Archive for TV

writing, TV, movies

Do We Really Need Villains?

Before Christmas, I wrote a post about low and high tension stories and whether you really need to have edge-of-your-seat tension for a book. Sometimes you just want to go on a fun journey (literal or metaphorical) without having to worry about the hero’s fate. In the same post, I talked about the requirement that the hero be proactive and defeat the villain, while it can sometimes be really satisfying if the villain causes their own downfall, without the hero doing anything to cause that downfall.

Now I’ve been wondering, do we actually need a villain?

My latest bit of joy has been the new version of All Creatures Great and Small that’s been on PBS. I rewatched the first season the week after Christmas and the second season is on now. This is a show that goes beyond cozy to downright cuddly. It’s the story of a young veterinarian from Glasgow who gets a job in the late 1930s working for a practice in Yorkshire, where they treat both pets and farm animals. His boss is gruff and demanding but turns out to be decent at heart (he mostly just likes animals more than he likes people), and he sometimes has to deal with difficult personalities but there isn’t really a villain in the story. The interpersonal conflict generally comes from people who have good intentions but disagree about the right way to deal with a situation or from people who have an emotional involvement that clouds their judgment. Otherwise, there’s a lot of “man vs. nature” conflict in figuring out what’s wrong with an animal and how to fix it — or how to deal with it if it can’t be fixed. There is some personality clashing within the vet practice, especially once the boss’s younger brother joins them, since he has a very different attitude about life (at first, you might expect him to be a bit of a rival to our hero, but they become best friends). The closest thing to a “villain” is a rival vet, but they aren’t trying to hurt each other. They “defeat” the rival by trying to do a better job of diagnosing and curing a farmer’s cow. Nobody’s really mean. There’s no evil at all, and it’s quite refreshing. This is a show I can just sit and watch without doing crosswords or knitting, so it keeps my attention even without all that conflict.

In fact, I find it ironic that the show that’s on before it has felt the need to shoehorn in a villain. That’s Around the World in 80 Days, and you’d think that just trying to deal with all the stuff they’re facing on this great journey would be enough conflict, but they’ve thrown in an enemy who’s trying to sabotage them. And I can’t watch that show without also doing something like crosswords or knitting because it doesn’t entirely hold my interest.

Another no-villain thing I’ve seen lately is Encanto, the Disney movie. It’s about a family in a Columbian village. The family all has magical powers they use to help the village, but one of the daughters has missed out on a magical gift and has realized that things are going wrong (hmm, where have I seen something along those lines before, the person without a magical gift who solves things for the magical people …). There’s conflict within the family, but there’s no villain, no evil person causing the problems. It’s just good people trying to do their best and sometimes going about that the wrong way. There are still a lot of emotional stakes. There’s even tension and action, all without a villain.

I’m reading a fantasy novel right now that may not have an actual villain in it. There are some not so great people, but they’re not what I’d call a villain, not someone that they have to defeat to save the day. I’m only about halfway through, so it could change, but mostly it seems like the force they’re having to fight is nature. So, it can be done (though this is an established author).

The series I’m developing does need a villain, so I can’t play with this concept here, but now I have a mental challenge to see if I can come up with a story with no villain.

TV, movies

The Mini-Break

That break was just what I needed. I didn’t do anything particularly exciting, but it was a nice little reset. I caught up on housework, did some cooking, took care of some shopping and errands, and otherwise I mostly rested. I didn’t set an alarm in the mornings, and although I didn’t sleep that much later than I usually do, it was nice sleeping that fifteen or so minutes later without guilt. I made a fancy “brunch” type breakfast on Saturday morning (though it got interrupted by a phone call). I did a lot of reading, did some knitting, and watched some movies/TV.

I’ve been watching the series Community, which I somehow missed while it was on. I know I was aware of it, but I’m not sure why I chose not to watch it. I think it must have been on at the same time as I had ballet class, and it didn’t sound like the sort of thing I was interested enough in to bother recording. Really, there’s no way to describe what this show is about or like that accurately reflects what it is. It’s sort of about life at a quirky community college, but that’s not really it. The inciting incident is that a hotshot (and kind of sleazy) lawyer gets disbarred when it turns out that he didn’t actually get a bachelor’s degree, so now he’s going back to community college to catch up so he can get his license back. He tries to hit on an attractive classmate, finds out she’s struggling in Spanish class, claims to be fluent, and offers to tutor her. She’s onto his ploy and foils it by inviting other members of the class to join in a study group. Even after his ruse is exposed, they decide to keep studying together. The series is about this study group as they become friends and deal with school.

But even that doesn’t describe what it’s really about. It’s this weird blend of snarky and sweet as this group of deeply flawed people gradually learns to be better, but somehow it never comes across as A Very Special Episode in which they learn A Valuable Lesson. As the series progresses, it becomes rather surreal, with the occasional realistic, relatable episode. There are pop-culture references, fantasy sequences, random musical numbers, epic paintball games that play out like popular movies, animated bits, and other weirdness. The characters who seem to have it all together turn out to be a mess, the characters who are a mess have their moments to save the day, and it’s all utterly addictive.

