Deborah Jackson

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Forgivable Lapse

Are you In It for the Long Haul?

It probably doesn’t surprise you that I enjoy watching sci-fi and paranormal television shows: Fringe, Grimm, Supernatural, The River. I also watch medical shows like House and Grey’s Anatomy, but that’s beside the point—and has to do with my background and expertise rather than my fascination/obsession.

The other day I was watching Supernatural. I know, the stories are often silly, but it’s the silliness, the sentimentality, the downright goofiness that often makes it endearing. In the beginning the characters drew me in as slickly as the supernatural component: two brothers (and hunters) who rely on each other to survive; who are polar opposites in disposition and skill (one college-educated with a knack for doing research and a preference for health food, while the other is adept at Samarai sword-fighting or rock salt rifle-shooting and would rather drown in booze and hamburgers); and they  have quirks like adopting the names of elderly rock stars for their aliases as FBI agents, or drinking demon blood. But more than the characters, it’s the episodic nature of the series, along with tongue-in-cheek humour, that make it appealing (for me).

I know this particular brand of writing is likely more difficult to write—coming up with a new concept every week—than simply continuing with an ongoing storyline. But I found when the writers decided to be lazy, focus on a single dramatic storyline, the show began to deteriorate. If you’re familiar with the program, you’re familiar with the extended plot:  a battle between heaven and hell, demons and angels. There’s very little room for comedy or goofiness in such a battle. The characters soon became worn, guilt-plagued, dreary and the added characters of angels and demons were universally arrogant, self-centred and greedy. There’s only so much back-stabbing, gut-clawing or incised brows that you can take. Even so, even wringing my hands with irritation, I continued to watch it, but my husband strayed. I kept hoping the writers would return to their original format, and I loved the characters enough to allow for this lapse. This season, the writers finally clued in; undoubtedly they lost a number of viewers, like my husband, when they lost their sense of humour.
I’m sure the same thing happens to you with novels. If authors create beguiling/arresting characters, you will keep reading the next book, even if their plot occasionally stumbles and becomes less than captivating. George R. R. Martin has invented several interesting and surprisingly human/flawed characters in his epic story, with just the hint of magic or supernatural activities to lend to the label of fantasy. Even the wretches have perfectly reasonable reasons for their wretched behaviour. But in Book Two, A Clash of Kings, the plot dragged and I found my mind wandering. Still I returned for another dose of fantasy-fulfillment with Book Three, A Storm of Swords. He’d set the tone so well at the beginning with these wonderfully relatable characters that readers were willing to forgive a lapse in intrigue in the hopes that the author would slingshot back to what drew them to the series in the first place.

Supernatural, in this season, has returned to its roots. Episodic, humourous, goofy but in a good way, intriguing in that a new situation arises every week. I love it! I’m smiling again. :)
A Storm of Swords pulled me under as only a vortex can with the same tense character situations, totally surprising plot twists that don’t balk at killing off some of the most appealing protagonists or devilish antagonists, and the throwing together of unusual characters at every turn. I’m smiling again. :)
Yes, if you’re a real fan of the style, the characters, the talent of writers to create this otherworld that you adore, then you’re willing to forgive the occasional lapse. It happens. Of course we’re all human, and writers can be lazy tired, cranky frustrated, occasionally dreary uninspired, blocked unproductive or lacking in depth unable to tap the surface. Sometimes fresh material eludes them for a while. And sometimes their brilliance re-emerges. I’m willing to wait, one year, two, one book, two—sometimes even more—because I’m in it for the long haul.


Anonymous said...

I'm always in it for the long haul with books. Certain TV shows lost me over the years, but I'm usually pretty loyal. My sci-fi admission: Primeval, a UK show. I loved it and was sucked in completely.

Deborah Jackson said...

I'll have to check out Primeval. Not familiar with that one. It's easy to stray when the writing doesn't seem as spectacular, but I keep hoping and usually I'm rewarded.

Jim said...

I TOLD you. . . didn't I TELL you?

The single most impressive thing about the Game of Thrones series is how you find yourself rooting for the "bad guys" because you realize that they're not "bad" so much as differently motivated.

Except Joffrey. Nobody could like that douchenozzle.

Deborah Jackson said...

Yes, you told me, and you were right. I've never been so sympathetic of "bad guys" before.

Joffrey reminds me of Malfoy in Harry Potter. Even if you try, you just can't like him.

I really can't get enough of the series. With most books nowadays I find myself too easily annoyed--a result of years of critiquing--but I can't find anything I don't like about this series (except when it dragged). An amazing accomplishment!