Wednesday 19 October 2011

The only reason a man should dance is if someone is shooting at his feet

Whoopsy daisy. Someone's been forgetting to update the blog.

Hmmm. A few thoughts on Terra Nova, and why is will fail, even though it doesn't have to:

Back when Deep Space Nine finished, senior DS9 writer Ron Moore moved onto Star Trek: Voyager as a staffer, where he found himself butting heads with Voyager head honcho (and later Terra Nova producer) Brannon Braga when Moore decided that a show in its sixth year could afford to grow its characters and mythology and submitted plots for episodes like Survival Instinct and Barge of the Dead, which expanded upon what you could and couldn't do with a 'regular' Trek series by positing heroes as wilful murderers or giving them trips to the actual literal hell and then telling you - the viewer - "fuck yeah, that totally happened."

Moore wanted the show to explore the possibilities that each and every character brought to a supposedly infinite universe of diversity and storytelling possibilities but was stymied by Braga who wanted - bluntly - exactly the same thing, week in, week out because that was what a Star trek audience expected from Star Trek Voyager, and the sad thing is that both men were right - Moore was absolutely correct in saying that there were more stories to be told than were being told within the format, but Braga also had a point in that at that point Voyager's viewers already knew what they were getting and kept tuning in anyway, even if it was for yet another story about Seven of Nine's massive tits wondering about this human emotion we call love, and if you start throwing stories at them about Janeway getting addicted to space drugs to keep her edge or Tuvok having to rape someone every seven years, you might scare off a steady crowd of people who are quite happy with the same homogenised episodic formula plots and stiff period-piece writing style.

Braga knew - or perhaps he was just an intransigent bugger, I can't say for certain but let's give the benefit of the doubt here - that Voyager had to be a certain way because it was the third spin-off of a show that was made a certain way for a certain audience in all its spin-off incarnations, but this also made its future one of diminishing returns because any audience that specific and that narrow could only ever shrink over time to the point it could no longer justify the cost of making a show each week, and with Star Trek: Enterprise (also produced by Braga), this was proven to be the case. Moore, on the other hand, went on to have a significant role in making Battlestar Galactica, a great series that nonetheless lost its way terribly and became a dull parody not only of itself but of regressive sci-fi cliche and bore us a finale that almost beautifully snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by reducing a storyline that was already a Terminator rip-off to a Creationist analogue where everyone throws away any semblance of technology - even the shovels they might now need since their fate is to poo in the woods - because... eh. Cortez or something.

Braga was right about season six of Voyager, but unfortunately for him, season six of Voyager was back in 1999, twelve years ago, and sci-fi has moved on. I don't just mean we've had the paradigm shift in how stories are told and to whom that came with Battlestar's earlier seasons, I mean the lowest forms of sci-fi from Power Rangers to Transformers to Stargate SG1 to Warehouse 13 to Haven are shot through with a genre awareness where characters acknowledge their crazy situations and the similarities to plots from movies or tv shows, or have been saturated with enough sci-fi concepts via popular culture to hazard a guess as to how they'll resolve whatever faintly familiar conundrum they find themselves faced with, or at least how to break down their situation into digestible form for their thick-as-pigshit buddies who just want to shoot anything they can't fuck because that did fine for Captain Kirk.

Terra Nova has no genre-aware characters. There is no lampshade-hanging here, no characters pointing out where they've seen the plot to episode 4 before, or pointing out how paradoxes work so their quest to colonise Earth's distant past is thus doomed to failure - they just act as if everyhing is new even though it's old as the hills and cartoons like Kim Possible and Totally Spies - which are both aimed at girls under the age of 13 - have done these plots to death already and so 13 year old girls in these shows would be aware of these genre cliches even before you get to 18 years and over males at whom sci-fi is aimed rather squarely who most likely would know a sci-fi plot or two. Does anyone at any point make a Jurassic Park reference, even in the meta sense as an acknowledgement to Terra Nova producer Steven Spielberg? They do not.

