My Love/Hate Relationship With Episodic Storytelling

Episodic storytelling Does Not Equal Bad Writing

Episodic storytelling and I have a rocky relationship. It’s like that friend you have that always takes you on great adventures but eventually you realize that there is no progression and you learn the same lessons over and over again so eventually you will just give up and just decide to take him with you when it all ends–

Just me then?

Episodic storytelling is one of the many tools in the arsenal of a creative person. It fundamentally is a different tool from writing something serialized. It always depends on the amount of story you have to tell. It’s a shame then that most shows that use this feature use it so badly.

Episodic storytelling is often an excuse used so you can tell a random amount of stories to pad out the length of your series. Your run of the mill detective series or Star Trek show knows all bout this. When done well, episodic storytelling can be a powerful and unique way of highlighting and focusing on one element of the universe or the characters you want to explore. The problem in most shows, however, has always been the use of negative continuity and padding.

Take a show that is very episodic in nature, Rick and Morty. While there is mostly no overarching story (which might change, but bear with me), there is no negative continuity. Adventures can be watched standing on their own and they have a beginning, middle, and end, but there is something for long-time viewers to see progress. At the same time it’s very satisfying to have some closure.  Continue reading “My Love/Hate Relationship With Episodic Storytelling”

Why I’m Happier Since I Stopped Binge Watching Netflix

Discussions, if they are meaningful, will be there ready to be had once you are done.

This is going to be a short one, so call me a fraud for this not being a diatribe.

It’s been a few weeks now, probably longer, that I started mentioning to people the kinds of shows I watch at the moment. Shows like Taboo, Girlboss, and a handful of other shows that air weekly like Designated Survivor and American Gods.

Ever since Netflix came into existence with the idea of binging, only enhanced by their original programming, we have had a cultural love-hate relationship with the concept of binge watching a television show. I often thought it would be a good thing, watching a show in a day or two, then being completely caught up and able to converse about it.

As I get older and have more things to do in my life, I started realizing that I didn’t watch the shows for the sake of experiencing a good show or being entertained, I simply did it to get it over with. I didn’t enjoy the stories anymore.

I think the love-hate relationship part comes in when you realize that there are many shows that are designed to be watched as a big serial, usually miniseries, shorter seasons, usually cable shows, and shows that are not designed to be watched like this. The latter are purely episodic shows and those with a myth arc packaged in self-contained stories. A show like Deadwood, The Wire, or Breaking Bad is designed to be binged. They feature shorter seasonal lengths and are often designed as the chapters of a book. A recent show I have been watching that is like this are Taboo and American Gods, two great shows, but I haven’t binged on them yet either. It’s an experiment.

The other concept is that of a more traditional television show with a season arc, something that weaves and weans throughout the season without ever having precedent. Recent shows I’ve been talking about on here that are like it include Girlboss, and Arrow, the notorious Friday night hate and shame hook-up of my existence. While they tell a full story over the course of 13 or 23 episodes, they do also tell stand-alone stories or at least ones that can be watched independently. Continue reading “Why I’m Happier Since I Stopped Binge Watching Netflix”

Arrow Series Retrospective: After 5 Years In Hell

Comic book sacred cows: 1.) that you do not change anything about the source material, except when it’s okay, and 2.) you do not have non-lethal characters suddenly kill people, except when it’s okay.

As of yesterday, the CW series Arrow, based on DC’s Green Arrow line of comics, has finished its fifth season. It marks the end of the show’s five year story line. Maybe now, more than ever, is it time to look back at what the series did right and where it, eventually, started to faulter.

The series started when I was at an interesting point in the autumn of 2012, just as the superhero bubble had reached its peak with the back to back hits of The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers, giving us two very different interpretations of the superhero formula. A lot of people in comic fandom back then, myself included, were riding high on the ultra shiny Avengers bandwagon, grim and gritty was out, we said. It would still be a while until I soured on the whole genre myself, and eventually came to peace with simply liking a good story, regardless of whether or not it was dark or light-hearted.

Arrow’s first season is pretty much all we need to discuss in regards to whether or not people like this series, because much of the backlash against the series hasn’t really changed since. There have been ups and down in storytelling throughout the first five years, with seasons 1 and 2 still marking a personal highlight in superhero television for me, unrivaled by anything on network television and only surpassed by the excellent web material put out by Netflix in sheer size and quality. Season 1, from the very first frames, divided the audience up in people who liked and disliked the series, so much was clear from the internet groups and back chatter I participated back then. It’s easy to see why, the series very much changes up the entire Green Arrow mythology to fit it into a TV series format, cherry picking from a lot of older material from the 80s, inventing new characters, changing motivations, often combined with a main cast that was probably chosen because they fit the CW mold of being young and hot. And let’s get down to where a lot of people immediately called it quit: Green Arrow wasn’t called that and he killed people. Brutally so.

Regardless of whether or not you know comic book fandom, there are some pretty sacred cows, two of which are that you do not change anything about the source material, except when it’s okay, and you do not have non-lethal characters suddenly kill people, except when it’s okay. Another rule of thumb: no comic book character has ever had more old-school die-hard fans until the day his live action series/movie is announced. Far be it from me to say who counts and doesn’t count as a fan, but I needed to get this off my chest, because these little points have been the main points of contention for the first three or so years of the show’s existence before people started to ignore the series. In many ways it follows Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, and DC’s own Gotham in that regard. Maybe it wouldn’t annoy me so much if people didn’t actually ‘get’ what the show was about and how it, slowly, went off the deep end.  Continue reading “Arrow Series Retrospective: After 5 Years In Hell”

Star Trek: Discovery Trailer And Thoughts On The Franchise

Somewhat optimistic thoughts on Discovery but mostly hating on the classic show again.

