Thursday, November 12, 2009

Characterization

I started watching a few new television shows this season, and last week after watching several episodes of two new shows that were saved on my DVR, I pinpointed the reason one show had me sobbing and checking to make sure upcoming episodes were set to tape, and the other left me just "bleh." Characterization.

What surprised me most during my discovery, was that had you asked me which show I thought I'd like more going in - I would have gotten it wrong. Going into this season, I was predisposed to liking one show more than the other...and it still managed to fail me.

As a vampire fan (I read vampire books before Twilight made them the cool new thing), I fell in love with Mick St. John, aka Alex O'Laughlin on Moonlight.


I was of course, devastated when CBS made the fatal decision to cancel the show after its first season (and I'm sure whoever made that decision got fired after True Blood and Twilight have gone on to super fandom). So when I saw ads for Mick St. John's new show as a doctor on Three Rivers, I was so excited that even called my mom to tell her about it (she's a vampire fan too).

And yet, the characterization on Three Rivers (in addition to poor scheduling by CBS - seriously, how can a show succeed if the show before it constantly runs overtime and ruins my DVR plans?) has been done so poorly up to this point that as I sit here, I can't for the life of me think of Alex O'Laughlin's character's name. (I googled it, and it's Dr. Andy Yablonski).

And I was predisposed to like him, I anxiously awaited the debut of his new show, and I watched both ER and Grey's Anatomy for several seasons each before losing interest. CBS couldn't have asked for a more primed viewer than me, but the show's focus on technical medical jargon and procedure, the philosophical and moral benefits of organ donation (a little too preachy for my tastes), and actions scenes (how many times can watching a helicopter fly to pick up an organ be exciting?) have left me bored and uninterested. Where are the great character stories that made ER and Grey's such big hits?

The show I am loving right now?


I recorded it on the DVR on a whim since the Fiennes brothers are usually pretty awesome. And I have to admit that I'm totally hooked. After several episodes, I feel like I know every character, and I might not know their entire backstory. But I know what will happen to them on April 29th for two minutes, and I know how they're handling - or not handling - dealing with that futuristic knowledge.

And, though this isn't characterization, I have to say I'm a sucker for television shows that have a master plan (X-files was the first show I followed with a religious intensity).

I've always said that it's characters and voice that make or break a manuscript or a book for me. If a character comes alive to me, sucks me into their story, makes me think about them for days after I've closed the book (I still love you Prince Brigan despite the fact that you've given me unrealistic expectations in men), I'm sold. Good characters can trump plot holes for me. I don't question inconsistencies other people noticed in Time Traveler's Wife because I'm too caught up in the characters to notice.

Good characters even hide their own unrealistic - and maybe not healthy habits - from me. It took me a few months after I first read Twilight to really think about Edward's creepy sleepstalking behavior and admit to myself that Edward Cullen is not the kind of boyfriend I want (extra thanks to Nick for raising his hand in class that day and saying "Wait. I just don't get the obsession with Edward. I mean, he's kind of creepy." It did spawn a twenty minute tangent discussion, but it did pull all us girls out of the book long enough to think...oh yeah, he is kind of creepy).

Without good characterization, it's just hard to care about the story.

12 comments:

Ash. Elizabeth said...

Definitely agree with you. I love books with funny, strong heroines. But, every once in a while the funny, kick-butt heroine comes off as a crappy, mean alternate buffy. Maybe that's just me, but there's something about certain characters that come alive. A good example, for me, is Vamp. Academy. (best novels ever. yeah, i'm a vamp lover like you) It's weird though how at other times characterization falls short and the funny, strong-willed protagonist turns bland because there are no surprises or things that set her apart. I drop those novels with a heavy taste of cardboard in my mouth.

suzie townsend said...

I love the Vampire Academy series! It's gotten better and better with each book IMO.

Christina Lee said...

Hi Suzie- first time commenting here.:) I have been meaning to tape the Flash Forward show FOREVER and keep missing it. Maybe I can catch up? I have to say I am LOVING the new Vampire Diaries series. Take care!

Ash. Elizabeth said...

YAY! I found another VA lover! Have you checked out the cover of the fifth book? If not, I'm uploading it onto my blog right now because i'm obsessed : ) Such an awesome cover!

Lisa Dez said...

This is so true. It's the characters that keep me as a reader coming back to the same authors over and over. You know you can count on them to give you a character you can love, hate, or sink your teeth into (in the case of vamp stories.)

And I agree that it's very easy to overlook minor plot issues when you're totally invested in your beloved character.

Rachel said...

That's disappointing that Three Rivers is a bust. I've been meaning to check it out because it's set in Pittsburgh. And I completely agree that it's so, so important to feel a connection with the characters - in books and on TV. In a way I think it's tougher to create realistic characters on TV because they're in your face - so if viewers are annoyed by their actions or even stupid little habits or mannerisms, they'll easily flip the switch or walk away.

