|Two of these things are awesome, and one is not. I'll let you guess which is which. Photo courtesy of ology.com|
I've been complaining a lot about True Blood and Torchwood: Miracle Day recently. This is partly because there's nothing else on and I have to write about something, and partly because neither show is... well, good. Torchwood is probably more offensively bad, but that's largely due to the heightened expectations created by Children of Earth. Season 3 of True Blood didn't leave me with much hope, so there was less distance to fall.
However, I'm a television believer; I'm not going to completely write off a show because of a bad season or two (unless that show is Glee, which I've just about given up on). So, in the spirit of constructive criticism, I'm going to offer three suggestions to improve these shows, along with examples of shows that get it right. Listen up, Alan Ball and Russell T. Davies, and maybe think about implementing these next season.
1. Plot balance is hard to achieve, but that doesn't mean it's unimportant.
True Blood and Miracle Day lie of the opposite end of the plot balance spectrum; the former is overplotted to the point of chaos, while almost nothing happens on the latter. True Blood needs to make any given plot point last for more than one scene, while Torchwood needs to lose the episodes that don't advance the plot, like last week's "The Middle Men."
Who does it right: The Vampire Diaries
Unlike Miracle Day, The Vampire Diaries is driven by an unstoppable forward momentum that is constantly driving the action. However, she show also knows when a plot point is worthy of playing out over several episodes. The backstory of the sun and moon curse was one of these plot points, unlike Eric's amnesia storyline on True Blood, which is rapidly squandering all the enthusiasm I used to have for it.
2. Trim the fat.
Both these shows have characters and storylines that are boring, annoying, and distracting to the point where they stop the action dead every time they appear. True Blood suffers every time Tara, Debbie and Alcide or the Hotshot werepanthers take center-stage, while Torchwood's Esther Drummond sucks the life from the screen with every appearance. Get rid of them and viewers won't feel the need to channel surf every time they pop up.
Who does it right: Game of Thrones
For a show with a huge number of characters to keep track of, there are none that fail to command attention during their time in the spotlight. There was no point during Game of Thrones' first season when I found myself wishing that a scene would hurry up and end so I could get back to the "good" characters. I certainly can't say the same for either True Blood or Torchwood.
3. Give the show some stakes.
True Blood's biggest problem is that viewers have been trained never to worry about any of the characters, because any dangerous situation will invaribly resolved in the next scene. Torchwood's problem is that the very premise of "Miracle Day" gets rid of death. Vera's demise two episodes ago should have solved this problem by demonstrating that people can, in fact, still die, but the stakes were no higher in the last episode than they had been before. Even Jack's mortality has done nothing to create danger, since his storyline hasn't involved any injuries worse than a papercut since he was poisoned in the second episode. Ironic, since this is the same show that shocked viewers by killing Ianto Jones in Children of Earth.
Who does it right: Battlestar Galactica
The first season may have ended with Bill Adama shot, not beheaded (it's not like the show was written by George R.R. Martin), but the threat of death has been pervasive since the beginning. Opening a show with the near-extinction of humanity will do that. The many deaths that followed only reinforced the sense that anyone could die at any moment, particularly if that character had spent the episode finding happiness and redemption. I have five more episodes to watch, and I'm willing to bet that at least half the original cast bites it before the end, even if all that's left of humanity manages to hang on. The constant threat that the human race will be lost to the universe forever; now, those are some serious stakes.