Continuity: Examples from TV

My beautiful wife and I have just celebrated 11 years of marriage. Most of those years have been fantastic, even if there were challenges to overcome. Marriage is awesome when you both put in the effort to look after one another and keep the marriage healthy. It pays dividends like no other investment.

One of our traditions that has developed over the years is we like to celebrate our anniversary by completely relaxing. We buy the latest season of Law and Order SVU and NCIS and then binge watch over a weekend.

Today I’m going to blog about the observations I made on continuity watching both seasons. Continuity is important for all series, whether book or TV.

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Hero Wins Survivor

Survivor is the only show we watch on free-to-air TV these days. It’s a show that the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I both enjoy watching, dissecting and discussing. We’re now approaching our 11th wedding anniversary, and I can remember when debriefing about Survivor helped give us talking points on our phone conversations while dating. (And as the winner of her hand, I am the ultimate survivor. But I digress…)

(As much as I watch it, I’m no superfan so the following post is my opinion, not a record of fact. Don’t eviscerate me if I am forgetting things). 🙂

However, sadly, I must admit to losing some ‘love’ of Survivor in recent years. I was growing increasingly annoyed that a strong player (or, very rarely an alliance of equals) would get to the end, and bring along a so-called ‘goat’ for the ride. It became a situation which felt as though the good players were being eradicated by a pact of the weaker players (especially including Australian Survivor). This is, of course, perfectly sensible gameplay, but it also made for a disappointing ending: there wasn’t many deserving sitting at tribal at the end.

ben.jpgThe most recent season Heroes vs Healers vs Hustlers changed that. From the very start Ben Driebergen was my favourite who I wanted to win. And it started with a coconut bursting in the fire, and Ben bolting for the solitude of the water.

Ben is an marine veteran, who came back from war with PTSD. The sudden exploding sound was a trigger and Ben had to get alone to calm himself. It reminded me of Bear Grylls’ The Tribe TV show which I’d describe as Survivor-real, without the politics. On one season there was a gutsy female war vet who was also an amputee. She was knocked out of the challenge, through no cowardice or fault of her own, but by PTSD wreaking havoc during a giant thunderstorm.

We ask an incredible amount of our armed service men and women, and they deserve all the support (and funding) they need to be able to rebuild their lives post-combat. Words are thrown around far too-lightly these days. ‘Hero’ is applied (falsely) to sporting players or celebrities whose 30-second sound bite wins them accolades.

A hero is someone who is willing to risk their lives, or significant injury, for the benefit of others.

And the vast majority of veterans, fit that bill. Whether you agree with the reason why they were sent or not, the fact is that most went along wanting to serve their country and save others.

Ben may have won my loyalty with his courage, but he also gained incredible notoriety through his ability to outwit (or you could call it ‘out-act’), his tenacious idol hunting and his wisdom in keeping a secret.

So in summary: Ben, and all those like him, thank you for your service (even if I’m an Australian). The freedoms that we enjoy are often founded in the past and present shedding of blood. We ask too much of you, and we thank you for being willing to pay it. May you find a growing peace, hope and life in the future.

And to Jeff and CBS, thanks for bringing real-life heroes to our screens.

Big Budget Does Not Mean Good Story

With working some long hours, and over-taxing my body, I’ve spent more hours than normal in front of the TV in the last week. In hindsight, I realise it was time not well spent. Even though it was shows and movies I wanted to watch, I found most of them bland and uninspiring. Even high-cost productions lacked a good story line, leaving my overall impression at “bleh”. I moved from anticipating the new series through to just feeling obligated to finish it.

The one exception to this cacophony of lacklustre entertainment was the Marvel movie Doctor Strange. Spoiler alert: read no further. From a cinematic point of view it was too heavy on CGI for my liking, but in contrast to everything else it had a good story line, even if it was cliché.

Good: Doctor Strange played by Benedict Cumberbatch is a deeply-flawed egomaniac who wants to win at everything. He ends up defeating the bad guy by being willing to fail endlessly.

Bad: I’d have to say I didn’t believe the transformation. I didn’t see him changing over time, it was like someone flicked a switch and all of a sudden he’d changed. Not so much a character arc than a plot-required u-turn.

Good: Being willing to fail is something that most people can relate to, and for the perfectionist it is a hard thing to accept.

Bad: In hindsight, it was kind of a weak ‘fail’. I mean he was willing to loose in another galaxy, population 1.. There were no witnesses. It’s not like he was willing to admit his mistakes on international TV.

Good: There was some good humour to break up the action. (Marvel are good at this). Take for example this where his cloak has ideas of its own.

Bad: And then the super-cheesy, I-so-didn’t-see-that-coming from the monk who never laughs. (Guess what he does?)

There were other problems with it too, which I guess just shows how bad the others were. From now on, I’m reading, not watching TV when it’s the approach of bed time.

Watching, Reading and Listening

Watching

In our household we enjoy watching Survivor twice a year when it rolls around; mandatory viewing and one of the few shows on free-to-air that we watch. So you can imagine how excited we were when Channel 10 announced an Australian Survivor.

Sometimes when we try to copy the US (with a lower budget) the results are a bit cringe-worthy; I was a bit worried…

It has not disappointed; in fact, I think it is better than the US version. The challenges have been harder (in my couch-position) than the US version. I am thrilled how after so many seasons (of US) the Australian version has still been able to come up with new and innovative challenges.

