Friday, November 17, 2006

Good News, Bad News

The good news: according to two different sources, Veronica Mars has received a full season order.

The bad news: the CW has ordered only 20 episodes instead of the expected 22. In the short run, this means Rob Thomas and his writing staff will have to scramble to rewrite the season's final plot arc, which will end up getting the least screen time--only four episodes. What really worries me, however, is whether this decision bodes ill for the show's chances of being renewed for a fourth season.

Loving this show is not easy.

Still, this is mostly good news.

14 comments:

Andrew Stevens said...

I was wondering when you'd comment on Veronica Mars. You got me interested in it in the first place and I loved the first season, though it hasn't quite lived up to that since.

By the way, Abigail, the new show Day Break (filling in while Lost is on hiatus) is running promos aimed straight at your concerns about novelistic television. It's guaranteeing a 13-hour self-contained story which will answer all questions and tie up all loose ends and then come to an end. I watched the premiere and I'm not sure if I like it yet (it's not clear to me that anyone had to remake Groundhog Day), but I definitely appreciate the advertising campaign and it stars Taye Diggs who I like though I keep expecting him to break into song.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

I watched the Day Break pilot this weekend, Andrew. I wasn't aware of the close-ended format - frankly, I'm quite surprised that ABC decided to go this way. Impressed, even.

Unfortunately, I can't say I'm impressed with the show. It's borrowing too much from 24 and not enough from Groundhog's Day, and the repeating day device is nearly unacknowledged by the main character, with the result that it starts to seem like a convenient crutch on which to hang a plot, not an integral part of the story. This is not an uncommon attitude in outsider SF, and I've come to resent it.

Matt said...

Try not to be too impressed. Day Break's "close-ended format" is both an artifact of how it was sold (the plot completely sketched out prior to even being pitched to the network) and in any case hardly unique. If it becomes a hit (judging by the premiere's ratings, unlikely) they will have future seasons on "different days". This is no different from Veronica Mars' reasonably self-contained seasons, or 24's structure.

I actually really like the show, because I'm a sucker for intricately (some would say over) plotted action. I'm not sure what you mean by unacknowledged...but because the writers are trying to keep the pace similar to something like 24 they don't let their character sit around and speculate. That can be good if it streamlines the show, but bad if like Lost it makes the characters seem like unquestioning morons.

As for how integral it is to the plot, I expected it to be a complete contrivance and never explained etc., but I'm not sure that's the route they're going since there is some evidence Diggs' character is not the only person reliving the day.

Andrew Stevens said...

I too was wondering if they were going to use the Groundhog Day copout and not explain the most significant mystery.

Matt is quite correct, of course, that the format is hardly unique. Myself, I long for the return of a good TV miniseries. It seems like nobody does that any more. I was not aware that they were even considering picking up another season and had assumed it was a one-shot. I do withdraw some of my praise for ABC then. That does make it much more like 24 or Veronica Mars than it does a good television novel. Maybe one day. . . .

Andrew Stevens said...

I looked it up and the original script for Groundhog Day did explain the cause of the repetition. Phil had had a spell cast on him by a disaffected ex-lover named Stephanie to teach him a lesson. It's probably just as well the film skipped the explanation. That explanation just distracts from the story the movie was really trying to tell.

I'm willing to keep giving Day Break a shot for now. But I agree with you; it's a bit too action-adventurey for my tastes. We'll see how it pans out.

Matt said...

Unfortunately, Andrew, the miniseries is in economic no man's land between the feature film and half season shows (either like Day Break or like HBO shows), both of which are more profitable. Maybe in five or ten years as costs come down we'll start seeing them more, but for now there's got to be the promise of the back-end wealth from a long running hit to get networks to take a chance with a show.

While Day Break is not different from 24 in structure, the advertising is still a positive development. If anything ends this current era of serial dramas, it will be viewer disenchantment after too many shows are cancelled without paying off. Having the network basically lay out a contract with the viewer--"invest time in our show and we'll give you the answers in just thirteen epidodes, and we've already filmed them"--is a good step towards fixing this problem. The fact they reserve the right to continue the brand with new "questions" in the future is only fair.

