Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Why Defiance Sucks

There’s a new show on the Sci-Fi Channel called Defiance. Yawn. Sorry. As I was saying, there’s a new show on the Sci-Fi Channel called Defiance. It sounded like an interesting premise when the ads first appeared for it, but it’s not. It’s missing the one thing that really matters: a story. In fact, this is the real problem with most science fiction shows these days.

There are many ways you can put together a television series. And often, the approach you pick will depend on your genre. Doctor shows are soap operas, and the degree of outlandishness will very according to how dramatic the show wants to be. Cop shows are episodic mysteries. Lawyer shows straddle the line between soaps and episodic mysteries. Science fiction tends to be episodic or they involve the telling of a particular story arc.

The story arc shows are usually remembered as the best, though sometimes episodic shows can break through. Story arc shows are things like Babylon 5, Lost, Heroes, Carnivale and (eventually) The X-Files. Game of Thrones is like this too. These are shows where the writer has a particular story they are telling, and the episodes typically advance the story to some degree each week. What makes these types of shows so strong is that the story arc gives the show a purpose and a focus and keeps people tuned in to see what happens next. Meanwhile the episode format allows the writers to explore a great many ideas while telling the bigger story. That’s a great combo.

Episodic shows are different. Within the episodic show category, you have two types. You have the morality-tale shows like Star Trek and The Twilight Zone and you have soaps. The morality-tale shows can be really good as they offer the best platform to develop a variety of science fiction and philosophical ideas. Basically, each week you can reach for some new idea and explore it. That can make for excellent viewing.

Then you have the soaps. Yeah. Well. . . at least they’re easy to write.

This is the problem with Defiance. It’s a soap and it follows a formula that promises it will be nothing you haven’t seen a million times. The setup begins, as always, with “the outsider” who arrives in “insert strange setting.” He is the supposed fish-out-of-water who finds himself put into a position where he meets all the movers and shakers in town and must mediate between them. This is a writing crutch for weak writers. It basically makes the outsider into a narrator who can interact in the story. That’s about as easy a way to write a story as humanly possible and it typically means you’re dealing with a writer who is neither creative nor courageous. It also tells you that the series is likely to be worthless. Why? Because rather than telling some story, this setup involves throwing characters together with supposed pre-built conflicts who then repeat generic storylines from prior shows like Eureka week after week as the writers hope that the actors can win over the audience with their own personalities. Basically, they are selling you the actors. It’s hard to like a show like that.

I truly wish that someone would start producing real science fiction -- either with genuine story arcs or in the smart episodic format. Science fiction needs to drop the soap format. . . it’s killing the genre.

41 comments:

Tennessee Jed said...

I honestly hadn't heard of this, and agree with your premise. A soap can be a decent guilty pleasure, but it doesn't make for a really great show, and it certainly has no place in good sci-fi. Maybe part of the problem is what seems like an overarching need for content. People are cranking out too much crap today in almost all genres. Anyway, I know not to waste precious viewing time on this bomb.

Backthrow said...

I have no interest in DEFIANCE, but I dunno... just about every good, recent dramatic series I've enjoyed seems to me to be essentially a de facto soap opera (albeit better-written), due to the popular 'story arc' format.

THE SOPRANOS was a mafia soap. SONS OF ANARCHY is a biker soap. HEROES was a superhero soap. BOARDWALK EMPIRE is a period mafia soap. GAME OF THRONES is a medieval fantasy/adventure soap. DEXTER is a serial killer/police procedural soap. JUSTIFIED is a rural police soap. CARNIVALE was period circus sideshow soap. DEADWOOD was an old west soap. LOST was Twilight Zone-y soap.

As much as I like (and, in some cases, LOVE) these shows, I kind of wish the creators would mix things up a little, and give us an occasional well-made episodic (or anthology) series again.

THE FUGITIVE (the David Janssen original) had a story arc, but was also episodic; you could start watching the series with just about any episode in its run, cold, and know exactly what was going on, and yet, as we got deeper into the series, Dr. Richard Kimble got closer and closer to finding out who The One-Armed-Man was, and capturing him to clear his own name.

You can't do this with any of the series I've listed above; you either have to watch from Episode One, or commit to a season and stick with it until you eventually have a grasp as to who's who and what's really going on... like a soap opera.

AndrewPrice said...

Jed, I don't think you're missing anything. I suppose its possible the characters will prove likable, but it's only a matter of time before they have a zany Christmas special.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I see most of those shows as story arcs rather than soaps. Heroes, Lost, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and Carnivale definitely follow(ed) a story arc -- even Dexter does to a lessor extent. They had a purpose and were headed there. Week to week may have felt soapy at times, but no matter what happened in any particular week, they still moved along the arc to a particular conclusion.

