The other night we started watching the pilot of the SyFy series Defiance. I had recorded all the episodes and had heard some good things about it so I was crossing my fingers. I shouldn’t have been. Teenagers acting like stereotypical human teens despite the fact that they were not human, the adults were pretty much worn tropes themselves. The effects were OK as far considering it was on SyFy and there seemed to be some imagination in the world building. But it all seemed to hearken back to the science fiction written before the genre grew up in the mid 60s.
One of the faults of television science fiction is that it has rarely been even close to evolving like its literary counterpart. While storytelling on TV has blown past all barriers in the last couple decades with shows like Buffy, the Sopranos, Mad Men, Seinfeld, Breaking Bad, etc., genre television is lagging. There are exceptions, like the first two seasons of BSG. But look at what we endured this season. Almost Human pretty much fizzled away all its promise. Agents of SHIELD has lurched and staggered most of the season. Helix got off to a ridiculous start and I had to give it up. Can anyone make a decent science fiction TV show anymore?
Here’s some basic guidelines for networks and cable to follow (not that they’ll ever read it):
1. Enough with the teenagers already. Stereotypical brats do not draw in a bigger audience. They only alienate the geek audience and cost you viewers. Try watching Modern Family. See young Alex? That’s the kind of nerd kid your audience can relate to.
2. Special effects. There’s a lot that can be done with small change. Look at Babylon 5. It was truly done on the cheap yet the early CGI still holds up. We geeks may appear fussy but if you get the basics down, we’ll hang in there.
3. Writing. Invest in it. Geeks read. They read comics and graphic novels, they read books, they read massive doorstop series that are the equivalent of a 5 season TV series. We know when a story and characters work and when it doesn’t. Screw this up and we will abandon you.
4. Have a plan. Heroes should have taught this but the assholes in TVland think Lost actually worked. No, it didn’t. Genre hows are best when you know where they are going, when there is a story arc with a purpose and a plan. DO NOT make it up as you go along. We are smarter than that and we will quit you.
4. Remember the science. You have always cheated at this and frankly, it’s getting old. Almost Human was almost coming up with some novel thoughts on future tech and its ramifications but the writers didn’t have either ambition or the smarts to truly think it through. Just writing “tech the tech” in a script did work in the 80s but that ship has sailed.
5. Plot holes. You think those TV critics are hard on your shows. My people are even worse. Go to any SFF forum and you’ll see your precious word sliced apart with surgical precision. Understand this, we think Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindelof couldn’t tell a black hole from a plot hole. There’s a reason why Star Trek Into Darkness tanked after week one. Your writers couldn’t tell a coherent story if David Chase wrote it out for them in crayon. Stop it. Stop it now.
This has been Jerol is a Grumpy Old Man and Get Off My Lawn Rant #213. Transcripts may be ordered from your NPR station.