In any case, producers need to realize that the longer someone waits for an answer to an open question, the more grandiose and therefore un-meetable the expectations. I'm convinced that people who've been watching Lost one episode at a time since 2004 and people like me who for the most part watch it a season at a time on DVD are seeing two different shows at this point, and the one my group is seeing is much better.

Andrew Stevens said...

Matt, thanks for the response. I see nothing to disagree with in it. My wife and I did have a short debate about whether your way of watching Lost really is better, but we eventually agreed that you're probably right. She pointed out that the holes in the plot are probably much more obvious that way, but we eventually agreed it's probably much less frustrating.

Andrew Stevens said...

So I was watching Veronica Mars the other day and I happened to start considering the difficulty of romantic relationships in shows centered around a female heroine (like Buffy, Alias, Veronica Mars, etc). Perhaps the archetype is the old Wonder Woman series. It seems to me there is a problem in creating a male character who is actually worthy of our female protagonist.

To dispose of a debate, let us stipulate from the beginning that the idea that a man must somehow be equal or "better" than the woman in a relationship is wholly and completely a social construct. However, I do wish to argue that this construct actually exists (rightly or wrongly) and that almost all of even the most fierce of women's rights crusaders have subconsciously internalized it. I look around me and I see women with incredible intelligence. Virtually all of them (though not all) are either single or married to men who are at least their intellectual equals. I meet women who are fabulously successful or well-to-do. Again, they tend to be single or married to men who are just as successful. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote once about the difficulties of her love life because she claimed men were intimidated by her great success and intelligence. Reading this, I thought she had missed some important points. 1) She was almost certainly restricting her efforts, consciously or unconsciously, to men who were just as successful as she was, thereby dramatically shrinking the pool of men she could choose from. 2) Because higher status males are more attractive to her, she thought her high status would make her more attractive to men. In reality though, it's not that men are intimidated by high status women so much as they don't, in general, really care how much status a woman has. There are a few male "gold diggers" here and there, but they are rare. I have of course seen relationships between stronger women and weaker men, but for the most part the women always seem to be dripping with contempt for their partner and I'd never bet on such a relationship lasting. (Of course this can happen the other way, but I think it's at least somewhat rarer. I think some of the fiercer feminists project that attitude onto men and assume that men in male-led relationships are just as contemptuous of their partners, but I just don't think that's necessarily true.)

To get back to the fiction, I was never going to buy a relationship between Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor. The only way they could fool me into thinking it was possible at all was by turning Lynda Carter into her mousy alter-ego Diana Prince (who would gaze at Steve with hero-worship in her eyes). As soon as Steve got knocked out by the bad guys and had to be rescued by Wonder Woman, it all fell apart. Again, I freely stipulate that this is because I have internalized certain sexist cliches and I'm not arguing in any way that these are true or good or right. I'm just arguing that almost all of the audience (including most of the women, I believe) have internalized them as well. These aren't, I will argue, intellectual responses; they're just irrational emotional ones. We can all accept a relationship of equals with no problem, but have difficulty accepting a relationship between a woman and a man who is clearly her inferior and in heroine fiction, the love interest will always be her inferior (or else he will come to dominate the show). The one love story in the shows I mentioned which seems to have caught fire with fans was Buffy-Angel and Joss Whedon had to invent a 200 year-old vampire who would occasionally be the antagonist in order to make it work. (Even then, it really didn't, in my opinion, but some people do disagree.)

The reason I thought of this was the latest Veronica Mars episode. I never really bought the Logan-Veronica relationship, even though both are excellent characters, and I hadn't really considered the reason why I wasn't buying it, but I came close to buying it in this last episode. However, Rob Thomas had to make Veronica vulnerable in order to do it. By showing her fear of being followed, he gave Logan a role in the relationship different from being Veronica's wayward child, that of protector, a role Veronica desperately doesn't wish him to assume.