These are therefore not people as we know them and we have no reason to invest in them as they are relics from the storytelling past even though we know this is a show being made right now. We expect at the very least an awareness from them even if we don't actually expect the show to be any good in terms of writing, effects or acting, which it is not, and yet while the show is regressive and doomed to fail because it is not being made ten years ago, there is no reason it couldn't succeed in its own little niche - if only for a while - catering to a smaller audience of sci-fi enthusiasts rather than the pansexual fans of of teen angst and family values bullshit they seem to be aiming at so far - no less than two teenage romance plots run in the foreground while two of the main characters are happily married and woefully uninteresting, so who is supposed to be watching this? At least aimed at sci-fi audiences specifically it could boast that its demographic was teenage and twentysomething males, yet it does not know who it is aiming at and that is why it will fail. Braga once knew the audience he was making these shows for, but seems to have forgotten.

I also watched 2 Broke Girls, which was sadly not pornography as I had hoped. It's crude, not particularly amusing and some of the jokes center around an Asian guy who's one pair of bottle-bottom glasses and a set of buck teeth away from a Jerry Lewis homage.
I expected more from you, America...


  1. Firstly, and not most importantly in a profoundly unimportant comment, this piece's headline is a splendid headline. And for myself, I agree, though the Splendid Wife is one of life's natural and joyful dancers, and through her, I think there MAY be an excuse for dancing when not being shot at.

    Secondly, I thought every point you made was right on the nose. I kept on reading thinking I'd have something to moan about eventually, but you swerved easily around the Braga's-a-fool-so-Moore-must-be-a-genius fallacy and left me happy not to just to know that you that TN is pants, but to have a far clearer idea of why. Braga seems to be a master of deliberate mediocrity and Moore, from his BSG podcasts, seems to lack any respect for structure and logic when a spectacular-if-stupid effect is in the offing.

    But it had passed me by that TN had Braga at the helm. It was so pathetic that it was hard to care. As a man who writes with the TV on, I tend to watch all the fantastical shows in the SkyBox, but there are some I struggle to watch even when housecleaning; Terra Nova and that terrible Spielberg pantsathon about a gosh-we're-still-alive alien invasion are two of these terrible shows.

    And now I know even more of why. Thank you, Mr B :)

    ps: Season 4 of Enterprise after the clear-up-after-Braga opener; often surprisingly good and touching stuff. Why, it's almost as if Mr Braga was somewhere else at the time ...
    pps: Yet this quote on Wiki did make me feel immediately and unexpectdly sympathetic to BB;

    "It's not a pleasant thing to think of yourself [as] to blame. There are other factors involved with Star Trek losing its audience appeal over the years, but [...] I will take my share of the blame creatively. It's almost impossible for me to sit here and say 'yes, I did this, that, and this wrong' and I'm certainly not going to get on the internet and look at what the fans think, because that would be too painful. But give it a little more time [and] I'm sure I can look back and figure out what the fuck I did wrong."

  2. You have found the loophole we all use, Colin, as the presence of women - in all their forms - is an excuse for a panorama of unmanly behavior ranging from dancing to clothes shopping.

    Braga is good in his own niche, I think, but for some reason he seems to work mostly outside that niche, or at least is involved in productions aimed at audiences he's not used to dealing with, such as Threshold and Flashforward - television programmes that are tailor-made for a small but loyal following on cable channels like SyFy yet for some reason they end up with too much budget and marketed towards 'mainstream' audiences and they invariably fail quite quickly when they don't do the huge numbers such shows need to survive. Sci-fi is not a terribly competitive field when it comes to television, but mainstream time slots on premier channels are a cut-throat place where even successful shows are cancelled seemingly on a whim. Terra Nova has no place there.

    I have a soft spot for some of Enterprise's third season, though tellingly all the good episodes were rehashes of Deep Space Nine high points like The Visitor and Children Of Time, though season four had some good stuff - it takes a harder man than me to discredit the notion that "Robocop has this giant death ray" is something people should be watching.

    Enterprise was a flawed beast - the show they were making clearly required that the captain be a good man, but not a great one, pushed as he was to get humanity into space as an act of racist spite upon the Vulcans and then only being captain because no-one else was available. In seasons three and four this became an issue, but the first two - horrendous - seasons played him as an action hero and it didn't really convince. It was also still very Trek-y and not terribly accessible to newcomers as it retained that stiff 'period piece' approach typically found in now-extinct period dramas, and I still hold some affection for my then-theory that subconsciously audiences were aware that the makeup of the crew of Enterprise was exactly the same as that of the crew of Galaxy Quest (has-been actor as captain, tottie on the bridge to answer the space phone and do little else, alien doctor, incredibly young helmsman, spaced-out engineer, etc) and this once again brings us back to shows that have no awareness of the cliches they're peddling even when the audience does...