Dear TV Producers,
I’m a Christian, and a busy guy. I work, spend time with my family and friends, read, and attend three or four church events per week. I should exercise, but I confess that has yet to happen in 2009.
The thing is, I need to be wiser with time. See, I believe God put me on earth for a purpose: to be redeemed and to participate in building his kingdom by proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. There are lots of things to go along with that, but at least one implication is my need to be a good steward of all that God gives me, including time.
Please do not misunderstand; I do not think TV is inherently wrong. I just know I cannot, like the average American, spend 5-7 hours in front of the tube each week (Did I say week? Actually the average is close to 5 hours per DAY! You guys must really be cashing in).
The problem is, I am also a sci-fi and fantasy geek. I can quote various lines from all three original Star Wars movies, explain in detail why a hobbit had to carry the One Ring, and contemplate psychohistory when I read Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. So you can imagine my intense curiosity at two of your latest creations; “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” and, “Legend of the Seeker.”
Here’s the problem. I really only have time for one. I’ll save some suspense: I am going with Terminator. But for your future reference, I have a few pieces of advice for you, so that you know why I made this choice. Yes, I realize that what hooks people like me in the first place is great fantasy worlds and high-tech gadgets. But if you want to KEEP my interest, you will heed some simple things when making your show.
Tell me something true. Good art is about truth and beauty. I’m not asking for pure, uncompromised art, but at least use your show to highlight realities of the human condition. For instance, in Terminator we see the strain in John’s relationship with his mother. On one hand, he is trying to break free and become his own person. On the other, he is still dependent on her for support and protection. This is good stuff because it is a reality of normal mother-son relationships.
Meanwhile, Legend of the Seeker gives me no truth to relate to. This is especially sad since the central hero, Richard, wields The Sword of Truth! As far as I can tell all “Truth” does is kill bad guys and sometimes glow a bit. How about introducing real internal emotional conflicts, rather than mere external pressures?
Advance the characters, advance the story. I still remember the horrifying day when, as a kid, I was watching Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and realized the story always wraps things up by the end of the show so episodes could be mixed and matched without confusion. This is a good idea for a kids cartoon with lots of re-runs. It is not a good idea for weekly programs. Stop being afraid to advance your characters! I speak here primarily of Legend of the Seeker which, aside from the first two episodes, could be thrown in almost any random order and still have very few inconsistencies. The story and its protagonists need to move forward to hold my attention.
In Terminator, John is always growing and advancing and changing as a person, which makes him interesting. You see him grow from a dependent boy to a rebellious teen, and later to the beginnings of manhood. You see how individual events shape his character later on. These things make for a good story and keep me excited for the next show.
Take Risks. In fantasy fiction, readers sometimes tease about immortal characters- people in the story who are guaranteed to survive simply because they are at the center of the story. One of my favorite fantasy authors, George RR Martin, bucks this trend by killing central characters or foiling the plans of the, “good guys,” on a consistent basis. You never know what will happen next. This tension is good for storytelling, and I think you Terminator guys get it. Certain key characters seem to be in it for the long haul, and then you kill them. A particular storyline seems to be about John’s alienation from his mother, but then you see how he was playing a different game all along. Good work!
You Legend people, though, never take risks. Key people never die or change, good guy plans always work out, and the show is so predictable that all I look forward to are sword fight scenes. Have some guts!
Do not let characters off the hook. Sometimes Richard gets into tough scrapes, and I get a little excited. What will he do? Will he stay true to his calling? Surely he realizes what must be done for the good of all? Alas, it is wasted. Richard almost never has to make a choice; he is always able to be both the holder of destiny, and an everyday good guy. He can pose as a bad guy and never hurt anyone. He can risk his life for a single person without ever facing consequences, even though his death would mean enslavement for the entire nation. The story always lets him do both/and. The show seems to function on the premise that if you live according to principles of cliché humanistic moralism, there will never be serious consequences to your actions (unless it’s a VERY minor character). For example, Richard is told that for 600 years baby boys with certain magical powers ALWAYS turn into evil, maniacal wizards. So what does he do? He defends the baby against all comers, of course. Now, I am obviously against infanticide. But imposing present-day views on a fantasy show falls flat. If that baby turns out to be the single exception and becomes a good wizard, I will be very annoyed.
John, meanwhile, has to make tough calls. When he and his mother are attacked, he must sometimes choose to run, knowing it could mean her death. He is faced daily with the fact that he may have to destroy his closest friend and advisor. He leaves his girlfriend behind without trying to redeem her, even though he knows she has nowhere to go. His moral struggles and decisions jive perfectly with the context of the world created by the show, and that internal consistency makes the show much more interesting.
We geek types revel in our imaginary worlds- just look at the popularity of RPG’s, LARPing, and sci-fi conventions. Do you really think we secretly desire to imagine ourselves as prophets for wishy-washy 20th century moralism? Don’t kid yourselves. There is no value in imagining a different world if you cannot imagine acting differently too.
Here’s the thing, TV guys; both these shows are focused on young males, on a journey to develop and grow, so that they can eventually take on ultimate evil. In other words, the starting positions are pretty even. All I’m asking is that you take my comments to heart, and make your stories fun and interesting to watch. Special effects can only take you so far! To date, kudos to Terminator, rotten eggs to Legend.
A Sci-fi/fantasy Fan