Kalliel (kalliel) wrote,

Homeland, The Writer's Room, and Writing

The Writer's Room, hosted by Jim Rash (The Descendants, The Way, Way Back, and Dean Pelton on Community), is a new television series on the Sundance Channel y'all might be interested in. Basically, it's a 20-minute interview with the writers of this or that acclaimed television show. The first episode interviews the writer's room from Breaking Bad, and subsequent episodes will interview the writers from Game of Thrones, Parks and Recreation, American Horror Story, etc.

The premise sounds wonderful to me, because I like writers and writing and have been endlessly curious as to how, exactly, TV writing even works--that whole collaborative process, the time crunch, all of that. In practice, though, I didn't think it was terribly interesting. Keeping in mind I've never seen Breaking Bad, I felt like it was basically 20 minutes of them saying obvious writing things that weren't terribly specific to BrBa--the idea of dynamic characters, asshole characters, writing plots from what a character does rather than writing character from what the plots needs them to do. That sort of thing. The idea of having to do research for writing (in this case,

So ultimately I think it's more a show for people who watch TV, but don't themselves write. I'm sure that'd all be fascinating if it weren't so…self-evident? At least, that's how it felt to me, and I'm sure that with you guys as my audience, I'm very far from alone in that.

This isn't a dig at the writing or the caliber of the writers on BrBa; I'm pretty sure they're actually fuckawesome, given what I know of the show by osmosis. I just don't think I'm the appropriate audience for The Writer's Room. Which makes me sad, because Jim Rash. :(

Final verdict: Glorified making-of featurette better left for the DVDs.

And now, as per yesterday, we return to our previously scheduled thoughts about Homeland.

When I'm not actively shopping for a fandom, my other TV watching generally fulfills some other role (I watched True Blood for the costumes and set design, Dark Angel for the choreography and set design, Elementary for Lucy Liu and Sherlock for basic cultural literacy, and Community both to foil SPN and because IT IS VERY RELEVANT TO MY AGE/ACADEMIC DEMOGRAPHIC AND ALSO AMAZING).

When I watch things from ~fancy net works like HBO or Showtime, I generally just watch for the writing. Because like those who watch these networks because they're allowed to screen softcore porn, I gotta get my rocks of somewhere, right? XD However, in spite of its pedigree ("you have to pay extra for this channel"), Showtime always manages to disappoint me in the end. :\


+ Carrie (when she's not inexplicably sexing Brody; I get "plot reasons" but seriously?)
+ Carrie in her apartment
+ Abu Nazir and Issa.
+ Saul.
+ characters' unjustified prejudice against Muslims; I don't understand it, and it infuriates me, but that's exactly what it's supposed to do, that's how a lot of people are, and I think that fact alone deserves screen time; never mind the balls of giving characters we're supposed to love these--to me--irreconcilable flaws
+ And I like that they don't provide subtitles for non-English dialogue. Just a pet pleasure of mine.

- inorganic family dynamics and the most irrelevant children known to man (the Brody bunch)
- David Estes
- all of the sexual relations/UST feels so shoehorned in; is there some kind of quota they need to meet?
- Homeland's CIA is the Worst CIA; what kind of top secret building is that even?? --> But this is almost forgivable
- "talking on an open line" is only an issue when it's convenient for the plot to be an issue; otherwise, talk all you want--on personal cell phones, in cafes, on the street...

And you know, from a directorial point of view, I do understand. It's extremely difficult to frame conversations on TV that are both realistic and visually appealing. If every conversation had to be as secure as in reality, there'd be almost no scenery. There'd be no walk-and talks (the classic filmic convention of television!). Most of each episode would involve people driving to secure locations and then driving back to other positions, making for a lot of confusing setting changes and altogether very broken pacing. Because the pacing of real life is pretty abysmal; television is allowed to be neater! And in Homeland's case, it probably has to be, because if you've ever been to an amateur play with too many scene shifts or too much unnecessary stage movement, you know that that looks like. Still, it just makes it feel that much more ridiculous when out of the blue someone will mention how talking on an open line is Not Allowed. What about the 50 lines before that one? XD

I watched 2x07 The Clearing last night. This is not at all typical of Homeland episodes, but the writing was distractingly bad, somehow. I was watching all the scenes unfold and all I could see was the script typed up in a text document; the writing behind the story being told was obscuring, well, the story supposedly being told. The first handful of major scenes were contained two-person scenes in quick succession, with the characters roped off from everything (the action, other characters, the flow of the episode as a whole) for the sake of being expository with one another. (Which in SPN is pretty common, but that's so much a part of the Winchesters it's practically a character trait at this point.) And the dialogue itself was so rough I was mentally editing out half of the lines for being self-evident, for being a reiteration of the line immediately preceding it, for being overwrought or being untrusting of its audience. And for some reason, the episode lingered just a little too long in every scene--those extra few lines, that last hopless stare.

There were a lot of scenes that ended in hopeless stares. They are the dramatic page break of television, and the slow grounders of scene transitions.

They are the things you see in fan fic all the time. (On the topic of things that are practically inherent traits!) I do it all the time. (I do all of these things all the time.) And while it's not always the most elegant type of scene transition you can write, it works on paper in a way it doesn't at all work on screen. Something gets lost in translation (or too much gets added).

In this respect, I've really enjoyed Season 2 of Homeland, because I recognize flaws in its writing that I also recognize in my own, and it's always nice to have relatable, illuminating examples like that. We'll see if the rest of the season improves. I guess I'm just confused because I've only heard extremely glowing reviews of this television program, and…it's not quite there? Granted, you can literally find a glowing review of anything, but these were the unanimous reviews of ~fancy sources who pride themselves on the caliber of their high-brow viewing tastes. So why hasn't anyone called them on this yet? More to the point, why didn't they call it on themselves?

A final note on Homeland: It has a narrative style I'm unfamiliar with, in the sense that the payout for their various plotlines is lightning quick; they never play the long game. Negative fallouts or huge security blowouts you were expecting to see in later seasons? Yeah, try the middle of the first one. Extremely volatile plot points that dramatically shift the positions of the characters, in ways from which no retreat can be beat? Yeah, let's not wait on those.

It's not so much that there aren't the "filler" plots 22-episode shows have (though there aren't); it's more than that. The actual plot races forward much faster, and with much more conviction, that your average show. The writers aren't afraid to change the playing field--irrevocably, and at a moment's notice. It makes for charged, compelling, dynamic drama, certainly.

At the same time, if you never play the long game, then how is your audience supposed to really give a damn? At a certain point the speed of the narrative reminds me less of daring storytelling and more of…hm.

It reminds me of the way I eat. No self-control, just spontaneous eating of things that aren't really that great, and weren't worth the wait because there was no wait. Instant gratification is great, it is. But waiting can be greater. Sage news brought to you by the planet, Pre-school!

tl;dr I love writers and writing and stuff. Basically.
Tags: fandom: misc., i can't watch tv like a normal person, writing

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