Tuesday, August 17, 2010

30 Day TV Challenge - Day 11: "Because I was LOADED, okay?!!!!" -or- "It's never lupus."

11. A show that disappointed you.

I had a little bit of a struggle deciding exactly what this prompt was asking for. Did they mean a show that started out well, then went slowly-but-surely off the rails (like The X-Files, undone by an increasingly ponderous mythology with no clear purpose or definition)? Or did it mean a show I had high expectations for, and then watched in horror as it met none of them (like Voyager, which I'm apparently still not done jabbing a fork into)? I couldn't make up my mind. So: I'll answer them both.

First, the latter -- and I'm pretty sure a year ago I had a vision I'd be writing this very essay...

This image looks like how watching it felt.
My disappointment in Flashforward is no secret. In fact, I wrote about it before, at great length, and made my bottomless disdain for what was presented very clear. I called it the "most frustrating show in the history of television," and the said the show might end up forcing me to "kill everyone on the planet in a screaming rage." But I was still hooked, and vowed to hang in there, hoping it might get better.

I lasted three more episodes.

The failure of Flashforward was a tricky one, it turns out, and I think most of my expectations can't really be blamed on the program itself. (This is another case, as with Battlestar Galactica, where research would have served me well -- if I'd known beforehand that Brannon Motherfucking Braga was one of the show's creators, we would not be having this discussion right now.) If Flashforward had aired on NBC, or CBS, or even, Gods help us, SyFy, I wouldn't have given it much thought at all. But Flashforward aired on ABC, behind an army of promotion, most of it aimed squarely at my personal demographic -- that is, people who loved Lost. The first promos aired during the fifth season finale of Lost, and ABC positioned it as the heir to Lost's mysterious supernatural throne.

Which was overblown beyond imagination, of course. Flashforward was an unbelievable train wreck, a program whose few original bright spots were quickly blotted out by its flaws: bad writing, worse acting, and an unshakable feeling that no one involved in the production thought we were smart enough to understand what was happening.

But, most fatally for a serial mystery show...it just wasn't interesting. If you can, for a moment, reflect on the show's central mystery -- every single person on the planet blacks out for two minutes and sees a vision of themselves, six months into the future, without any idea why -- and then realize that these people managed to make it boring. Inescapably, indescribably boring. When you have one of the best concepts ever seen on a science fiction television series and you can't make it any more compelling than a random rerun of CSI: Miami, I find myself profoundly disappointed.

Then again, I was also profoundly disappointed by...

Putrid discharge, indeed.
Oh, this hurts. This hurts bad. Because I loved this show. Couldn't get enough of it. It was appointment viewing, every single week. Some of its best episodes -- "Cursed," "Three Stories," "The Mistake," "House's Head" and "Wilson's Heart" -- still rank among my favorite works in all of television.

But House collapsed. Oh, Gods, it collapsed like a cheap wooden bridge in a hurricane.

The premise of House is what we in the business* like to call "high concept." This means it can be explained in a single sentence: "A curmudgeonly genius solves medical mysteries." And for the first season, that's pretty much all it was: a patient comes in, is sick, they treat him/her, he/she doesn't get better, they treat him/her more, he/she gets a little better then a whole lot worse, House sees a weird coffee stain that leads him to the answer, patient is cured (except for the rare instance when they'd die anyway). Simple, clean and fun. Season two upped the ante by making the doctors' lives a greater focus: suddenly, the B-plot of every episode was devoted to some personal struggle in House's life or the life of his team. And the show was suddenly better.

But something happened, somewhere. I'm not sure I can actually point to any specific jump-the-shark moment --  except maybe when House's team "left," but they never actually went anywhere and weren't even removed from the main titles even when they were gone for half a dozen episodes at a time, which kind of made it hard to buy their departures -- but it just fell down and never got back up. The personal stories were less interesting. The constant spelunking into House's psyche became painfully repetitive and never went anywhere at all. And the medical mysteries -- which were the whole concept of the show, remember -- went from compelling-if-formulaic to formulaic to dull-and-formulaic to just being an afterthought. The poor sick people felt like invaders from another show altogether.

But most of all -- House never lost. Ever. The world would fall on him and ask him to change some abhorrent part of his behavior, and he would, only to reveal at the end of the episode that he hadn't changed at all. He'd kick his vicodin habit, everyone would be happy, and then it would turn out he'd never quit after all and we were right the hell back to where we'd started. The personal side of House, which improved the show in its early stages, was now its biggest weakness. It was treading water, and poorly. I went from watching the show live every week, to watching it on DVR a few days later, to just letting weeks' worth of House pile up and forgetting about it. And then it was gone.

*Full disclosure: I am not actually in the business.

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