Thursday, April 20, 2006

Consequences

In other news, I just finished watching the last episode of Season Five of "The Shield", and all I have to say is "oh my" (apologies to Joe and Lt. Sulu).

OK, that is not all I have to say, but you probably knew that, since you know me and my propensity to ramble.

"The Shield" is a cop drama, kinda. What it is really about is people, and how they usually get what's coming to them. If ever there was a cautionary tale against corruption, this is it.

I have compared "The Shield" to "The Wire" before, and my final analysis bears repeating: "The Wire" offers a way forward against corruption and evil and misery, while the "The Shield" just shows the consequences. That makes "The Wire" the more worthwhile show in my opinion.

Which is not to say that you should not also watch "The Shield". If you like good acting and good storytelling, and you can handle an explicit look at the damage that dirty cops do to everyone around them, "The Shield" is for you.

I think it is great television, and I hope that rumours that the next season will be the last are correct. "What!?" you may be asking, "You want a show that you have enjoyed to end?"

(Aside: yet another tiny earthquake is currently happening. And don't worry, I am not sitting under anything heavy that can fall on me.)

Indeed. Fictional television shows exist for the same reason as other sorts of fiction: to tell a story. Or tell stories, whatever.

One of the reviews of "The Wire" on IMDb calls it the closest thing to a novel one will find on the silver screen (that is television, right? not the movies?), and I think that is a wonderful bit of insight. "The Wire", in all three seasons thus far, has told a single story. So has "The Shield", with a few more twists and turns. Both shows are successful for their dedication to the story, and they both succeed in holding onto that in the face of the pressure of delivering it in episodic chunks.

The thing is, "The Shield" can only have a sad ending, and the action is certainly coming to a close. The story has almost been told, and I am looking forward to the end. I wish shows would be pitched as a three-season story, or a five-season one, whatever. Without knowing the end of your story, you end up writing yourself into a corner, based on the actions of your characters. This is actually one sign of good writing, since the characters are natural and fleshed out enough to act on their own. The problem occurs when a convenient "happy ending" is forced on the story, leaving the viewer shaking her head in disbelief. Many shows have gone this route.

The trick is to get out before you jump the shark. And the way to do that, in my humble, not-writing-for-television opinion opinion, is to write the story completely before you pitch the show. That does not prevent you from making changes as you go, if those changes improve the story. But you have to know where it is going.

3 comments:

matthew said...

If "The Wire" is a novel, it is Dickens. Lots of characters, some loose development of the plot, gaps in character development, etc. but in the end, it manages to cut to the heart of its theme. Have you seen up to the end of season 3 yet? The writers juggle themes of self destruction so well that I was pretty much blown away by the end. McNulty is a great, great, great character.

Josh Glover said...

Interesting comparison to Dickens. I will have to think about that one some more (and read a little more Dickens--I think the last thing I read was "Great Expectations", but it was a long time ago).

I have seen the end of Season Three. I am a little worried about where the show will go in Season Four--the story ended with the end of Season Three, and ended wonderfully, in my opinion.

We are in complete agreement about McNulty: he is one of the most complex and real characters that I have ever seen on television.

matthew said...

I heard that the new season will focus on a school. I think this can work. A big theme at the end of season two was going back to community roots and a school could be an excellent way to develop this. The "roots" theme was also looked at in the "decline of the American working class" material in season II (along with "angry white men"). I had doubts about the show's ability to keep its momentum in season II (given the shift in the "bad guys") but my doubts were misplaced. I have faith in season four (^_^).