M said...

I don't watch much TV anymore, so I can't comment on the shows, but I love this post! I'm also drawn to character driven stuff; while I really appreciate shiny plots (and it's great if books do both!), the books I obsess over are the ones that really get me deep inside the protag's head. Bonus points if the characters are flawed. Like, LOLITA flawed. I'm not perfect, and reading about perfect people (or people with annoyingly "cute" flaws) just makes me jealous! Give me Elphaba from WICKED, Artemis Fowl, and Alexander Portnoy any day. Or hell, ANY of the characters in GEEK LOVE. Truly unforgettable. And I think that's why I'm Team Edward. He's possessive and stalkerish and totally unapologetic about it. Definitely flawed.

I adored the Time Traveler's Wife too, and bawled so thoroughly by the end of it that I was a snotty mess. I was skeptical before reading it because of it's crazy popularity, but Clare and Henry disappoint. They both act like idiots occasionally but call each other out on it, and love each other anyway. They were so real, so nuanced. I adored the book.

I haven't read Her Fearful Symmetry yet, but it's not getting the same quality of reviews, and I'm wondering if part of the reason might be because the author spends time with so many different characters, so she doesn't acquaint the reader well enough with any of them...

Lisa and Laura said...

Oh gosh, you're appealing to the TV junkie in me! I love Flash Forward. It's pretty entertaining right?

I think one of the best shows as far as characterization goes is Lost. I love the way they used the flashbacks (and then flash forwards) as contrast to the current events taking place on the island to build some truly memorable characters. I can't believe this season will be the show's last. I'm going to be in total withdrawal.

suzie townsend said...

Oh, I watched the first season of Lost and got so into it, but then I missed the second season and couldn't pick it back up because I was so confused. That's one show that I'm putting in my netflix Q so I can watch all the seasons in a row :)

La Coccinelle said...

I wish there had been more "Moonlight". Just when it was getting really interesting, they cancelled it! Mick is one of my favourite vampires; the character was done well, with a good balance between nice guy and tortured immortal (unlike some other vampires who just come across as whiny and emo).

I love shows like "Lost" and "Flash Forward", too. I guess I like stories with great big character arcs. (Of course, you need decent actors to make it work, but those shows seem to have done a pretty good job with casting.)

Melissa said...

OK, I admit, I stopped watching Flash Forward because I thought the characterization was weak, but I think I have a different view of characterization than most people do.

I felt as if the characters in Flash Forward weren't acting like real people should, and that frustrated me to no end. For example, Janis and Maya's relationship seemed forced and rushed, the way no one asked Charlie what her vision was about, even when she's made it clear that the vision is significant, the contrived drama between Ralph Fiennes' character and his wife.

Thinking it over, a lot of my complaints have more to do with plot, but I hate it when a show tries to generate tension by having characters not speak to each other about important issues.

TirzahLaughs said...

I didn't want to like FlashForward or Fringe. I fought it every step of the way but what can I say, the people won me over.

I think 'Moonlight' suffered from bad timing and need for the poor guy to take his shirt off more often. It kind of reminded me of a watered-down 'Angel' (spin-off from Buffy The Vampire Slayer).

However, I'm just done with the vampire sagas for right now. I'm just burned out on them.

I think Twilight works because it pulls in the younger audience. Angel worked for the same reason. Both still appealled to older audiences but the younger ones were the core. Although, I did hate the Twilight book series. Maybe I'm getting anti-vamp in my old age. I loved Angel though.

Moonlight was targeting 26+ women. And I think many of us have seen this type of show before. We want a new twist. It was ordinary.

Now that the zombie craze is dying down and I hope the vamp craze dies soon, could we get some sexier werewolves? And no that creepy guy from New Moon doesn't count.

Tirz

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Five Random Things About Suzie

1. I drink so much orange soda, it's probably running through my veins. I've been known to go through a twelve pack of diet sunkist in a day.

2. I'm legitimately nocturnal (or a vampire). I will be so exhausted at two pm that I'm falling asleep standing up - it has happened before, at Six Flags no less - but as soon as the sun goes down I'm wide awake.

3. I have a gorgeous unused $6000 Reem Acra wedding dress hanging in my closet, and it showed up on my doorstep the same day my (now ex) fiance broke up with me. And thank God for that. I wouldn't have wanted to waste that dress on him.

4. Social anxiety plagues me daily. I write a script and practice in front of the mirror when I have to make a phone call, but most people who interact with me have no idea how nervous I am (or perhaps they lie) because I've worked so hard to try to overcome it.

5. I'm actually worried that I will never love my children (when I do have them in the far off future) as much as I love my dogs. I just like animals better than people - they're sweet and innocent and soft and furry - is that so wrong?