Archive by Author

Bingeing Buddies

5 Nov

Charlotte Brunsdon differentiates between addiction to television and binge-watching. What I find interesting about this is that, whereas with (real) addiction, addicts often get high together, making it a social activity of sorts, bingeing when used in the context of an actual affliction (such as with an eating disorder) is a very solitary experience—not only because the person is ashamed and embarrassed, but it’s also awkward to do with someone else. This idea fits with “To binge on television dramas is to abandon aspiration, to be stuck on the sofa in the living room” (66)–because that sounds like a pretty solitary experience to me. And perhaps there are people who are a bit embarrassed that they’ve spent twelve hours watching an entire season of a series in two days.

 Anyway, my main point in mentioning this has to do with the fact that Brunsdon uses The Wire as her main example, and that we watched The Wire for class. I have already done my bingeing on The Wire and it took me almost a year to get through all of the seasons—not because I wasn’t committed to the bingeing—no, I was totally down to stay up for ten hours to finish a season—but because I watched it with my dad (so we had to find common time to watch). I didn’t think anything of it, because we often do that as father-daughter “fun time”—binge on premium channel series (totally normal! right?). I never thought that bingeing for most was a private thing, but it is rare to find someone else who can dedicate the time to watching that many hours of a show—and is willing to put up with the same person for that long (and, let me tell you, I am no picnic to watch dramas with and was therefore grateful to have my dad with me). Having to re-watch The Wire alone, for this class, was a completely new experience. The first time around, I had to pause the show almost every ten minutes to figure out what was going on and who was who. Once I figured that out, I then tried to figure out what was going to happen for the rest of the season (my dad would do the same–he was always more correct than I was). And Brunsdon mentions how The Wire is specifically an experience to binge on, because sometimes the drama would get too intense and it would be a relief to stop (69). This was absolutely the case when I watched it and I would get so incredibly anxious and wrapped up in the story that I would ask countless questions about the well-being of the characters—which my father had no way of knowing, but still put up with it. My reason for getting all “story-time” here is that watching it again, alone (even though I know everything now, but it’s still been a while so it’s like a refresher course–so some things are still new-ish), I missed the experience of having someone to talk things out with. I would get anxious and then irritated that there was no one around to feel my pain, or someone to tell me what other shows or films Idris Elba has been in so I had to go look it back up on imdb (The Office—this was the specific appearance I was thinking of…among other things).

I think bingeing is a lot better to do if you have someone else who is willing to make an equal investment in the show—because with bingeing, you get so wrapped up in things, you want to discuss them (at least I do). So I wonder if there is a huge difference between bingeing alone and with someone else? Because even if you binge watch with someone, then re-watch alone, the excitement of watching it the first time is gone the second time around. So I just wonder if having someone else there has a big impact on the first-time binge-watching experience.

Adaptation and The Corner

31 Oct

Does The Corner work, viewing it purely as an adaptation? There are many theories on adaptation, with countless definitions. One theory (from Linda Hutcheon, a literary theorist) looks at adaptation as a product and process—specifically, the final product and two processes: the process of creation and the process of reception. Both processes involve repetition and recreation–the adaptation doesn’t work unless the original work can still resonate through the new work, but it has to be creatively changed enough to stand alone as its own work. I find this idea very interesting when thinking about The Corner because not only is the miniseries adapted from the book, the book is adapted from real life stories. This is where things get complicated–with this specific definition of adaptation, the idea of re-imagining and re-creating is very important…but since the story is based on true life events…they can’t be that re-imagined or re-created because doing so involves changing the truth and under those circumstances the authors should no longer be able to claim that these are true-life stories. So where can the line be drawn between staying true enough to the stories to still claim they are true and re-imagining them enough so that the authors are not merely translating from one medium to another, but rather are creating something new and an entity all on its own? 

Obviously Simon and Burns took some creative liberties with the text as the adapters–creating vivid images of people and surroundings—and probably formatted the book in a way that all the stories they gathered followed some sort of cohesive story arc, highlighting different individuals at different times. When a dramatic work is that creative and stylistically written, it’s hard to accept that it’s all true. Then there is the next layer of adaptation of these personal stories–the adaptation to the screen. When it comes to adapting a story to film or television, identifying the person who holds the responsibility as the adapter becomes confusing. It initially is the screenwriter, but then the director gets his/her hands on the screenplay and essentially adapts that screenplay to a visual entity–or it could be the editor, because he or she puts the shots together. With all of these hands molding the one piece of work, it can be transformed from the original idea to the point of unrecognizability. However, with The Corner, the authors (Simon and Burns) worked with the screenwriter (David Mills) and the director (Charles Dutton) to create the screenplay, so there was probably a continuous dialogue as to what should be cut from the text and what pieced together would create the most cohesive story that could be told by a miniseries. At times, it felt like the book was written expressly to be adapted to a screenplay–written in present tense with very specific detailed descriptions of characters, which probably helped the process. Nevertheless, this team had to fit 535 pages worth of text into a six-part miniseries so liberties had to be taken. 

