Dear TV Show: Here’s Why I’ll Cancel You

Welcome to Scarlet Thread Sunday, the day I share something I’ve learned in the labyrinth of life.

Microsoft Word Clip Art
Microsoft Word Clip Art

Today I’m thinking about television–why I watch the shows I do and why I stop watching. Networks periodically decide to cancel some series; perhaps the series can’t give the network a sufficient return on their money, the story has run its course, or the network has completely lost its mind (Jericho? Firefly?). But each week, viewers have their own opportunity to cancel a series from their playlist.

So I started thinking about my own algorithm for tuning out a TV series I’ve been watching. And, dear TV show, here’s why I’ll cancel you:

You’re too far-fetched. I will follow you into the deepest abyss of imagination, but I will not believe the utterly ridiculous. When people do things they would never do in real life, when the laws of science and physics are stomped and shredded, when plot holes grow to the size of canyons, I’m out. This is why I left Heroes several seasons before its end. I had too many moments of yelling at the TV, “Oh, come on! Really?”

You’re yanking me around. Plot twists and turns are a given in any drama or suspense series, and even in sitcoms with romantic relationships: Will they or won’t they? I accept that. I expect that. I enjoy that. Except when it starts to feel like I’m on a bungee cord being yanked back and forth, over and over, until I’ve got a case of whiplash worthy of a phone call to a billboard lawyer. This is why I stopped watching How I Met Your Mother (“For goodness sake, stop showing me the yellow umbrella and meet her already!”) and why I’m considering a personal cancellation of Pretty Little Liars. I did return to HIMYM this season, because I was assured by others that it was worth catching up on last season and jumping back in. (But they’d better not do something stupid like break up the wedding at the last second.)

You keep running over my values. I have a personal set of values I live by, but I don’t expect TV characters to have that same standard of morality. I’m not a prude, and I can filter through quite a lot. That said, if a TV show bashes my values over and over, I’m out. Sorry, y’all, but I couldn’t watch more than one episode of Sex and the City or True Blood. These shows were simply so at odds with my own personal values that I couldn’t continue.

You bore me. Perhaps, the worst thing to say about a TV series is “Who cares?” And sometimes I watch a show for a while and then realize I no longer care what happens to the characters (The Mindy Project, for example). If I’m invested, I’ll give the show a few episodes to re-hook me, but if I can think of numerous other things I’d rather do with that time…ba-bye.

Hopefully, my writing progress report for A Round of Words in 80 Days won’t bore you! It didn’t bore me. I had a good week.

ROW80 Update

Finish YA contemporary novel, SHARING HUNTER, by completing three chapters each week. 1 1/2 chapters. Halfway isn’t perfect, but it was decent progress nonetheless.

Take Short Stories 101 course from Young Adult RWA. I finished the first draft of my short story: Exorcising My Sister, a young-adult tale of a somewhat geeky 15-year-old girl who must rid her older sister of a mischief-making demon.

10 6 fiction books and 2 1 nonfiction books. I’ve so far read Scarlet by Marissa Meyer, A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers, Dangerous and Unseemly by K.B. Owen, and Taking Chances by S.J. Maylee (all fiction) and Breasts by Florence Williams (nonfiction). This week, I started Haunted Spouse by Heather MacAllister, who spoke at a recent Bay Area Houston RWA meeting.

What causes you to tune out, or cancel, a TV show? How was your week?

Letters to My TV Shows and #ROW80

The fall season has premiered on television! I have several shows I watch–mainly when I take a lunch break at my computer and want something to do while shoving food into my mouth, but also because I enjoy them and they teach me about story.

Today, I’d like to write a few brief letters to let the TV shows that I track know what I think of them after the kick-off of the new season.

Dear Bones: Thank you for showing that just because the couple finally gets together, the tension doesn’t have to end. In fact, thank you for not breaking them up, which seems to be the go-to plotline for plenty of other shows that didn’t know what to do once the two main characters finally revealed their feelings for one another. As we know out here in “real life,”  relationships have sufficient tension and conflict as well, and these characters have extra tension given who they are and the way they work together. Keep finding ways to draw our interest in, and remember that, while I enjoy the romantic aspects of the show, I mainly watch to figure out how the case is solved. This is, after all, essentially a mystery show.

Dear Big Bang Theory: I don’t know why I’m still watching. It seems the romantic relationships have overshadowed some of the funnier plotlines that revolved around the scientists’ workplace and friendships. Yes, these characters are interesting and funny, but I want them to actually do something. I’m waiting . . . 

