Thursday, May 10, 2007

TV and mediocre genre books

Here at Drunk Writers there’s been some lamentation this week over the death, not just of Friday Night Lights, but other amazing series. Arrested Development, Homicide, Firefly, and others I’ve missed. Shows that weren’t given their chance to really play out.

I’ve been trying to figure out what the appeal of shows like Deal or No Deal, or Everyone Loves Ray and other such shows.

Part of it I believe is accessibility. You can turn them on at any point during the season and know exactly what is going on. They are mindless, and you know, after a long day of work, rushing to get dinner ready, kids to bed, when you finally get to collapse on the couch for the whole hour you have before you go to bed, mindless works well.

I’ve been there. It sort of explains why I still watch American Idol, and the occasional America’s next top model. I can miss several episodes and still be clear on what’s happening.

The same cannot be said for the serialized dramas that we now mourn. I put off watching Friday Night Lights to wait until the DVD release to catch it on DVD. Anyone who turned on Firefly on a whim would have wondered why the people on the spaceship talked like characters out of a 1940’s Western and would have switched the channel and missed an amazing show.

There’s comfort in predictability. And the best shows, the ones I love and adore gave us unpredictability. Or in the case of Arrested Development, the funniest, harshest, most unlikeable people on TV. Nothing warm and cuddly about that family, but some of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen on TV.

I’ve noticed the same with some of the genre books lately. Why are so many romances predictable? And no, it has nothing to do with the happily ever after pre-requisite. There are many different ways to get there.

There’s a comfort in picking up a book and knowing what to expect. The hero/heroine will face challenges, bicker, have sex by page 200 and by page 250 have a serious drawback in their relationship, which they will rise above and overcome, all by page 350.

The best books, like the best TV shows rise above this and surprise us, provoke thought and in the case of the best books, thrill us.

But they’re not necessarily bestsellers, cause not everyone wants to be surprised.

I guess that’s why I still watch re-runs of Friends, and read the same Maggie Osborne book once a year.
Sometimes it’s easiest for my tired brain to process.


Maureen McGowan said...

I think you're right, Sinead. And maybe it's that there are so many channels now, so many choices, that there doesn't seem to be room for both the mindless stuff and the deeper more interesting things (except on pay cable and even there, they aren't giving shows as long as they used to).

It seems with TV shows are either cancelled before they find an audience, or allowed to run for too many seasons such that they finally all jump the shark.

Maureen McGowan said...

With books, I think I like the in between ones best... That is, I occasionally like the harder to read, really thought provoking or beautifully written lit fiction books... and I sometimes can enjoy a really light genre book. But mostly I like the ones I see as in between. Books that are written in an accessible way, don't make me read too slowly or re-read paragrapsh to understand them... but which do surprise me or make me see the world a little differently, through another character's eyes or make me think when I put them down. I also like books that really make me laugh and/or tug at some emotion... That's what I love about our Molly's books. Sure, they're genre fiction, and they're easy to read, but she always has something to surprise me and she always makes me tear up at least once. (even some of the scenes I've read multiple versions of in our critique group.) and it's not always scenes in the romance... Her subplots and the issues her characters are dealing with either from the past, or with friends, or with family... Those are the ones that often really hit me in her books.
(Guess if I were a better friend, I'd put some of this in an Amazon review, eh!)

Sinead M said...

You are so right, Maureen, not just about Molly's books.(I too need to do an Amazon review)

My comfort reads come from before I started writing. Now, the books I love need to be smart, gripping storytelling.

I also want to point out that we mourned too early. NBC has renewed Friday Night Lights for a full second season.

so I really have to catch up on the 1st season.

Kimber said...

I could sit on the bus and listen to people talk all day. Or hang out on the corner on a sunny day and people watch.

That's what I look for in a book. I don't need murders or paranormal activity or a roller coaster plot. Give me a good conversation between two people. Let me watch two people figure out that they're in love (the reader, of course, knows WAY before the couple but that's true in real life).

As for tv, I used to say I only watch Heroes (and my business shows) but I even forgot to watch that this week.

Molly O'Keefe said...

WHat????? Renewed???? Why are you playing with my emotions this way Sinead. I can't take the ups and downs of network television. Well - I am so excited about Friday Night Lights. That makes my day -- to say nothing or your nice words Maureen - thanks so much. And yes if you were a better friend... you'd buy me more drinks.

You know I love The Office - both the BBC version and the US version - but I think the changes they made in that show for the American audience are really telling. It's still so uncomfortable but the US version has warmed up the Steve Carell character so much - we cringe but we feel for him too. The BBC version we didn't do that at all.

It was a good one this week.

Sinead M said...

Kimber, I think the hardest thing to write is a simple romance filled with wonderful conversations while two people figure out they're in love.
I love to read them when they're done well. But it's rare.

That's why I love Susan Elizabeth Phillips, cause she does this better than most.

And Molly. Not playing with your emotions. At least one more season of FNL.

And I'm happy cause I get at least one more season of Battlestar.

Maureen, what's making you happy?

Susan said...

I have never quite gotten over Homicide going off the air. (I loved it after I got used to the jarring filming effect, which I couldn't stand at first.)I think most of TV these days is too digestable, too dumbed down. The reality shows aren't "real" because of all the editing; most are just plain stupid or melodramatic. (Please, ladies, stop trying out for The Bachelor. Have some self respect.) And some shows I enjoyed at first like Grey's Anatomy ended up jumping the shark by trying to be something they're not. Why try to be ER with a cataclysmic steamliner wreck when the show's focus is on relationships?

In genre books, I like some comfort with intelligence and unique twists thrown in. There is a theory that there are actually only something like 6 main themes in most literature, and everything else is a variation. I like knowing that most or all of a crime will be solved in a mystery. In chick lit, I expect - and want - to root for the heroine; I want a promise of happiness, even if it ends with the character on her own. I want to be able to relate to the characters in some way. But it's the book with surprises along the way that keeps the story fresh. I'd like to think maybe kind of like life.

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