I read somewhere there are about 525 scripted series on television today. Streaming services like Amazon and Netflix have beefed up those numbers and everybody is chasing content. That could explain why there’s so much dreck. Here’s a hint programmers–a pitch is not a series.
Let’s start with The OA. Reportedly Brit Marling and her partner pitched this live, no notes. And it shows. It feels like an idea you’d come up with high and scribble some ramblings about consciousness on the back of a bar napkin and then wake up in the morning and realize it was crap. Except they didn’t. And Netflix didn’t. And, there goes 8 hours of my life I will never get back. It’s funny but a lot of people really liked it.
It didn’t bother them that the characters were barely two dimensional. It didn’t bother them that they were SPOILER ALERT kept in underground caverns and yet never got sick, never worried about mould or insects, always looked clean and well fed and jeez even Homer’s linen shirt looked in better shape after days in a cave than my husband’s does after dinner at a nice restaurant. The dialogue is cringeworthy, the Stranger Things borrowing borders on kleptomania, and the ending is incomprehensible. I wanted the SPOILER ALERT cafeteria gunman to shoot the idiots with their stupid tai chi opens the gate to another dimension movements. I was sorry he missed and only hit Brit.
The whole thing was so implausible you knew it was a dream. It was a shallow reader’s take on Russia’s privileged and what it’s like to be kept captive. (No sexual deviancy and Homer lasts forever after not touching a woman for years. Yeah.) You knew it was a) either a fantasy conjured up by a sick girl (because nobody ever imagines their REAL parents are poor and unattractive) or b) a fantasy conjured up by a bad writer and pitched to a streaming service desperate for content.
Listen, there is great content out there. Some streaming service wants to do a sexy series set in exotic places with snatched babies and homoerotic tensions? Adapt my books!
I’ve read lots of stuff I would love to see translated onto the big/small screen. The OA was not one of those.
Neither is The Man in the High Castle. They started out with a novella and fell in love with the visuals but didn’t bother with character development or dialogue and it’s meh. Too bad because it’s such a good idea. But that’s the thing–the pitch is not the finished product.
That’s why we get so much dreck on Peak TV.
Also, one other thought–stop adapting comic books. The Walking Dead is an illustration as to why this is a bad idea. Take Negan. Please. He’s a 12 year old boy’s idea of The Big Bad with no back story and no motivation and it’s not Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s fault. He’s not a boring, one note bully, he’s just written that way.
Writers devote their lives and pour their passion into creating a world with believable characters. Whether it’s a dystopian world, or alternate history, or a treatise on death, you have to believe in the characters. I didn’t in the OA or The Man in the High Castle or in Negan. I want to believe but it takes more than a good idea. It takes time and talent to flesh out a character and this hasn’t happened for me in these cases.
A lot of you will disagree. Feel free!