Dear Castle: Nathan Fillion as Richard Castle still gives James Bond a run for his money in the category of Suave. Keep bringing in the ensemble too–as this show has some of the best with detectives Ryan and Esposito, medical examiner Laney, daughter Alexis, and the coolest mother ever with Martha. That is all.

Dear Grimm: I vacillate with your show: Sometimes I’m eager to watch, and then I’ll go for a while without and have to catch up. Why is that? I want more, more, more from Nick. He needs to shift into being proactive with this Grimm thing, instead of just reacting every week to what’s thrown at him. If it wasn’t for Monroe, I’d probably be gone already.

Dear Hart of Dixie: I wouldn’t want to pick between those two men either. Can Zoe Hart have both? That’s kind of the plot of my young adult novel, so I can give you tips if you want. On a completely different note, I’m eager to see another side to Lemon Breeland. I hope you do more than just tease with that possibility.

Dear How I Met Your Mother: You have about 2-3 episodes to resurrect my interest in your show. Glimpses of a yellow umbrella and the yo-yo relationship of Barney and Robin ain’t gonna do it. I am looking for growth in the main characters. Isn’t that the point? To see how the challenges of life push these characters to grow, all the way until Ted finds his one, true love? So far, I have only seen real growth in Marshall and Lily–who moved into a committed marriage, wrestled with career and family choices, dealt with the death and reintroduction of their fathers, and are now entering the new phase of parenthood. Meanwhile, Ted is still groping in the dark for his dream date; Barney’s interactions with stripper Quinn demonstrated how shallow and self-serving he still is; and Robin is ambitious in career and clueless in love. So fix it. This season. Or I’m gone.

Dear Raising Hope: You are the funniest sitcom on TV today. Martha Plimpton should have won the Emmy. And Cloris Leachman should get an Emmy, a raise, and a host spot on SNL. Move over, Betty White; Cloris is a queen of comedy! Thanks for the laughs.

That’s it. I don’t watch all of these shows when they air. I catch up here and there when I can. Because, of course, my priorities are my family and my goals.

Let’s see how I did with my ROW80 goals this week. If my week was a TV show, would anyone watch?

Editing: SHARING HUNTER MILLS, young adult contemporary novel.

  • Complete full rewrite. Rewrote two chapters last week, so I’m progressing here.
  • Revise using Margie Lawson’s Deep EDITS system.
  • Deliver to beta readers.

Blogging

  • Post Sunday ROW80 updates, Amaze-ing Words Wednesdays, and Deep-Fried Fridays. Done.
  • Send interview questions to two guests I have lined up for my blog. Done.

Writing

  • Write two short stories. I did not work on this one. I’d like to move this goal up in priority, at least getting in 1k a week.

Learning

  • Read one writing craft book. Still deciding which one to read.
  • Attend workshop with Margie Lawson in Houston on October 13Looking forward to this workshop on Saturday!
  • Work through lessons of Scrivener online course a second time. Loved Gwen Hernandez’s course on Scrivener software. Finished it last week, so I’ll start combing back through this week.

Reading

  • Nothing special here. Just read. A lot. Currently reading No Apology by Mitt Romney. I read Dreams from My Father by Barack Obama in 2008. I like reading the presidential candidates’ books to see where they’re coming from.

Non-writing goals

  • Exercise twice a week. Done! Walked four times this week, including the Race for the Cure on Saturday.
  • Sort through photos and complete at least one album. (I stopped scrapbooking five years ago, and it’s piled up into a big mess. Moving into digital albums.) Organized some photos on my computer, so I’ll give this one a thumbs-up.

Now how was your week? What would you like to say to your TV shows based on the new season’s premieres? Do you have any writing craft book recommendations for me?

Be sure to cheer on my fellow ROWers! You can find them HERE.

What Buffy the Vampire Slayer Taught Me

Welcome to Deep-Fried Friday. Today, our deep-fried food is served with a blood cocktail, to honor the vampires and other paranormal creatures of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Some of my friends know that I’ve been watching through the entire Buffy series on Netflix. (All seasons are available through streaming episodes.)

I missed this TV show when it was on from 1997 to 2003. Why? Those were the years of early parenthood for me, so my television set was tuned in to shows like Yes, Dear and Blue’s Clues instead. I finally decided to figure out what all the hype was about and started watching the series a few months ago.

As I watched all seven seasons, I made a few interesting observations which apply to TV and other sources of fiction (books, movies, etc.). Other than the obvious conclusions that karate moves are still cool and fighting evil doesn’t preclude dressing fashionably, here’s what Buffy the Vampire Slayer taught or reminded me.

