeah!! He gets out of the shower and she's gone - oh no!!! She's in the car and decides not to leave him Yeah!!! She gets out of the car and there's the second scary FBI guy -- oh no!!!

Come on let us catch our breath -- let something build a little bit more before you chop it off at the knees.

Friday Night Lights has set up really excellent pacing and like the incredibly well written DEXTER - it allows us to feel good while the characters feel good (or as good as Dexter can) because the show, the concept and the momentum built up has it's own cliffhanger. We know what's at stake, we know what COULD happen - so let us enjoy the good stuff while it's happening. I think it gives us a chance to truly root for the characters, to get invested so the pluses are higher and the negatives lower.

I agree that ending a chapter with a character falling asleep is an invitation to the reader to put the book down and get some shut eye themselves but ending a chapter on a high note is not the same thing -- like going into commercial break on a high note can be just as much a cliffhanger as the manipulative stuff Prison Break does before a commercial break.

I think it's about pacing, characters and...in the case of my new favorite show...high school football. I know my fellow drunk writers will not let me live this one down.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Have you been watching Heroes, Molly? I think you would like for much of the same reason. These "heroes" are flawed. Big time. But you love them because of their flaws. The artist who can see the future, but only if he uses drugs. The politician who can fly, but is a jerk. The mother who has an alter ego who takes over her body in times of crisis. They are fascinating to watch. They even label each episode like chapters in a book. Very cool idea.

Sinead M said...

The only show I watch is Prison Break, which I enjoy more than Molly.
I have more patience for the ups and downs, and love how they build tension.
I have heard a lot about Heroes, glad you're enjoying Christine. It's something I wish I had the time to watch, but I'm maxing out at an hour a night.

And we all know my love for Dexter.

Maureen McGowan said...

Prison Break is way better than Molly gives it credit for, IMHO. :-) (And Sarah's a doctor, not a nurse. I love that she's a daughter of a governor drug addict doctor.)

I'm sure you're right that Friday Night Lights is good... But the premise is so not interesting to me... and getting addicted to another TV show is the last thing I need. But it might be worth it just to have another show to discuss...

On cliffhangers and pacing. You're dead on Molly, as usual. Make anything too pat and it loses it's punch. We can't end every chapter with a hook, we can't have a purposeful reversal in every scene... otherwise the reader gets wise to the pattern and expects it. The trick is reversing reader expectations and if they know what to expect from you as a writer... it's hard to do that.

Now that will-she-or-won't-she scene from Prison Break last week? Loved it. But you're right that their pacing can get grueling. I have the same problem with 24 some times...

Molly O'Keefe said...

too much grueling television. I would love to watch heroes and now I will PVR it -- but it's on past my bedtime.

I am white bread and lame.

Regarding the pat thing -- how lame is Law and Order with the phone call from forensics just before the second commercial break -- it's so predictable it's boring. I just feel that Prison Break is goig that way -- you can't build suspense that maybe this time, this one time, they'll catch a break. Because they never do. Someone will always get stuck under a log in a river or something... I know Fridya Night Lights is a stretch - apparently it's not getting great ratings...

Maureen McGowan said...

I've never been a big fan of those Law and Order shows for that reason... I find them super predictable. I feel the same way about the CSI shows... I catch them now and again and don't hate them... but I don't go out of my way to see them, either.

So... why do I love House that's really the same format as those police procedurals, except the mystery/crime is the illness... I think it's about loving the characters.

Molly O'Keefe said...

Well - all that said last night show's was amazing!! I think because they let the tense scenes build over the course of the whole show instead of creating reversals before eery commercial!

WHAT WILLHAPPEN TO SARAH?? AND THE KEY???

Sinead M said...

Last night's show was amazing. Nice tension.

I love House as well, even though this season has been really disappointing. What's up with the Cop? Why do they invent these external conflicts, that always feel awkward.

Bad writers!!!

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