I suspect the food and conditions are softer but I can forgive that (so far). My favourites so far are the embattled-but-gutsy Kylie and the ultimate challenge beast Sam.

One can only hope channel 10 is killing in the ratings, and there will be many more seasons to come.

Reading

At the moment I’m almost finished reading unBlessed by Crystin Goodwin, after seeing it spruiked by storymedic*. It is a YA-novel that mixes the idea of elemental-powers (water, air, fire, nature…) and shape-shifting into animals.

What I particularly want to draw attention to is how the novel takes a fantasy setting but also ties in real world knowledge, the powers being derived from genetics. While it’s not a new idea it adds flavour to the story and let’s the reader say “I understand that.”

(Incidentally, storymedic has an 80%-off editing services for indies at the moment. I can’t personally vouch for him yet, but am considering it).

Listening

(Christian) Also I’ve been listening to Lauren Daigle on loop for the last two weeks. Her soulful cries are heart wrenching music. Totally recommended.

What have you been enjoying with your eyes or ears?

Comical Characters

My wife and I have started to enjoy watching The Good Wife on Netflix. I know we’re a bit late to the show, but we got there anyway. 

One of the things which I really appreciate about the writing is the host of comical judges that come through the courtrooms like an assortment of clowns on a pageant float. 

There is the judge who insists on lawyers caveating every statement with “in my opinion”. Or the judge who makes lawyers “excuse themselves” if they try talking over anyone, virtually making them stand in the corner like a naughty child. Or the ancient judge who despite having two hearing aids and looking not-long-for-this-world is incredibly tech-savvy. 

Television has taught us over the years that judges are serious and often pompous individuals. These reoccurring characters break the mould, pleasantly surprising and shocking the audience. Their unique and individual behaviour injects comedy into the stories. And the pattern of always-odd judges means that we anticipate meeting new judges to see how they will be humorous.

There is something in these comical characters that we can apply to writing. Even in a serious book not every character has to be serious. Or perhaps they just have a strange character quirk that makes them interesting. 

Another Great Hook

I’ll admit to being a bit of a fanboy of superhero sagas. Don’t judge me, I’m not alone if the box office and TV ratings are anything to go by.

Recently Netflix released season 3 of Arrow. Having just finished watching season 2 of Daredevil the timing was wonderful. I sat down to watch it and accidentally started at season 1, episode 1, which I decided was a good place to refresh my memory from.

A TV show, especially a pilot episode where they’re seeking funding is very similar to the first pages of a novel;  you need a great hook to catch your audience. It’s not enough to be ‘okay’…it has to be great. With my writer’s hat on I marveled at how well the beginning of Arrow hooked me.

“I am returning, not the boy who was shipwrecked but to bring justice to those who have poisoned my city.” (1:36)

Within minutes of the show starting we know that the protagonist is out to get vengeance against the bad people in his city. He’s motivated by a semi-noble pursuit of righting the wrongs of his father.

He mysteriously speaks Russian and has the reflexes of a cat (not literally, Dark Angel fans) and super-bad ninja-like skills.

“Everyone is happy your alive. You want to see the one person who isn’t?” (12:29)

He’s also got a boat load of guilt and emotional distress (pun-intended). When he was shipwrecked he was in the midst of an affair with the sister of his girlfriend. The sister didn’t survive the shipwreck (at least that’s what we think at this stage). He of course still loves his ex, but she understandably doesn’t want anything to do with him. Smart woman, all things considered. However, there’s enough backstory there for some serious emotional conflict: He’s in love with her, but also  pushing her away so she’s not collateral damage in his war on bad people.

“Did he make it to the island? Did he tell you anything?”

He’s abducted by masked assailants (15:00) who want to ensure his father is dead, and what his father might have disclosed. The intrigue of a mystery and a hidden enemy loom large.

His younger sister is abusing drugs and alcohol (10:53), in much the same way as he did.

Bad guy, about to die: “You don’t have to do this?”

“Yes I do; nobody can know my secret.”

He’s an anti-hero, a bad guy killing other bad guys.

So in one episode you have plenty of hooks, external dangers and mystery with enough inner turmoil for the character to overcome. An excellent beginning.

(I’ve written before about great beginnings of TV shows in hiding the horrific through the eyes of children).

The Hunting Grounds

A few nights ago the beautiful Mrs Ezard and I watched an excellent documentary called “The Hunting Grounds” (2015). It is an exposé into how US colleges hide the rampant problem of sexual assaults on campus.

The statistics are staggering: 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while at a US college.

The universities show a disturbing propensity to close ranks; attempting to silence the victim through threat and intimidation in an effort to protect their school’s fictional reputations. Repeatedly the women say they are more victimised by the response of the college than the actual attack itself.

Call me old fashioned, but anyone who does nothing condones the behaviour. I honestly don’t know how the school boards, faculty etc who care more for the school’s reputation than the victims’ justify it to themselves. Money is not reason enough for a person’s “job” to override their humanity. Shame on them, and all who allow the problem to hide.

In the movie they also speak about the frat-culture and how it is linked to the suppression. Surely, even alumni frat members would rather expel deviants from among them than contribute to hiding them?

Good on the men and women who bravely stand to say that such treatment will not be tolerated; not by the abusers, and not by the colleges.

It’s definitely worth watching, but be warned it will make you angry.