By the way, in the comments on this blog, I have criticized Aaron Sorkin as a rather pedestrian thinker. When I first turned on Veronica Mars, I sighed as it seemed to me to be yet another virtuous poor versus evil rich story line, the kind Hollywood has done to death. However, Rob Thomas has consistently surprised me and I never know exactly which way he'll jump. He's not nearly the screenwriter that Sorkin is, but he's a much more interesting thinker. I particularly appreciated his showing Veronica's vulnerability since I have occasionally argued that shows in which women trade punches on an equal basis with men can conceivably be a dangerous message to send to young women. (I once asked a young female nighttime convenience store clerk if she was ever worried working alone at night. She responded that she was "just as tough as any man." Now I'm no giant, being about six foot, but I had to look down at her and think, "I could snap you like a twig. Where on earth did you get this delusional idea?")

Anyway, I'd love to hear Ms. Nussbaum's (if she has any interest), or anybody else's, thoughts on the issue. Feel free, for example, to tell me I'm dead wrong and that most people don't think like that any more (I am perfectly prepared to accept that I'm just a dinosaur) or to provide counter-examples of relationships which worked in heroine-driven fiction.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Some interesting thoughts, Andrew (methinks someone is gearing up to starting their own blog). I've got a tentative plan to write something VM-related once the rape plotline wraps up later this week, and I'll probably end up touching on the Veronica/Logan relationship.

Leaving aside the larger issues of female attitudes and behavior in the real world, my issues with Logan as a partner have never revolved around his intellectual capabilities. I've certainly been known to argue that he's not worthy of Veronica, but that had more to do with his immaturity and lack of emotional stability. He's grown a great deal on both counts since the beginning of this season, even as Veronica as regressed.

Which is why I disagree with your argument that the show's writers even the playing field between the two characters by emphasizing Veronica's physical vulnerability. It was the fact that Logan suddenly possessed a degree of self-awareness that Veronica has probably never had that put him, very temporarily, in a position of strength, not her fear of being attacked.

Andrew Stevens said...

Ah, I didn't mean to actually argue that I now buy into the Veronica-Logan relationship, just that this was the first time I'd ever considered it as anything other than obviously doomed. Previously, Logan was always just Veronica's wayward child so your correction is certainly true. My problems remain, because I'm not convinced a believable satisfying relationship can be created in heroine-driven television shows. I just think this is an interesting paradox which one has to think about when creating such a show and I'm not convinced anybody's yet solved it. Perhaps it would be best in such shows to ditch relationships entirely, making the heroine into a female James Bond who uses and discards men or a female gunslinger type who lives celibately, but each of those has problems of its own. So far as I know nobody's been bold enough to try either yet (in a television show - movies and novels don't have the longevity to count for my purposes).

And, no, I don't have any interest in starting a blog. (If I did, it would be on epistemology and I would have a sum total of a dozen readers mostly debating whether I am equivocating over the use of the word "cause." I'm not sure even I'm enough of a pedant to enjoy that.) I just have a lot of free time for the moment and find myself reading and commenting on blogs in my spare time. I do deeply apologize for having chosen yours as one to "pick on." (I assure you it's meant as complimentary; I've been lurking for a while and have enormous respect for your opinions.) I thought this issue would be right up your alley since you bring both a different perspective and have a much more highly developed sense of aesthetics than I do. I'm much more interested in other people's thoughts on the issue than I am in my own. Of course, this assumes that you have any interest in (and time for) the issue, agree with me that there is even any sort of problem, and are comfortable generalizing about the problem rather than just considering specific cases. Watching Veronica this season has made me reconsider other shows and forced me to actually pinpoint why I was never comfortable with Buffy-Angel, Buffy-Riley, Buffy-Spike, Vaughn-Sydney, etc. The answer could easily be "you're just an old dinosaur and Buffy-Riley worked just fine while it lasted." I can't say this would be a satisfying answer, but it's certainly an answer. My question isn't really "can Veronica and Logan work?" because, of course, they can't. My question is along the lines of "is it even possible to create a relationship for Veronica, other than with her father, which would work?" or does the form of the programme prevent it from happening. Would we be okay with Veronica-Wallace, for example? Veronica and a reformed Logan (or would that make him lose all his appeal)? Veronica-Weevil? Is it significant that Hermione doesn't end up with Harry Potter, the hero but also her intellectual inferior, but it's okay for her to end up with the sidekick? Are we okay with Ginny, whose love of Harry is really hero-worship, to end up with Harry? If we are okay with it, would we also be okay with Steve Trevor-Wonder Woman, or at least should we be? Is it significant that Buffy ended up alone at the end of her show? I didn't watch the final season of Alias, but I understand that Sydney and Vaughn did end up together; did that work? I don't actually have answers to any of these questions; somebody out there cleverer than I am might. (In which case, they should consider writing their own heroine-driven television show.)