Last week a trailer was released for Star Trek: Discovery that actually showed us some footage that wasn’t spaceship porn. Weird, right?

Much has since been written about the new Star Trek series. If it will take off, if it will be a good TOS prequel, what kind of stories they can actually tell, and whether or not it will actually be good. Neither of these questions can be answered by a simple trailer. All we know about is that our new main character is called Number One, who will be the first officer of the Discovery, which wasn’t shown in this trailer but instead we got Michelle Yeoh and her ship, which totally doesn’t mean that she will bite the dust two episodes in so we can transfer all the characters over to the Discovery, no sir, totally not going to happen.

And aside from the trailer showing glimpses into Number One’s past where Sarek tells her that as a human she will never fit into Vulcan society, and some Klingon stuff, because isn’t there always, that is pretty much it. I’m actually okay with that. I don’t need to know that much about the project going in, I just need to know what it will be about in order to be a valid piece of advertisement. This is a compelling trailer in that regard, it shows us that we will get some classic Star Trek adventures on a ship on the edge of space with some Klingon shenanigans. That’s the classic formula that pretty much every series has conformed to, even DS9. Many other elements, however, are different: the POV being on a first officer instead of a captain, who is also a human expat living on Vulcan from what I can tell, multiple ships being the focus of the series with a much bigger cast, a grander scope that will probably include arcs, it gives the show a feeling that you don’t often get from Star Trek: the fact that they might know what they are doing.  Continue reading “Star Trek: Discovery Trailer And Thoughts On The Franchise”

Alien Covenant Review – The David Series Part 2

It is closing in on 2 am as I write this, I just came home from the cinema, and I am in a mood to talk about Alien: Covenant. Consider this a review of sorts. Spoiler-free, because that’s what the internet likes and I’m predictable.

Ever since Prometheus came out five years ago, I have gone back and forth on what I should think of the film. It really didn’t work as an Alien prequel, the characters were way too dumb and unlikable, and many questions about the Alien mythology which we didn’t need were either answered or raised. And yet there was one half of the movie which worked, the story of David and the story of creation and creator. It was an incredibly strong story, but sadly remained a story beat between all the horror cliches and padding. Alien Covenant is part two of that exact same story.  Continue reading “Alien Covenant Review – The David Series Part 2”

A Look At Star Trek’s Kira Nerys – Or: How A Terrorist Could Be Sympathetic in the 1990s

Desperate for clicks. Might as well talk Star Trek again… but not the new trailer that hit. I’ll write about that sometime next week when I had time to think about it more.

Star Trek has been many things over the years, but ever since the 1960s it has never been anything other than safe and samey and conforming to social norms at the time. Heck, the 60s included in that when we look at all the sexism on display…

That is except for one character: Kira Nerys, the female lead of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. A former freedom fighter, terrorist, and now somewhat-supportive member of the provisional government of her homeworld of Bajor.

I don’t think I ever really appreciated the character that much when I first viewed the series, but when I did my English degree in university and combined it with a history topic on the use of terrorism in the media, I was quite startled to realize that Kira is, for lack of a better word, still unique in current day media. Finishing its run in the late 90s, DS9 still feels like the most modern installment of the franchise. Later movies and shows had better cinematography and effects, but being a pre-9/11 show, DS9 was almost prophetic in the way it handled subject matters of terrorism and terrorism. While it handled many other topics with much more maturity than the last 16 years of pop culture entertainment, its most revolutionary storytelling remains the character of Kira.  Continue reading “A Look At Star Trek’s Kira Nerys – Or: How A Terrorist Could Be Sympathetic in the 1990s”

Writing As Workmanship

Last week I finished my second novel this year, an about 90.000 word follow-up to the previously posted Historian’s Crusade. Why is that important besides padding myself on the back? Because when I told it to a friend, who is also my editor, that within five months I had finished two novels, we got talking about output. Not so much about artistic quality, but just the general output level.

You see, for the previous three years and more, I had been tainted by NaNoWriMo and the idea that every story that needs to come out of me needs to be a masterpiece. I talked about this before in one way or another, how NaNoWriMo just encourages bad writing habits. Sure, you’ll have a 50k word novel in four weeks, but you can basically throw it away and start again. I don’t really like the idea of working in multiple drafts that way. Once my story is out, I prefer to wash my hands of it, clean up mistakes here or there sure, but I don’t tinker with the narrative anymore. Because I just know that if I start doing it, I will never stop. That hurts your output.

As artists of any field, I think we all too often want to put quality over quantity. And while that is a generally good attitude to have that will smother the next 50 Shades of Grey right in the cradle, it also stops you from experimenting and working on more. A painter could paint five works in his lifetime or 50, one better than the last. Rather than languishing between publishing any new work, or just finishing it, one could instead get it over with. Whether or not it’s good isn’t up to you anyway, that’s up to the audience. Art needs an observer to even be worthwhile.  Continue reading “Writing As Workmanship”