Genre is just the setting; the story is about the characters. Is Buffy the Vampire Slayer about vampires or Buffy? Well, yes. But the vampires, demons, prophecies, ninja fighting, etc. are all background to simply tell the story of teenagers growing into adulthood.

Buffy with her mentor Giles

Ditto for Harry Potter. The Twilight series is about lovers couched in vampire/werewolf legends. Mysteries are about the sleuth solving the case. Horror is about someone we’re rooting for making it out alive. Fantasy is about the journey of a questor. And so on and so on.

While I believe that world-building and plots are important, ultimately who cares how clever you are with that unless there is some underlying struggle for a character we can relate to or root for. We cheer for Buffy to kill the bad demons because she embodies struggles we face — such as wanting to be special versus wanting to be normal; needing to stand up to bullies and wanting to take a backseat; dealing with the complications of relationships; and moving from protection by parents and mentors to making our own way in the world. The reason Buffy resonates is because we all have our demons to fight; we understand why her story matters.

Xander, Anya & Willow

Sometimes your favorite character isn’t the protagonist. Buffy Summers is the main character, and the series is about her. Thus, the name: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Yet often the protagonist is a person in constant conflict who needs a little support or humor from others around her. Buffy’s closest friends, Willow and Xander, provide that — Willow with compassionate support and Xander with humorous quips. There are plenty of other famous sidekicks in fiction. These characters have their own appeal.

As the series progressed, my favorite character became Anya, an ex-vengeance demon, who ends up working with Buffy’s mentor Giles at his magic shop, having a romantic relationship with Xander, and fighting alongside the good guys even when her motivation is a bit unclear. Why do I love her? She says exactly what she thinks. I love such characters in fiction — the ones who speak with no filter whatsoever, who say what we wish we could say but have too much restraint to, and whose charm lies in their optimism that truth is always best.

If you start a fantastical story, you have to get really inventive to keep it going. I noted to my husband that Buffy and Chuck share this in common: Since they begin with such a far-fetched premise (hellmouth under your town and teenage vampire slayer; all-knowing Intersect stuck in Chuck’s brain and spies to protect him), where do you go from there? You have to keep coming up with bigger and better stories, several of which can get a little, well, unbelievable.

Yes, we’re already in the territory of unbelievable, but sometimes it reached, “Ah, c’mon!” I think this is one of the reasons why long fiction series don’t often work well. The author must either regurgitate plot lines dressed up in other attire or get more and more out there in raising the stakes to keep the conflict and tension up. How far we’ll go with the writer likely depends on how much we like the characters and feel invested in their story.

Romances do not always work the way we wish. Team Spike or Team Angel? I think that predated the perpetual Jacob vs. Edward argument. Maybe you’re even willing to go out on a limb and suggest Team Riley. I know exactly who I think Buffy should end up with, but others have their own ideas. And I doubt anyone was fully satisfied by the end of the series on the romance front.

Interestingly enough, two of my beta readers on my mystery, Grace & Fire, were upset that the romantic portion of my novel didn’t go the way they wanted. I stick by my decision, and more readers than not agreed with me, but I can understand the disappointment of the couple you root for not getting together in that “ain’t it all great” happily ever after. I’m more willing than most to deal with such a proposition — given that among my favorite novels are such depressers as Anna Karenina and Madame Bovary — but it still irks me a little. Why can’t it all work out the way we envisioned in our pretty little heads? Maybe like life, sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t.

David Boreanaz is my “type.” That has nothing to do with fiction. It’s just another take-away. Actually, the actor who played Angel, the vampire with a soul, reminds me a bit of my husband:  Tall, dark-headed, broad-shouldered, hard to read, and not a big talker. My hubby does need fangs and a long black leather coat to complete the look. I understand that I can keep gazing at David Boreanz now that he’s in the Bones series. I’ll have to check that one out.

So are you a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan? Why did you like the series? Who was your favorite character? What are some of your favorite TV series and what were your take-aways?

What I’m Watching and Why

Every week, I follow Tiffany A. White‘s Tele-Tuesday posts and Tiffany’s and Amber West‘s What to Watch Wednesday posts on their blogs. They have done an excellent job of breaking down television series, classics, and specials so that readers can discern what might be worth their time.

After trying out various series and being well into the fall season, I wanted to give my two cents on what I’m watching and why. For Deep-Fried Friday, I hope you’ll add your own recommendations.

The Big Bang Theory. Perhaps the funniest sitcom on television right now, this show tracks four brilliant but geeky scientists attempting to make it in a world where they don’t fit in. When beautiful but shallow Penny (Kaley Cuoco) moves in next door to Sheldon (Jim Parsons) and Leonard (Johnny Galecki), their lives are permanently altered. We have all known someone like these nerds. They are not understood and socially awkward, and yet we feel for them trying to navigate social situations and find love and meaning in their lives. Still, there is enough to mock there. I also have to credit this series with introducing the word “Bazinga!”

