Yay! Time for another socially irrelevant post! In this day and age where everyone is talking about Enron, there can be only one thing about which I can talk:
Anything. Else. Good Lord, you can't get away from the dreaded 'E' word anywhere else, but here you have found your sanctuary. This is your tropical island of Enron-not-hereness. So grab a daquari and sit back to listen to my tale of television woe.
Is it me, or has someone told UPN that 'alpha male lone wolves sell'? I'm going to take two examples, both somewhat recent, and draw them out into a post of televisiony goodness!
First on the chopping block: the late UPN show, Seven Days. I actually did enjoy this show a good deal, but not nearly as much as I enjoyed the show to which I'll compare it: Quantum Leap. If you don't know the premise to Seven Days: Frank Parker is a soldier who fought in some war or another in the recent past and got broken in some torture at the hands of some enemy (they actually gave specifics, but I think I was going for a TaB at the time). So, showing compassion towards their Men in Khaki, the gumment shuts him away in a mental institution where he and his fellow torturees behave like the humans in the excriable Battlefield Earth (please note, it is now required to use the word 'excriable' as an adjective when referring to the movie Battlefield Earth). But! Meanwhile, the military's most Super Secret Organization (since they have so many of them, in this age of X-Files Awareness(tm)) Project Backstep needs a pilot who can drive their Timesphere without, you know, dying. Enter Frank, because you know if I had a device like this, I'd use a mental patient too as everyone else would be too sane to get into the damned thing.
Frank is your typical UPN Alpha Male. He resists pain as if it's a bean-sprout gordita and Breaks All The Rules while getting away with it too, because he Gets Results. He's in love with the beautiful Shrinking Violet Scientists, who is Sexy as All Get Out but who is Repressed And Needs To Be Shown A Good Time (they're also utterly wrong for each other, but in UPN Alpha Male Fantasy, that's rarely a consideration).
Now take Quantum Leap. If you don't know the premise to this show, go away. In this show, we have the Wunderkinder Sam Beckett, who is a gentle man and a gentleman. He's a scientist, a musician yet comes from humble farm-town roots. He's easily rattled yet quick to rally to a situation. He too moves through time, though rather than being able to control his situation (until series end, that is), he's time-tossed at the whim of Fate, Time, God or perhaps the Game Master. He too puts things right that have once gone wrong and in fact coined the darned phrase. And he's as utterly different from Frank as you can get.
Sam asks for help from his friend, Al, who is really his lifeline to the present and also his sole information source. Frank asks for almost nothing. He demands it and throws a tantrum if it isn't given to him. He also has a friend to whom he refuses to listen. His friend might as well carry around a carafe of coffee and say 'want some coffee?' as his only line, since really he has no greater function to the show. Sam is constantly learning and teaching in a sharing process throughout the show. Frank learns nothing; he is a Man of Action and only teaches the audience, rather than those around him, that Will Is All.
Yes, I do realise this is like comparing The Krypton Challenge with WWF Smackdown. This is actually a very apt analogy. Both are shows with ostensibly the same premise, yet the former is about the mind and body working together to defeat challenge while the latter is about violent men achieving a storyline through use of bravado and violence.
Now let's do another comparison. Upon realising that Buffy: The Vampire Slayer might... just might have some staying power... two networks decided to get into the 'world is permeated by the supernatural' act. These are UPN ('We have Star Trek! LOVE US!!!'), who ironically wound up grabbing Buffy from the WB ('ribbit') when they didn't pony up Joss Whedon's operating capital; and the SciFi channel ('We are so damned sorry about this season of Farscape'). The two shows that they brought to the table were respectively Special Unit 2 and The Chronicle.
SU2 is a police story about a pair of cops who fight crime of the supernatural sort. They run around with big weapons that whine but don't actually seem to ever affect the creature they're fighting and generally keep the peace so that the rest of us can live in ignorance of what lurks in the shadows (why does everyone always want to keep this supernatural thing under wraps? I mean it worked great when Stalking the Night Fantastic did it, but please, can everyone stop riding the coattails of something that worked?). The Chronicle, on the other hand, is a tale about the aforementioned Chronicle, which is a tabloid newspaper devoted to publishing the truth about the supernatural while combating its more damaging aspects.
Special Unit 2 is essentially a Buddy Cop Show for the Aughts; it stars the lead guy (whose character's name I do not recall and don't care enough to go seek out), who is a renegade, break-all-the-rules kind of guy who regularly puts himself into positions where he does Stupid Things that pay off in spades, proving that the boss should have just let him do said stupid things rather than attempting to Follow the Rules. He has a partner, a beautiful woman who is Very Repressed and Just Needs a Guy To Show Her How to Have Fun. They, of course, share Sexual Tension which is Unresolved (and both are extremely bad for one another, but again, when does this matter to a UPN show?). Oh, and she's Extremely Smart, which means that nine times out of time, she's Wrong.
The Chronicle, on the other hand, is a show with many more voices than that. We have a trio of people working the 'main cast' side of things (three characters. You wouldn't believe how refreshing it is to have -three- main characters in a situation like this. I have a feeling it has something to do with other shows deciding that viewers only have enough time to identify with two through Banter and Fun Fun Fun Hijinx, since they tend to view viewers as just barely sentient lumps of liquid carbon who pay for their childrens' braces by existing in front of a glowing box for an hour). We have a Strange and Freaky Pigboy who maintains the archives. We have the sassy front desk woman who takes your call and won't take attitude with it. And we have the Editor, who has a vast storehouse of occult knowledge and seems quite willing to use it when someone's possessed (or dispossessed and needs a hand up). The characters all have their flaws, but none of them hits caricature at any point. A recent episode (and my personal favourite) had one of the characters reveal that he was a comics fan, when a superhero came to town. Now you might say 'oh, so they just inserted this character trait when it was convenient'? Well not so, mon frere. You see, for the past little while, they've been showing us his past, bit by bit, and we've been slowly let in on the fact that he was an overweight, geeky, obsessive personality who just couldn't catch a break. What's more natural than to let said character also have been a comic fan? Especially as that really does speak to a good many of us (myself included, sigh).
On this subject, the writers of this show have a true love of their subject matter ("Every superhero has an inconvenient and strange weakness. Superman had kryptonite. Green Lantern couldn't stand the colour yellow. And don't get me started about Iron Man. His suit lost power so much, he might've been buying his electricity from the State of California."). The show twists and turns and plots zig and zag and we have surprise moments that make us go whoa. SU2, OTOH, tends to run a straightforward pattern of 'here is threat, threat beats up people real good, threat beats up cops who try to stop it, cops rally and find threat's weakness, threat faw down go boom'. It's tried, it's true... it's safe. Safe, safe, safe.
Apparently the Alpha Male Fantasy is a very Safe formula for UPN. Honestly, though, I'm growing very disenchanted with it. There's nothing really clever in said formula to make me stick to my TV set. I'm glad that UPN hasn't got its hooks into Buffy (since honestly, UPN would be slitting its own throat if it tried to tinker with the formula) or Roswell (which has always had its own walking-the-line problems, but at least maintains an air of fun teen angst, as opposed to say, teen angst), two shows that it recently grabbed straight under the WB's ('ribbit') nose.
So, what have we learned today? Today, boys and girls, we have learned that I watch too much TV!
Now go home!
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