Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Office: Fandom Merit and Malarkey

There's an odd trend in fandom that I've had the displeasure of observing that has to be explained before talking about the current season of The Office.

1. During the first season of a show, it can do no wrong and fandom overflows with love and creativity.

2. During the second season a show makes tweaks. Fans begin to question what they saw in the show in the first season. Their creativity is no longer a celebration of what they're watching, but an expression of what they wish they were watching.

3. At some point shortly afterward, fandom sours. Because we all know the guys running the show should totally be following what every single member of fandom wants, even if it makes no sense.
Recently, on an internet community that shall remain nameless, there have been multiple posts that caught my attention regarding the direction that the writing staff of The Office has taken with several characters.. People are pissed because… Ryan's wearing stupid clothes and… Jim isn't pulling pranks?

I chalk a lot of it up to anti-shippers (not to be mistaken for 'non-shippers'). A recent roasting of Pam decried her decision to drop out of art school because IT'S HER DREAM!!!!!!!!! (Exclamation points are fandom's, not my own.) Since Pam's 'idiotic' choice, she's accused of devolving into an uncaring pregnant jerk who's more of an annoyance than a source of entertainment. I would say the same of those who have decided Pam made an 'idiotic' choice.

Pam's 'dream' was to become an artist and she followed that by taking a few courses and having her work in an art show where it received little to no attention. After doing some web design for Dunder Mifflin, she decided to go to art school in New York. She failed classes, wasn't enjoying herself… and she missed Jim. Her decision to return to Scranton wasn't failure; it was recognition. While Pam loves art, it wasn't her biggest dream anymore. Her dream became a future with Jim.

Pam is no less of an artist because she dropped out of art school and she is not a failure because The Office chooses not to show what's going on in the garage Jim converted into an art studio. It would be wonderful if Pam's art were to re-emerge, transformed, at some point later in the series because it would no longer be driven by a need to fulfill a dream, but will be the extension of a dream fulfilled.

As for her attitude, I took issue with her asking people not to wear perfume, but understand that it's a mockery of the selfishness of motherhood sometimes today. It also set up the vomit gag. Small sacrifices, folks. But what I think people are angry at – or at least what I saw a backlash about – was her slapping Michael. Some people think too highly of themselves and underestimate how they'd react if their own mother were dating their own boss and then watched said boss dump their mother on her birthday.

Plus, this show is ridiculous. If you don't acknowledge that, you're too lost to debate with.

Jim's decision to grow within the company has been deemed inconsistent with his character and now that he's hooked up with Pam, he's boring. Somewhere we've bought into this idea that a television show is boring if the main couple is together. You know what happens when a couple in the real world gets together? They enter into a new phase in their relationship called 'Dating'. Then there's the 'Marriage' phase. I know we're not used to believing that phase can work, but trust me, it still can. And when the 'Marriage' phase starts, sometimes it turns into the 'Two Kids and a Minivan' phase.

When a show goes south after their couple hooks up, it's the fault of bad writers who've decided coupling means death instead of seeing it as just a new phase in a relationship.

Jim, like many people in the real world, never really had a goal. The point when he decided he wanted to transfer to another branch to get away from Pam (when he thought he just couldn't have her) he started to toy with the idea that maybe he could grow within Dunder Mifflin and become a great salesman. Retiring as a salesman isn't everyone's goal, but people do it every day and they've had great (and often profitable) lives. Once Jim started a real relationship with Pam, his goal became making a life with Pam. With that comes the responsibility that often requires us to put aside things like playing daily pranks in order to work just a little harder to bring in the dough. He will never lose the jester inside, but he's learned to be more reserved about it.

It's called Growing Up, something many in fandom would benefit from.

Outside of this relationship come the 'favorite character' gripes. A lot of fans fail to recognize that their favorite characters are not necessarily the main characters and that it is main characters around which the core story revolves. I, personally, do not like Michael Scott. I suffer through most of his scenes outside of the office, but he is a main character and I have few justifiable complaints about his scenes – like in this past week's where I expected the great salesman that Michael Scott actually IS to actually HAVE a 45 day plan - but I understand when my complaints are JUST because I don't particularly like the character.

I've also never had any real strong feelings towards Ryan. He was the Temp, then he was Fire Guy, then he was that guy with no sales who got a high position at corporate, then he was the corporate guy who cheated and went to jail, and now he's the Temp again. He's a slacker who only THINKS he's intelligent because he went to business school. If you work in an office there's bound to be someone who went to school, got a high paying position, and doesn't know jack. But Ryan has pretty eyes, why did mean "new" Jim put his office in a closet!?

His growth has been limited because in society some people don't grow up. It's shocking to see people complain about his lack of growth as a character while failing to recognize the growth in others (also shocking, the lack of complaints about characters like Dwight, Kelly, and Angela, who also have had very little growth). It makes me wonder what fandom thinks growth is, or if what they really want isn't character growth, but character shifts: Their favorites in the spotlight while main characters get reduced to background characters.

Kind of like Heroes. Which most people hate because of the constant character rotation and near stagnancy with said characters while the plot rolls around in circles.

