Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Needlessly complicated contrivances

I've sensed a whole new genre on television. I've deemed it the Needlessly Complicated Contrivance genre. This would be where the premise has a hook that at first seems intriguing, then as you watch the show you think: They don't need that hook at all. And since all these shows had really short runs, I might be on to something

Some examples:
Life on Mars. Premise: A cop from the present is transported to the 70s to be a cop with 70s cops. Why can't it just be a show called "70s Cops."? That'd be good: Cops still bitter over the Miranda ruling, some pre-Rodney King suspect abuse, pre-DNA detective work. This could be a good drama. You don't need the observer-participant from the future premise at all. It was kind of self-defeating.

My Own Worst Enemy. Premise: By day a suburban dad, by night a secret agent. The hook: But due to some computer chip in his head or something, each of his identities knows nothing of the other! Why couldn't it just be suburban dad by day, secret agent at night?

Awake. Premise Jason Isaacs is an incredibly handsome cop who's living in two realities (a la Sliding Doors), one in which his wife died in a car crash, the other in which his son died in the accident. Once again, needlessly complicated contrivance.  Can't he just be a dashingly handsome cop? Ideally producers want shows to last at least 4-5 seasons. How long could you do this? In fairness, of the shows I'm writing about I never watched this one, so maybe it was the best show on TV. But I'm thinking, like the others, it had high production values and was a pleasure to watch...but...

Doll House. Premise: Eliza Dushku is an agent of some mysterious corporation that sends out "dolls" to fulfill wishes, do secret agent work, and when she's done, her memory is erased until her next assignment where she's programmed to do what's needed. Why can't she just be an agent who does stuff? In fairness the show was cancelled pretty quickly and it was just starting to explore who the real Eliza Dushku was and what exactly was behind the mysterious corporation. But still, let's look at another Joss Whedon show for contrast: Buffy The Vampire Slayer. Premise: Vampire slayer slays vampires. OK. Simple. She wasn't a vampire slayer who traveled through time, she wasn't a vampire slayer with amnesia. No!

There are several others whose runs were over so quick I can't even remember their names. One was a cop inexplicably pulled back and forth through time and in the episode I saw he functioned as a family counselor. Just stop.

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