Three Wise Men?

Posted: July 2, 2012 in TV

The start of The Newsroom last week coincided with me finally getting around to watching the final season of Six Feet Under and while struggling through the latest episode of True Blood last night an interesting similarity struck me about Sorkin and Ball – and throw in Whedon for good measure. They are all associated with a TV Masterpiece they have never been able to recreate or even get close to again in reality but each new production brings new hope. It is not that later efforts are all that bad – most are indeed good – but the bar was raised so high initially they can never reach it again which frustrates their many followers but most remain loyal . Whedon has had the most success post Buffy I imagine and now The Avengers has put him back near the top so lets concentrate on the other 2. Whedon also seems to be the one most critics want to do well with Sorkin the least popular and Ball falls somewhere in between. Sorkin certainly had critical success with Social Network so lets stick with TV for now.

West Wing remains my favourite drama series of all time. A significant part of this of course was the clever writing. The political background of the White House is always intriguing and compelling and has never been portrayed better. Studio 60 maintained the clever writing as indeed does The Newsroom but there is something missing? Not really – instead there has been something added that dilutes. Whiny relationships. Watching The Newsroom last night and Mackenzie rant and rave while Maggie pouted and pranced made me wonder aloud – where are CJ and Donna? How did we get from them to the M&Ms – all sweetness, no substance? The answer is of course Studio 60. I read where Sorkin said he had learnt from Studio 60 – I don’t think so. We had the “relationship” dramas there with Chandler and Harriet and Josh and Jordan – unnecessary distractions. Josh and Donna danced around attraction for 7 seasons on WW – this is standard TV practice folks. CJ got herself a man when needed but you always knew she didn’t need one to shine. West Wing had strong women – where did they go? I actually enjoyed Studio 60 and will no doubt enjoy The Newsroom – but there will always be that nagging thought – why introduce these neurotic women Sorko? Donna could play ditzy – which can be charming – but she also had her wins with Josh. Why move away from a winning formula?

Six Feet Under is rightly regarded as a high quality drama series and has a well crafted story arc over 5 seasons. I don’t see the same happening with True Blood which appears as if it will be milked for all its worth – yes I realise there is a book series behind this show. Ball bought his unique brand of quirk to SFU which worked well. I found some of the Nate storyline boring at times but once again what we had here was a strong and interesting female character in Claire who was the star of the show for me – whatever happened to Ambrose? Episode 4 last night of TB Season 5 was a dog’s breakfast. Sookie is more annoying than strong let alone particularly interesting – Pam is the standout female character for me but that is surely not be design. Quirk overload perhaps? With TB we do have the Twilight effect methinks – fans of the books have the rose-coloured glasses on when it comes to the screen adaptations. Even if you don’t see it before your own eyes your background knowledge of the characters and the interactions enhances the experience.
True Blood differs from the books significantly at times I understand – never having read these I rely on anecdotal evidence – and maybe this is Ball placing his stamp on it but for me it aint working. Game of Thrones also appears to wander from the books but has such an interesting cast of characters and strong storyline behind it that it seems less of an issue for the fans. TB seems to be off with the fairies at times in more ways than one.

Whedon also seems to have the most loyal fan base and has indeed created some great shows since Buffy even if they did not achieve critical or ratings success. This problem is not unique to Whedon or indeed quality drama. Not in a world – or even the Whedonverse – where reality crap substitutes for quality TV for the great unwashed masses. One suspects that the second coming of Whedon may see another Buffy on the horizon – the rare combination of a critical and rating success. Then again one could argue he has already achieved that.

So then we have 3 very talented and creative people regularly displaying their wares to varying acclaim and a smattering of bursts of joyous rapture from fans. The Fawlty Towers scenario is always one I drift back to when thinking of successful series. Do you walk away at the top of your game leaving them wanting more or do you try and recreate the magic time and time again? I imagine for creative people it is difficult to walk away and at the end of the day they are producing these shows that they have nurtured from that one idea much like us non creative people may breathe in and out – what else are you going to do to survive the daily humdrum? Success or not doesn’t particularly bother them nor kill the light inside. Good to know. Better to see.

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