You want to know why most shows stall out after a few years? A lack of forward motion with the relationships and main characters on the show in an attempt to "keep the status quo" and eventually, it just angers the audience because... it's boring.

A stalemate with major characters is what stops a show dead in its tracks. All of these characters should be constantly evolving in one direction or another. For The Office, sometimes that growth comes in the form of a promotion, or a pregnancy; for their audience, that growth comes in acknowledging that maybe their favorite characters aren't as 'awesome' as in the fanfiction they write.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Fringe: Observers of Time

It's no secret that J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci are fans of anything having to do with time. Abrams is the mastermind behind the hit ABC series, Lost, that has spent the last five seasons zipping through time via flashbacks and flash forwards before introducing actual time travel – and all signs point to more time travel and even imaginary timelines (or alternate realities) in the final season starting February 2010.

With Kurtzman and Orci, the trio's new Star Trek movie this past summer literally re-created the franchise utilizing an alternate reality from which they catapulted the rebirth. They've re-launched an old science fiction staple and done with it something rarely seen – turned it into a mainstream commodity. That people are talking of time travel and time jumps within their favorite series not as some clichéd way around problems, but as a curious and interesting way to push forward through the boundaries of storytelling is not only an exemplary achievement, it's exciting.
Last season, the trio launched the FOX series Fringe, centered on FBI agent Olivia Dunham and her team's experiences with what the show has called "The Pattern" – a series of paranormal events culminating towards something massive. That something, it's been debated within the show, is the battle of two alternate realities over the right to exist. Who wins, and how, remains to be seen, but in all this there are a group of men who've been seemingly given the task of watching these events unfold.

One of these men, called 'Observers', has been photographed at various "Pattern" related incidents, and up until now their involvement has been minimal and mostly through the eyes of Walter Bishop. Many years ago, on a drive with his son Peter, they got into a car accident, from which they were pulled (or at least Walter was) from certain death by an Observer. This past week's episode 'August' began with a different Observer watching over a woman in a park before abducting her. His actions were the first time an Observer has been seen on the show actively participating in his surroundings, as opposed to just watching, so it begs the question: Why now? Why this girl?

The Observers themselves are oblivious as well and the rules are laid out – they observe time as it exists, like watching a movie, and only step in and act to course correct something that, through their observations, they've altered somehow (as with Peter's death). It would seem they are keepers of time, ensuring that the events in their history remain in their history, which implies that – at least in the Fringe world – the history of a world can be changed. Of course, with this ideology comes all the thoughts that predate Fringe through the other realms of Abrams and co, particularly Lost.

Are the Observers simply the end-result of our status quo? From a future world where one of the alternate realities has already won the battle? Or will their changes alter the course of history, leaving them marooned to a different future.

It stands to reason that the future winner of this reality show-down is not ours. Why send observers into the past of the reality that won? Those histories are written in books and taught to school children. The lost history, the history of the civilization that perished, would be far more interesting. What events in our universe were different from theirs; what chain of events lead to our universe ending while theirs continued?

It's obvious that The Pattern is an important chain of events, and for each important chain of events there seems to be an assigned observer. A man (so far) with amplified senses and advanced motor skills who lacks an emotional connection to anyone around them. Similar to the soldiers in Walter's manifesto, possibly the solders that eventually resulted from Walter's manifesto, taken by William Bell to the other side, the Observers can read minds and move at incredible speeds, yet, are incapable of love.

Except that they are. The random kidnapping of Christine becomes far less random once we realize that this particular Observer, named August, has been following the young women from the time she was a girl. Her parents died in a bridge collapse and August – when he realizes that she will die on a flight to Italy – can't let her die twenty years later because he feels something for her. He loves her.

Of course, her life would be an inconsistency in the history, the possibility of a different outcome and the other Observers require that she die to correct it unless, Walter warns, August can find a way to make her important. The complexity of her importance – that she is the reason for the death of an Observer, is understated. It isn't the girl herself, but the feelings she elicits in August, that cause his death. He is compelled not simply to observe, but to act by sacrificing himself, because of his love for Christine (the play on the sacrifice of Christ should not be lost on the audience).

August has observed, and because of him the others have observed to a lesser extent, humanity – something seemingly lost in them – and this humanity will be the path towards a new future. Christine is not the first anomaly. The fact that they have a hired hitman on call implies that the Observers are keen to the fact that they ARE changing something – because it is impossible to observe something without leaving your own mark on it.

Twenty plus years ago Walter got into a car accident – caused by an Observer – that resulted in his son's death. Through some deal made with the Observer sent to observe him and The Pattern, the Peter from an alternate reality was eventually brought into our reality ultimately changing the course of all history. Or did the Observer allow this trade because he knew it was always part of the plan.

