Wednesday, January 18, 2012

I Don't Usually Talk about TV, But it Relates to Writing, I Promise...

Did any of you guys watch the Alcatraz premiere the other night?  I didn't intend to, but...well....I didn't have anything else to do and it was on.  But the more I watched it, the more I began to edit it in my mind and treat it like a story.  It made me realize a few things:

1.  Just because you're handed a cool concept doesn't mean you'll do it justice.  You have to earn it.  
Alcatraz.  Crooks who should be dead walking around, looking just like they did in 1963.  Secret facilities, mysterious cop-like people who seem to have a clue, danger at every turn, something seriously supernatural or just plain wrong.  I mean, really.  Guys from 1963 who haven't aged?  These things should add up to something that glues me to the TV.  But at the end of the two-hour premiere, I felt...meh.  I didn't feel riveted.  I didn't feel sucked in.  I felt like I should have just had my world blown apart, but was somehow left cold.  

This tells me that they mishandled something.  Do not take bitchin' subject matter for granted.

2.  Do not underuse supporting characters.
So, the heavy guy from Lost plays some super-Alcatraz-PhD nerd who also writes comic books and owns a comic book shop.  (At least this is what I gathered.  If I'm misinterpreting something here, maybe I misheard.)   In other words, this guy is a fountain of knowledge.  He also apparently has a sense of humor, hence the comic book shop instead of academia.  But throughout the two hours, the writers drastically underutilized his character.  He was a largely voiceless sidekick, used only when the show needed to emphasize how horrible dead bodies are (yes, we're all desensitized, I get it).  They could have done so much more with him.  He got to back up a few facts or ideas spouted by other characters, but he didn't really do much on his own.  Why not?  Why is someone who has spent years of his life researching this stuff ignored most of the time?  Let him give the viewers some awesome facts about Alcatraz.  Make him the comic relief.   But don't shove him in a corner until you need a convenient dose of humanity.  That's lame.

3.  Do not forget to address the WTF-factor.
Maybe it's me.  But if I'm a cop chasing a perp and then I see that perp is my own freaking uncle, who looks exactly like he did when I was little, I'm gonna freak out.  I'm also gonna freak out when I find out the premise of the show.  In a nutshell, it is this:  guys locked up on Alcatraz all mysteriously vanished in 1963 (faked transfers and death certificates notwithstanding) and are now roaming the streets, murdering and doing all sorts of bad things, seemingly unaged and looking kinda like Mad Men extras.  WTF?  If this is the reality I find myself in, I don't follow Sam Neill around and chase criminals through cemeteries.  I call the NSA or the FBI or the CIA.  I raise holy hell, because, dude....people who aren't dead are ZOMBIES.  Why are there zombies running around?  If they aren't zombies, maybe they're ALIENS.  That's even worse!  The point is that this shit isn't normal.  I don't think I'd be capable of wearing henleys strategically unbuttoned to reveal just enough cleavage.  I don't think I'd be capable of much at all.  I'd be freaking out, big time.  That's where I think the show lost a little bit of verisimilitude.  They forgot to address the WTF-factor.    

If the show had done these things, I think I'd be on board.  As it is, I'm left wondering why I forgot about it entirely a day after I saw it.  I should be puzzling.  I should be wishing I thought of it first.  Instead, I'm thinking this concept is up for grabs....for someone to do better.  

I'm going to keep all this in mind the next time I write a supernatural story or an adventure story.  Don't fall into the Alcatraz trap!