Compare that with something like Eureka, where you basically had "let's see what the characters are up to this week" and any story arcs that developed were basically personal storylines as the characters "grew."

That's the distinction I'm talking about. The story arc stories involve a story that is being told. The soapy stuff involves characters who go through a series of adventures as they develop.

Defiance is in the Eureka model.

shawn said...

Hey now, don't be bad-mouthing "Eureka", it was darn entertaining. With SyFy's poor track record of keeping shows on air, I haven't seen "Defiance" yet as I want it to have at least a complete season or two before getting invested in it.

AndrewPrice said...

Shawn, I liked "Eureka" well enough, but it never came anywhere near its potential because of its format. "Defiance" is almost a clone of "Eureka" structurally, but it lacks the likeable cast.

Good idea to wait to see if they run for more than a couple episodes!

PDBronco said...

It's hard to fully comment on "Defiance" since I lasted all of 20 minutes of the first episode. By then, it seemed like they had thrown a number of stereotype-characters (with no individual personalities) and a number of unconnected plot lines stolen from other shows. The whole thing felt like it was written either by a committee or by a StoryMat2000. It felt a lot like a really bad Stargate SG-1/Atlantis episode - team arrives at "insert strange setting" and romantic entanglement "x" ensues. I kept hoping that Julie Benz would just whip out her vampire face and put us out of our misery by biting everyone on the show.

tryanmax said...

I haven't seen Defiance but a different show that is totally working for me is Revolution. Yeah, it has it's shortcomings. But it has a story arc that is going somewhere, and that keeps me coming back.

rlaWTX said...

I tried liking Defiance. Just like I tried liking Falling Skies. But at least Falling Skies had some action. Defiance started out alright - but they told the whole story in the first episode. Including outing and explaining the bad guys.

I loved Eureka. The characters were fun and well done. Didn't need an "arc" because of the characters.

rlaWTX said...

Just saw PDBronco's "Angel" reference! Every time I see Julie Benz (who I really like), I think "Darla!"

rlaWTX said...

OT: Ironman 3 was awesome. The post-credit bit was hilarious!

AndrewPrice said...

PDBronco, That's exactly what it is. They took a bunch of generic stereotypes from other shows and tossed them together into "insert strange setting", added a couple of points of conflict -- romantic entanglements, a power struggle, economic competitors, and suggestions of a conspiracy. Then they sat down to write the episode, which was ripped off from every other science fiction show like this. The next episode was as well, as will be the next and the next and the next.

That's the problem with this format. There's no structure, there are just characters lumped together and the writers are told, "Do something with them." The inevitable result is that they repeat what every other show like this has done until they get cancelled.

AndrewPrice said...

tryanmax, I haven't seen it because I tend to avoid the networks because their stuff is never good. You say it's decent?

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, I wanted to like Defiance as well. It looked like a good concept with some excellent makeup effects. But it has no story, it's just a lump of characters that I'm supposed to grow to like and I just don't see anything worth investing my time there.

I enjoyed Eureka as well, but I also felt it never reached its potential. I think they got lucky with casting.

Falling Skies really disappointed me. That show went nowhere. I can't believe they green-lit the thing.

ScottDS said...

Re: SyFy, Eureka and Warehouse 13 are the ones I need to catch up with one day.

As for this show, I haven't seen it but just from the promos, I have to agree with PDBronco: it looks like it was generated by the Script-o-Tron 5000. I know I shouldn't judge without seeing it, and it might get better, but from the advertising, there just wasn't enough to get me involved.

It's weird why we're attracted to some shows and not others, even if it's a genre we enjoy. In retrospect, I'm wondering how I got into Fringe, but they had the benefit of the J.J. Abrams/Lost connection and since I never watched The X-Files, I figured the least I could do was watch a similar show (which was, for the most part, very entertaining).

You mentioned Heroes... it started off blah, got better, and then went completely off the rails to the point where I was looking at my DVR and asked, "Why bother?" and gave up.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, It was written by the Script-O-Tron 5000. That's how it feels. Seriously, you can actually write down the episode you know are come up just based on who the characters are what their positions are. That's not good writing.

Heroes was spotty, but it definitely hit some solid highs... and it crashed fast.

ScottDS said...

Reading this article makes me wonder...

...when did we stop getting excited for new TV shows? I'm sure you recall the gigantic TV Guide fall preview issue. That was exciting stuff!

Today?

New TV shows premiere all year around, and they're cancelled too damn fast so why should we bother investing in these people? And a good 3/4 of the new shows are still doctor/lawyer/cop shows. Been there, done that.

And my Game of Thrones-watching friend said something the other day... some of these TV shows are hard work! Something like Lost requires your undivided attention and if you're a hardcore fan, it's like you have homework to do. There's an entire online industry of analyzing every single frame of every big TV show. I don't watch Mad Men but it plasters my Facebook feed every week!