Only time will tell.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Gossip Girl: How to Succeed

Let’s be honest, I started watching Gossip Girl to see beautiful people swan around beautiful places in beautiful clothes getting with other beautiful people. This show did not have a lot to aspire to. Surprise! It vastly exceeded my expectations with its risqué banter, themes of loneliness and popularity, and the dark past of its characters. So, I cast aside my initial evaluation and prepared to enjoy. Surprise! It is now hammy and convoluted. Whether this is due to what many former O.C devotees refer to as the S3 spiral of hell or the much-feared college decline, things have gone badly wrong. So, me being an all-knowing TV goddess (ahem....) I have 5 rules for Josh Schwarz and Stephanie Savage to follow in order to make like Bart Bass and be a bad-ass billionaire successful mofo. *Please kill me now for the mangled, clichéd, and desperate analogy*

1. Bring Back Original Recipe Blair

Stop exploiting Leighton’s versatility. Just because she has the ability to do comedy, does not mean she should be relegated to these ‘hahaha’ storylines. This whole desperate quest to become Queen of NYU is a) ridiculous as Blair already cast aside her mignons and the Colony Club saying she wasn’t dealing with High School anymore; b) stupid as it’s not funny watching Blair be left lonely after her ‘dastardly scheme’ fails, it’s actually sad.
This whole NYU storyline could have actually given us character development rather than regression. Seeing Blair really struggle with the loss of her identity and status could have been moving as well as interspersed with comedy. We could have seen Blair coping with living with Vanessa, who she sees as the representation of her polar opposite. Imagine how much more poignant the last scene between them where they realise how much they’ve lost and how alike they are would have been. If the writers are looking for drama, rather than using Blair’s schemes to divide her and Chuck and cause the seasonly rift with Serena, why not have her relapse with her bulimia? Chuck is devastated she can’t trust him and Serena is torn between telling her step-brother or keeping Blair’s loyalty. This would utilise Leighton’s dramatic acting ability, incorporate Chuck and relationship drama, be a real issue with Serena that tests their friendship/loyalty/trust, and get the whole cast involved – Cyrus and Eleanor worrying about her, Nate because of his previous history with Blair, and Dan and Vanessa realising Blair is not an evil witch but a real person with insecurities and problems.

2. Stop With The Guest Stars

We know they aren’t sticking around, so there is no point us getting involved in their storylines. Nate’s Romeo/Juliet romance has no credibility as we know Bree is disposable. Ditto Hilary Duff (sorry, I just can’t see her as Olivia, she’ll always be Hilary Duff/Lizzie Maguire to me) and Dan’s relationship. This point is particularly emphasised by Scott. FINE, I’ll concede at least he had a valid reason to be there, but otherwise really, really? They could have at least cast someone attractive and had him even slightly resemble Lily/Rufus. Seriously he looked like the love child of Pete Wentz and Rosario Dawson.
Not only do these guest stars serve almost no purpose but they eat up precious screentime. A few people may tune in to see Hilary Duff and Tyra Banks, but most loyal viewers tune in to see the regulars. They stop the main characters interacting with each other. Nate and Bree seemed to exist in a completely different TV show. People seem to be acting in little 2/3 person bubbles. Where are the scenes from S1 where the NJBC was out in force and sparked off with the Brooklynites? For example a memorable moment would be at the white brunch when Blair told Dan about Serena sleeping with Nate

3. Kill Off Jenny, Rufus, And Vanessa

I feel apathy at best, hatred at worst for these characters. Each one is in their own way completely redundant in Gossip Girl. Rufus/Lily is done. They are married. We do not need to see their pathetic conflicts and Rufus acting like a baby. Vanessa is a judgemental hypocrite. While she is useful as a sounding board for Dan, I feel that the sage advice could just as easily come from Eric, seeing as these two are apparently family though I don’t think they’ve said two words to each other. Use this Van-Hump-Der-Bass family to create original drama/conflict/relationships. Jenny is, like the guest stars, part of completely seperate world to the rest of the main cast. Constance is now OVER, please see Friday Night Lights for the graceful departure of a character - Smash and Jason Street. If Jenny does HAVE to be involved, please give her a bath and a burger. She looks like a crack whore.

4. Storylines With A Point

All that secret child drama for what? A 5 minute reunion where nothing is discussed and consists mainly of Lily reassuring Rufus of his love. Seriously, just watch it.
Carter/Bree WTF?! A family feud involving someone’s sister and an altar and a zzzzzzzz. No one cares nor has this had any real impact on the main characters. Useless, useless, useless.

5. Chuck/Blair White Hot Sex

One of the hottest couples, and yet at most we’ve seen a few kisses. Where are the scenes from last year with the smouldering tension, the partial nudity and heart-breaking emotion? Ok, maybe not heart-breaking (please no break-up/back together drama) but I want to see some passion. I wanted to see the rest of kinky waiter foreplay. I want to see the infamous red tights make a comeback. I want to see how they deal with sex within a committed relationship. And no, I'm not a pervert! Yes, I like the sweetness of Blair cuddling Chuck in bed and the fact that TPTB are trying to show us that they aren’t just about the sex, but I think that was effectively handled last season with the I Love You drama. Also, on that kinda point but not strictly related but what the fuck was that ‘I didn’t say I love you because I couldn’t trust you’ bullshit. Please writers, read your own damn script and watch your own damn show.

So, there you go Gossip Girl. A few hints and pointers from a disappointed viewer. Tell me your problems with the new season. Rant and rave. I like to think the TV Gods will hear our pleas!