One thing I noticed is that the timeline was toyed with–with each episode putting the focus on a specific person, elements had to have been taken from the various chapters and put into one episode. Doing so then necessitated going back a little in time to start the next episode and focus on a different person. For example, in the text, DeAndre goes to the Boys Village in the “winter” section, the first section, but in the series he’s not there until the third episode. Also, the miniseries definitely made it so some characters were generally likeable. In order for a television series to work and maintain viewers, there have to be some sympathetic characters with whom they can identify. In a book though, there’s the liberty of lengthy exposition in providing some insight to a character’s flaws–so even if they come across as awful at one point, they can be redeemed later. In the text, DeAndre acts pretty awful toward Tyreeka a while after she’s had the baby, but in the series, we don’t see that—the offensive behavior is thrown in during the voiceover of the epilogue. His bad elements are downplayed, so the audience will sympathize with him more. 

So to get back to my original question—does The Corner work considering only the adaptation dimension of the story? I think the original stories have been so transformed that you definitely can’t say the series works as an adaptation of real life, but, as an adaptation of an incredibly stylized, descriptive book, I think it does work (pretty well).

The Gang gets self-aware

22 Oct

In his article, Mittell talks about “metareflexive” narrative mode, which not only focuses on the diegetic world of the TV show, but also celebrates the behind-the-scenes ability to engineer the plot structures (35). Television shows that are “metareflexive” tend to always be that way–Arrested Development and Seinfeld are both very self-conscious and reference the fact that there is a behind-the-scenes, with “winking at the audience” in ways of saying “we know we’re a TV show.” Television shows that aren’t “metareflexive” can sometimes have “metareflexive” moments, but usually only moments in an episode that is otherwise grounded in the sitcom’s diegetic world. It was timely to read about this type of narrative mode this week, because the most recent episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia was completely “metareflexive,” going so far as to hint at this attribute in the title of the episode “The Gang Recycles Their Trash.” This show is normally contained within itself, but for some reason the characters chose to become acutely aware that they were part of a TV show this week. The episode starts with a literal trash problem in the area and the gang scheming on how to make money from it. They each propose ideas on how to work this situation to their advantage. Dee straight up says, “We’ve definitely done this before” and indeed, it’s true–all the ideas they have are drawn from previous episodes. At first Dee is the only one who notices this, but then the rest of the guys realize it too and even say they are “taking ideas from the trash” and that some ideas “weren’t ready to be trashed.” There are modifications to the ideas (i.e, instead of selling gas door-to-door, Mac, Dennis, and Charlie collect trash door-to-door), but they are essentially the same. Even minor characters from previous episodes come back and are acknowledged as previously being in the gang’s lives.

The end of the episode ends with the gang back to the bar, drinking, and quickly moving on to the next idea–as every episode does. However, in this episode Charlie winds up calling out that they jump from bad idea to bad idea, which is what happens in essentially every episode. Each episode is a new bad idea. Charlie then says they need to learn from their bad mistakes and make adjustments to solve the problem they had set out to fix instead of just stopping and drinking and going on to the next thing. This is meta because Charlie is calling out the structure of each episode and the ultimate resolution of each episode arc. However, this time, they decide to try to keep at the problem they had set out to fix and, while doing this, Charlie points out that everyone was able to contribute to the group and they worked together. This statement could be read on an entirely different level of meta, because the “gang” can also be construed as the writers of the show–meaning that they do have to work together and each person contributes on a regular basis.

It was very unsettling to see this show become metareflexive for the one episode, because it pulls you out of the show where before you believed in this world that they had created. It kind of destroyed the world and characters. Sunny by no means is a standard sitcom, but once you’ve established a narrative form—especially for seven seasons—to break out of that mode has a very false and unnatural feel to it.

Writing and “The Prime-Time Novel”

15 Oct

I was really happy to read in the McGrath article, “The Triumph of the Prime-Time Novel”, his support of writers of television shows. So often it seems writers–especially TV writers—don’t get the credit they deserve. McGrath is right when he says that “TV is more of a writer’s medium than either movies or Broadway” (243) because, when you go to a movie or a Broadway show, you’re stuck there. You chose to see that movie or play and it’s the only choice you have for the next couple of hours. This situation is not the case with television. With TV, the viewer can flip through channels whenever he/she wants. If a movie in a theater is boring to you, you would probably still stay because,  one, you paid to see it, and, two, you specifically went out to see a movie and it would suck to just leave. However, if a TV show is boring, you can just change the channel! There needs to be something to keep the viewer interested–and attractive actors or pretty colors can only keep one interested for so long. The writing is what keeps viewers watching a show, so the industry is dependent on the writers. 