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I've almost never been excited by television shows. But I get your point that things seem saturated today. I think there's also the problem that the quality is so low these days that it's rare that you run into something worth watching -- and when you do, you can always catch up once the episodes hit Netflix or whatever.

Anonymous said...

tryanmax,

I remember when the first commercials for 'Revolution' came out. I was in the operating booth at the station when it played during the 'Today Show.' After a second or two of quiet, I made the following observations...

-It's by J.J. Abrams. No main cast members over the age of 25 allowed...unless we really can't get away with it. (After all, it would look silly to see a father and daughter the same age.)

-Hey, remember when NBC and ABC ripped off AMC's 'Mad Men?' We got 'Playboy Club' and 'Pan Am,' respectively. Those shows sucked. (And we ended up with 'Rock Center' as a replacement.) Well, we can't copy 'Breaking Bad.' That's a little too predictable. But, wait! 'Walking Dead' is popular! Let's make a show that's also a post-apocalyptic romp with people just trying to survive!

-And hey, did you see 'The Hunger Games?' Me neither. But the lead girl uses a bow and arrow. Let's have our lead girl use a crossbow to cash in!

-And don't forget to completely degrade the setting and cover it all in vines, 'cause civilization's dead and everything. (Even though it's only been a few years.) But make sure they all wear outfits that are clearly pressed and have the lead girl look like she got her hair and makeup done at a stylist every day for the trailer shots! But take off the lipstick so it's its not too obvious.

(...continued...)

-Rustbelt

Anonymous said...

(...continued...)

Guy #1: Also, let's have them only use hand weapons so it's all cool and back to a more primitive state and everything.
Guy #2: Why would they do that?"
1: 'Cause electricity's gone and they don't have weapons that shoot anymore.
2: But firearms use explosive chemicals. They've bee making firearms with manual equipment for centuries before we had mass electricity. You know that.
1: Oh...well, we'll say there's no government and society's collapsed. So...there's an agreement between these warring clans not use to firearms and prohibit the use of them or else they face retribution!
2: With what? Guns? Are the guys in charge actually gonna deny weapons to themselves?
1: Uh...did I mention all the lead actors are going to be under the age of 25?
2: Greenlit.

Okay, I haven't bothered to see a single episode of this show, and probably won't. The info above came from an obscure article I read later and laughed at. But my co-workers pretty much agreed with me. Classic NBC these days.

1: Did I also mention that Abrams will keep the audience guessing at plots, motives, and whatnot by not actually planning it out, but by winging it episode by episode Lucas-style without ever getting to a point, but always promising a resolution that won't ever come?
2: Bonus!

-Rustbelt

AndrewPrice said...

Rustbelt, That's the problem with Abrams and it became apparent during Lost that he thought he could get away with just raising questions with no intention of ever providing answers.

LL said...

I've watched Defiance and it's everything you said it is and more. There's not much of a reason to watch except that there's not much to watch. It's on the order of Falling Skies to me.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, I think that Falling Skies is an excellent comparison. Both shows promised to be something new and different and "more" than we were used to... and both ended up tired and cliched from the first frame and only went downhill from there.

LL said...

P. S. I only watched Lost recently on Netflix for the first time and I enjoyed it because I simply fast forwarded through the scenes of their respective pasts and watched all six seasons of what went on when they were on the Island. Occasionally, I watched the mainland sequences -- but not often. And I enjoyed it. You couldn't do anything like that with Defiance.

There are good television series in my opinion. I liked The Americans, and Vikings both which completed their first season. Defiance could be interesting---but you're right. It won't be.

AndrewPrice said...

LL, That's probably a good way to watch Lost! The at-home stuff did have a payoff, but it often wasn't worth the time in my opinion.

I haven't seen The Americans or Vikings. Right now, the one show I never miss is Game of Thrones, but there are some other good ones.

ScottDS said...

Andrew -

First, watch this. It's short and you'll like it.

Anyway, I would argue that there is in fact too much GOOD television nowadays that it becomes overwhelming. And these are serious heavily arc-based dramas that require some mental firepower now and then. It becomes too much after a while. Game of Thrones, Homeland, Mad Men, Dexter, The Americans, Breaking Bad...

Not to mention Netflix, Amazon, DirecTV, etc. getting into the original programming game.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, Wow, that is an excellent take down of the film! Nice work!

Zap Brannigan... LOL!

AndrewPrice said...

P.S. We are not in a period of too much good television. There are some very good shows, but as a percentage it's really, really, really small.

Backthrow said...