Andrew Stevens said...

Of course, by the way, I look forward to whatever you'll be writing about the show. I have been engaged with Season 3 to a greater extent than Season 2 (though still behind Season 1).

Andrew Stevens said...

You know, Xena: Warrior Princess just occurred to me. So at least once, somebody tried the largely celibate gunslinger model (if we ignore the lesbian subtext, anyway). Can't say I've ever watched the show, but my wife was a fan.

Wendy said...

The Closer is a tv show with a female protagonist with a live-in boyfriend, and their relationship seems to work pretty well, with enough tension to create interest and enough stability that I don't roll my eyes.

I have to confess that I loathe arguments about whether Logan is good enough for Veronica because such arguments elide the issue of Veronica's own failures as a girlfriend and as a person. She is strong in many ways, but she's incredibly weak and flawed in others.

Andrew Stevens said...

Wendy, are you talking about her suspicion of Logan? Because quite frankly I'm willing to defend her on that, even though the writers have shown their own disapproval of it. Don't get me wrong; I wouldn't have advised Veronica to take any of the actions she did since I'd advise her just to break up with the guy and maybe try again in five years when he's done some growing up. I grant Veronica has trust issues; in Logan's case, they're justified. I agree that the show's position is in accord with majority morality - trust is something that should be given in a relationship completely unearned, but I disagree. Trust must be earned and Logan has done nothing to earn it. Of course, I grant that suspicion can poison and destroy a relationship, but the modern position goes too far in the opposite direction. I'll say this: I cannot imagine my wife's wanting to do so, but if she decided to plant a tracking device on me along with a microphone, I would happily let her, because I have nothing to hide from her and I would do absolutely anything to alleviate her suspicions. I honestly do believe that most people who have nothing to hide would react the way I do, not the way they always react on television. Suspicion and jealousy are natural - we do our partners a disservice when we regard them as something monstrous. The problem is that people who can't be trusted demand trust as their right, rather than an earned privilege. These people do not know what trust is. Trust consists of not keeping secrets from your partner, not being allowed to keep them. My life is an open book to my wife; she can read what pages she likes. This, of course, is all just my opinion. I could be wrong.

Another problem in virtually all modern fiction, when it comes to relationships, is they all think they need tension to be interesting, so we almost never see happy, stable relationships. I suppose it's true that stable relationships aren't interesting, but Nick and Nora Charles were still interesting even if their relationship wasn't.

I've never seen The Closer, but my wife has. She says the heroine of that show isn't the same kind of heroine. To be fair to your argument, from what I can gather, yours seems a perfectly fair argument when we're talking about Veronica Mars which seems to be somewhere between The Closer and Buffy/Alias/Wonder Woman/Xena. Wikipedia says Brenda and Fritz's relationship has "limited success," but I can't figure out what that means exactly.

However, you did make me think of another way to resolve the problem: we can create a relationship like Columbo's where his wife played no role in the show. I.e. if we have a show about a heroine detective, she can be in a relationship with a man who is in some completely different profession and only tangentially affects the show.

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