I don’t agree with McGrath, though, that weekly network dramas are the best written, “brand-new genre” of the “prime-time novel.” I personally believe that comedies, like sitcoms, are the best-written shows on network television (premium channel–HBO, Showtime–dramas are incredibly well written, but it is not fair to compare them because premium channel shows have abilities that network ones don’t). GOOD comedy is infinitely harder to write than drama–even the best drama. To get a viewer invested in a police or doctor drama all you need is some ominous background music and someone dying and a cop or doctor getting too personally involved, and a wrong accusation, then the right criminal gets caught/the dying person gets saved. Boom. Good drama. Police and doctor dramas are so incredibly formulaic they are essentially madlibs. Comedy, however, is so diverse and so subjective. I believe it is a huge accomplishment to create a show that can draw millions of viewers every week, because everyone has different tastes in humor and if one show can pull in people of varying senses of humor, well, that is just evidence of good writing.  

McGrath notes that Law and Order “responds to real-life events and incorporates them into the show’s plots” with great speed and that it can take as little as eight weeks to develop a script (245). Sitcoms reference popular culture too, and shows like the Daily Show and SNL (though admittedly it’s not always funny) have to come up with funny, current scripts way sooner than eight weeks…and that is an accomplishment. I will forgive McGrath a little, because this article was written in 1995 and sitcoms have become funnier over time (at least to me), but I definitely don’t think it’s fair for him to say television is the “prime-time novel” and almost completely dismiss comedic shows. A network drama can be good with just a skilled writer, but it takes not only a skilled writer, but a clever and witty person to create a successful comedy. 

Late Night Law and Order

11 Oct

I managed to watch two episodes of Law and Order: Criminal Intent on two different channels. One at midnight on Oxygen and the other at 3am on Fox.

The one on Oxygen was an absolutely ridiculous experience–there were 45 commercials, over 6 commercial breaks, and one break had 11 commercials. Oxygen is a channel geared towards women, as evident by the programs they run, but it was surprising at how much the ads target women–a thing I never really noticed while watching the channel before. After reading the Spigel article, I became acutely aware to the types of ads that ran; all were very much targeting women, and more specifically, sad housewives that are awake at midnight watching Law and Order. The commercials were for other shows on Oxygen, discount shopping (K-Mart, Payless), cleaning supplies, skincare products, quick-fix foods (bread mix, etc), and (this is why I say “sad housewives”) California Psychics and Nutella and Hershey’s chocolate. This surprised me because one would think a whole network for women wouldn’t want to perpetuate stereotypes of the housewife–that is, one who is always cleaning or cooking. But the incredibly long multiple commercial breaks seemed to almost parallel the shows of the 1950s that Spigel discusses that were short and segmented that provided information on shopping, cleaning, and beauty hints (among others) (81). One could probably go clean an entire room or prepare a whole meal in the time it took to get through one commercial break. Though, I don’t know why one would do that at midnight. It could perhaps be subliminally (or directly) targeting women for the next day–so they go to sleep after watching Law and Order thinking of Fleischmann’s bread mix or Downy Infusions.

As for the episode on at 3am on Fox, it actually started five minutes late and ended a minute early–so I don’t know if anything was cut from the episode, but there were far fewer commercials than on Oxygen (and probably less than when the episode originally aired), so the timing had to be adjusted. There were only 20 commercials over 6 breaks. These ads seemed to target a more general audience–but still aired on the side of addressing women (specifically ones that may be stay-at-home). These commercials were for other shows on Fox, cleaning supplies, items for children (Go-Gurt, Mucinex for kids), and skincare. There were also commercials that seemed to target people with depressing lives–Kanoski and Associates (legal aid), Lunesta (because people awake at 3am watching Law and Order probably need a sleep-aid), Keranique (for hair-loss in women), Geico, a Pradaxa injury alert (a blood-thinning drug), and stairlifts (for old people). I don’t really know what this says about the network or what they may think of the audience, but the later it got–the more sad the commercials became. I would think the opposite would happen, because it’s already depressing to watch Law and Order at 3am on a Tuesday on Fox, one doesn’t need to be told about a drug recall.

The other interesting thing about this is that Fox is a broadcast network, while Oxygen is a cable channel. So I would think the Fox episode would have more ads for cleaning supplies and more commercials in general, but that was not the case. Though, the time could have something to do with it. The network and ad agencies probably don’t think people who are up at 3am watching Law and Order are going to be the most focused consumers (if awake at all). This brought up the question (for me at least)–is there a correlation between time and content and target audience of commercials?