Castle. Richard Castle (Nathan Fillion) is a bestselling author who has killed off his long-running series main character and needs a new idea. Maybe that alone endeared me to him, since there are some writers out there who need to kill off their cash-cow star and write something else for a change. But when a killer begins to copycat murders from Castle’s novels, detective Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) brings him in to assist. The partnership turns permanent and Castle finds his idea (Beckett inspires his Nikki Heat series), even though there is tension of all kinds between the two and their differing backgrounds and personalities. Another great supporting cast here with fellow detectives Ryan (Seamus Dever) and Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Castle’s mother (Susan Sullivan) and daughter (Molly C. Quinn). The plot lines are intriguing, the relationships are complicated, and the script-writing is excellent. In addition, Castle has featured real-life writers playing poker with Richard Castle – Stephen J. Cannell, James Patterson, Dennis Lehane, and Michael Connelly.

Grimm. I have initially enjoyed how this series presents the original Grimm’s fairy tales brought to life in modern day. Nick Burkhardt (David Giuntoli) is a police detective who is informed by his mysterious aunt that he is a Grimm – a descendent of the family that has fought against the evil fairy tale characters for generations. He must now balance his own police work with the new knowledge of odd creatures living in their community, which he can see but other humans cannot. Of course, there is the solving of a crime each week, alongside his partner Hank Griffin (Russell Hornsby). But the crimes weave a tale into them (e.g., Red Riding Hood, the Pied Piper). So far, a supporting character is outshining the rest in this series – Monroe (Silas Weir Mitchell), a reformed Bludbad (wolf creature) who helps Nick navigate the fairy tale world. I don’t know if I’ll stick with Grimm. It’s interesting, but not yet a must-see on my list.

Hart of Dixie. New York doctor Zoe Hart (Rachel Bilson) must complete a year of family medicine before she can obtain the position she has wanted for . . . well, ever. As it turns out, she ends up in Bluebell, Georgia, where her practice partner and a few other townspeople don’t want her. In addition, she struggles to adjust to small-town Southern life. Like other favorite series set in small towns – Northern Exposure, Gilmore Girls, Jericho – the rich characterization carries the storyline. The residents’ charm and quirkiness pull me in, and their conflict, both internal and interpersonal, keep me engaged.

How I Met Your Mother. Main character Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor) tells his children the story of how he met their mother. Being long-winded, he also tells about a thousand stories that led up to that moment. The ensemble cast – with Marshall and Lily (couple friends from college, Jason Segel and Alyson Hannigan), Barney (a womanizer and opportunist, Neil Patrick Harris), and Robin (a tough-minded, tender-hearted newcomer, Cobie Smulders) – is the focus of the show. Each character has a distinct personality, but the viewer can understand how these people would gravitate to one another. The slapping phenomenon of several shows is one of the best running gags. My only complaint is that the show has recently had a few sad episodes in a row. I’m ready for the comedy to return.

Psych. Break out the pineapple, it’s fun-time with Psych! Shawn Spencer (James Roday) is a slacker whose detective father trained him from an early age to notice every teeny, tiny detail in his environment so that he can solve crimes. He’s so good at it that he catches what others miss and then claims a psychic vision. The police end up hiring him as a psychic police consultant. Shawn drags along his best buddy, Burton “Gus” Guster (Dulé Hill), and their antics alone are worth the price of admission. Psych has done a particularly good job of borrowing from other series and films (Twin Peaks, Hitchcock). That tongue-in-cheek humor treats the audience with a clever wink-wink. Best recurring one-liner? Perhaps it’s Shawn’s “I’ve heard it both ways.”

Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am catching up on the Buffy, the Vampire Slayer series years after it aired. Thanks to my Netflix account, I am currently in the third season. I can see why it was such a popular series. Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is a California high school student chosen as the One to slay demonic vampires in their midst. Armed with her wits, physical prowess, a knowledgeable and caring mentor, and supportive friends, she battles the forces of evil. It’s interesting to watch her shift between the intense end-of-world rescues and her daily concerns as a high school student and teen. The characterization and acting are good enough that I believe just about anything they throw at me. With as far as I’ve gotten, I can honestly say, forget Team Jacob or Team Edward; I’m on Team Angel (David Boreanaz).

In addition, I look forward to continuing to watch Downton Abbey, Sherlock, The Glades, and Necessary Roughness when they return in 2012.

It’s your turn! What are you watching and why?