Yeah, some prime stuff in the last several years, but they've all been dramas or 'dramedies', almost all from cable networks, and are dwarfed in number by the ever-present Sea of Crap (tm). Still, I've found a lot more to enjoy than I did in the 1980s/1990s:

DEXTER
BREAKING BAD
BOARDWALK EMPIRE
DEADWOOD (cancelled a bit too early; needed 1 more season)
JUSTIFIED
GAME OF THRONES
TERRIERS (a major crime that this was cancelled)
SONS OF ANARCHY
ROME (1st season stronger than the 2nd, but still damned good)
LOST (a big gimmick of a show, but I liked the characters and the ride)
DEAD LIKE ME (cancelled too early)
PUSHING DAISIES (though hobbled by the writers' strike and a hasty Season 2 cancellation)
BURN NOTICE (good, light action fare, though it's good that the next season is its last, as it's getting to be a bit too repetitive)
THE SOPRANOS (though it was wearing out its welcome towards the end)
CARNIVALE (great 1st season, too-hasty cancellation of the 2nd season, though I found Clancy Brown's character a lot less interesting in the 2nd... too evil, too fast)
FIREFLY
HEROES (though it crashed and burned early, and I only stuck it out to see what would happen to Hiro and Sylar)

Still haven't seen: the rebooted BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, FARSCAPE, CHUCK, SHERLOCK, THE WIRE, THE SHIELD, MAD MEN, OZ, THE HOUR, any STARGATE series, 80% of the rebooted DOCTOR WHO and 97% of THE X-FILES. Maybe some week we should do a 'Top 5' of popular/acclaimed TV shows we've never seen.

I thought I would enjoy FRINGE and EUREKA, but I ended up hating both, and bailed on them pretty early. THE WALKING DEAD got really stupid rather quickly (just like the rebooted V), so I also bailed, though I've heard it's gotten better in Season 3, so I might give it another chance and play catch-up.

T-Rav said...

Wasn't it kind of a given that Defiance would suck? I mean, it's on SciFi, excuse me, SYFY. The only thing I've seen on there recently that's even halfway decent is their knock-off version of Being Human, and I can only take that in small doses (never made it through an episode of Warehouse 13).

LL said...

You can watch episodes of Vikings on history.com whenever you want to.

AndrewPrice said...

T-Rav, They do have a lot more misses than hits... about 99-1.


LL, It's sounding familiar now.

AndrewPrice said...

Backthrow, I liked Dead Like Me a lot, but I think they killed themselves. The tone of the second season was so different than the first (so serious) that they bled viewers.

The Shield is one of the best cop shows I've seen. It's so different than anything I've seen and you never knew what was going to happen next. I highly recommend that one.

rlaWTX said...

Apparently Falling Skies is still on - they were hyping it before the movie (during the "captive audience ads") the other day... surprised me.

I like Warehouse 13. I love Haven. Face-Off is pretty cool. yep, that's it for SyFy these days.
I HATE ghost hunting - supernatural house crap.

AndrewPrice said...

rlaWTX, Really? I had no idea that was still on.

I like "Face Off" a lot. I liked "Ghost Hunters" in the first couple season, but it lost me when they started franchising it into a million shows. And I don't like any of the other stuff made in the same vein.

I used to love "Stargate SG-1" and "Stargate Atlantis," but those are gone. I liked "Eureka." I never liked "Warehouse 13" enough to watch. Ditto on "Haven." That's about it for me.

Scott Nash said...

Defiance is a definite snooze fest. Characters are transparent and story is weak thus far. I liked Eureka I found myself invested in the characters much like I did with SG1 and Atlantis and Sanctuary despite them being episodic in nature. Continuum looks like its going to be agreat show so we can look forward to it being cancelled after the second season.

AndrewPrice said...

Scott, I agree. I enjoyed all those programs a lot. I even bought the SG1 series. I guess we'll see about Continuum. Nothing surprises me about the SyFy Channel anymore.

Anonymous said...

I look at the show as being a defiant attack on the invaders of Earth. What I see is as said earlier, just a soap opera. Deleted from my DVR is 40 minutes I can spend doing anything worthwhile, like cleaning my lint traps. Garbage

Anonymous said...

Just watched the season finally.. I am tired of datac tar and his wife getting away with murder..its like the rest of the town knows they are downright evil scum, but they run around like they are clueless when the white aliens find yet another obvious way to destroy the plans of the town to run orderly and without incident.. the truth is, if this town was on the verge of going down the toilet at the hands of a murdering drug dealing douche like that. The town would either 1 kick him out, or 2 kill him..but now the town has voted him mayor through his back dealing dirty tactics and we aresupposed to believe that the whole town that came together to for the goal of working together and peace, would keep suffering at the hands of some street punks and there shinanigans....LAME.i gave it 1 seasonI'm done..

AndrewPrice said...

Anon, The show lost me very early and the few times I tried to give it another chance, it just felt like it wasn't doing anything worth watching.

Derek Graham said...

Ever since SciFi went SyFy and started airing wrestling it has not been a serious science fiction channel.

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