Content Discontent

I think I’ve had my fill of TV (streaming or otherwise) and mainstream films.

The first problem is mine, and is one of saturation. I worked in film and TV post-production for 20 years, watching everything from 15-second TV commercials to multi-part TV series, to box office-busting films. And part of working in film and TV is keeping up your fluency so that you can communicate effectively with each other (if a director makes a reference to Picnic at Hanging Rock you better be ready to watch it if you haven’t seen it already). Also, I’ve watched hundreds of films and countless TV shows over the course of my life — the seminal and forgettable, the laughable and the revelatory.

I’ve pretty much seen every storyline at least once. I’ve seen every twist and turn, every “surprise ending.” I’ve seen every plot device, every sort of villain, every sort of (male) anti-hero, every sort of Disneyesque sentimentality and every sort of nihilist purging of the arthouse soul. It’s hard for me to be taken in by a show or movie — either to suspend my disbelief or my anticipation of what the creators are going to do.

The second problem is out of my hands. In this age of streaming services, we are awash with content. Netflix, Amazon Prime, Crave, etc. all require things to put on their virtual shelves so that we can be enticed to part with our money in order to explore their goods. I have no problem with this business model — it’s basically turned into (back to?) cable TV. The problem is one of quality. It seems that, in the effort to fill the shelves¬† seasons are lengthened with filler and show renewals are rubber-stamped that end up being samizdat versions of the preceding season. Multiplexes are filled with the faddish (and profitable) notion that (see: Marvel) everything can be part of a franchise. If I hear another producer say “We originally imagined this as a trilogy/series in four-parts” I’m going to scream.

What bugs the shit out of me is how this affects what’s presented as upper tier programming. A good example is Good Omens, the heralded adaptation of Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett’s collaboration. I haven’t read the original book — I have a notion that it’s written in a larger-than-life, Douglas Adams-y style — but the show is painful to watch. It wants to be sly and slick satire and it has strong early moments, but it’s all so buffoonishly overplayed — the actors who aren’t line-reading chew their way through the scenery — to the degree where I had to wonder whether the producers might’ve considered making it for children. The worst is that for a six-part series there’s barely enough story to take up three. I lost count of how many time-sucking flashbacks and side-stories are introduced in order to lead to the telegraphed, overdue finale. Speaking of Gaiman, adaptations, and overdue finales, please see the meandering second season of American Gods (which I abandoned).

For the record, I don’t have a problem with the Marvel Universe franchise. They’re not hiding anything: it’s a stream of big-ass popcorn epics. They aren’t being released as exemplars of anything other than “hey, here’s a well-executed adaptation of a comic book most people haven’t read.” Sure, given the choice I’d rather watch an imperfect¬† Olivier Assayas film over Ant Man, but at least I can watch the latter and know where to keep my expectations dialled.

While I’m bleating, a trend I wish would die, pardon the pun, are films where it’s obvious the protagonist won’t get a scratch despite killing 100 hired assassins (see the three John Wick films, The Equalizer, and Colombiana). Where’s the suspense if you don’t allow the audience to imagine that, no, the protagonist might not make it. This is an inherent problem with films and TV shows that are made in the hope of infinite reboots: no suspense (see: Orphan Black, a prime example of where the producers missed multiple opportunities to draw more attention by killing off one of the clones).

Why can’t we make something, leave it be to stand on its own merits, and move on without exploiting its success with sequels and prequels and remakes and reboots? As good as the original was (and it is), who in god’s name, save for the cast and crew, asked for a second season of Big Little Lies? What part of that story begged for extended development? Note: Liane Moriarty, the author (whom I share a birthday with) whose novel was adapted into the show never wrote a sequel until the HBO adaptation achieved success (she ended up writing a novella by request, not exactly the way any author would like to work, let alone revisit characters, though I don’t blame her).

Anyhow, I sometimes wonder, in the industry’s effort to satisfy its appetite for content, whether we are sacrificing the magic of our relationship with entertainment for the sake of Say’s Law, the (questionable) belief that supply creates its own demand.