Traditionally, I celebrate Labor Day weekend with chick flicks. I wasn’t entirely in the mood for that, so I didn’t do any kind of marathon, but I did watch one when I discovered that one of my unsung favorites that was part of how this tradition kicked off was on Amazon Prime: I’m With Lucy. I like this one because it’s got an unconventional structure and is nonlinear. A woman on her way to her wedding is trying to convince her friend to let her introduce her to a guy at the reception. The friend says she doesn’t do setups. The bride says she spent a year accepting all the blind dates and setups she got, and that’s why she’s getting married now. We then see all those blind dates, but we don’t see them in order. We see bits of each and bounce around among them, with no idea which of these guys she’s going to end up with. The dates that start badly end up going well, and vice versa, which keeps you off-balance. Watching it this time around, I found myself surprised that it flew totally under the radar. I didn’t see it until it was on one of the cable channels on a Saturday afternoon. I never even heard of it when it was released (hmm, looks like it played at a film festival then went straight to video in the US), but it’s got a great cast and really good New York settings. It’s not quite on a par with When Harry Met Sally in quality, but it scratches the same itch.

I went back to work on Monday, doing some brainstorming to figure out what I need to revise for the book (but otherwise taking it easy), so I was eager to get going on Tuesday. The changes I’m making seem to be working. I’ve made it through most of the parts that needed to be revised, and now I’m moving forward with the new content.

I’ll have to finish this book before I get another good break. I’m planning to ease off during the fall as I focus on developing a new possible series, and I’ll give myself plenty of time to enjoy doing my favorite fall things.


Island Fantasies

I’m barely watching any regular TV right now, other than the news and maybe stuff on PBS, but I gave the new version of Fantasy Island a shot this week. I watched the original when I was a kid. It was part of the Saturday-night programming line-up, after The Love Boat but, as I recall, I only got to stay up to watch the whole thing during the summer. While I liked the idea of a vacation where you got to live out your dreams, I recall my main interest being in the guest stars. They seemed to mostly cast people who were known for other shows on the network, so it was a good way to see a favorite actor from another show in a different role. My memories may not be accurate, but it seemed to me that they were a bit cagey as to whether or not there was anything truly supernatural going on, with the fantasies mostly being things that someone with resources could set up. To a large extent, it was The Love Boat on an island, and I recall there being a lot of the guest characters falling in love with each other (or it’s possible that my brain has merged the two shows, since they ran back-to-back).

Then there was the 1998 TV version, which I loved because they took it in more of a true fantasy (as in genre) direction. It had a kind of Twilight Zone vibe, and it was much more overt that there were supernatural things going on. I only remember a few episodes actually airing, but IMDB has airdates for all the episodes that were produced. I wonder if those were planned airdates and the show didn’t actually run then because the way I recall it, they did the usual for ABC (known as the Already Been Cancelled network then) thing at the time of running three episodes, running the preview for the next episode at the end of the third one, and then never showing any more episodes.

Anyway, since I’d liked that version a lot, I tuned in for the new one, and it seems like an uncomfortable hybrid between the two versions, though without the celebrity guest stars (at least, not anyone I recognized from anything else). It’s got that drenched in sunshine, happy vacation resort mood of the original and the obvious supernatural angle of the 1998 version, since the fantasies could only have happened with some kind of magic, but I found myself utterly bored. I didn’t get any sense of the regulars and what their relationships were, and there wasn’t any real tension in the fantasies.

I found that the 1998 version is streaming free on tubi, so I watched the pilot last night to make sure my memories weren’t skewed, and although it is dated and very much a product of its time, I was much more captivated with it. Part of it is the travel agency that sends the guests to the island. I’m a sucker for the “mysterious business you never noticed before is just what you need, and then you can’t find it again” trope, and they completely got me when they used a pneumatic tube to send something from an American city to a remote tropical island. Then there’s the hint that the staff on the island are working off some kind of sentence, so they have to help the guests learn whatever cosmic lesson they’re there for in order to eventually be able to escape from the island. We got to meet most of the regulars and get a sense of what was going on with them before the guests showed up, so there was something to carry us through the episodes and there was a mystery to figure out as to how and why they were there.

So I may skip the new one and just rewatch the 1998 version that’s more to my taste.

When I was considering that “stay in your lane” advice and trying to figure out what I could write that would fit my previous work but still be in a subgenre that sells well, I toyed with the idea of doing a series of paranormal romantic comedies along those lines, though I think I’d do a remote mountain resort instead of a tropical island. Have the regulars on staff with an ongoing storyline and a new couple for each book having to figure things out and get together. But that idea is way on the back burner because I’m less concerned about sticking to a niche, and I’m not excited enough about that idea to have put any additional thought into it.


New TV Perspectives

One interesting effect of the pandemic is that TV programmers are having to get creative while TV production has had to slow down. Last year, there were all those specials with performances by people in their homes or in limited sets outdoors. I enjoyed getting these little concerts without all the bells and whistles. Now PBS has filled a programming gap by getting shows from places other than England.

Right now, they’re showing the series Atlantic Crossing on Masterpiece, and it’s a Norwegian production about how the Crown Princess of Norway and her children (including the very small boy who is the current king of Norway) took refuge in the United States during World War II after the Nazis invaded Norway. Even Sweden, where the princess was originally from and where her uncle was king, wouldn’t let them stay there, for fear of enraging the Nazis and risking their neutrality. But Franklin Roosevelt, who’d met the prince and princess during an earlier tour, offered to let the family come to the US, and so, after a harrowing escape, they ended up staying at the White House. Meanwhile, her husband and father-in-law were in Buckingham Palace during the Blitz. She gets a lot of pressure to try to influence FDR to get the US into the war or to at least try to help free Norway.

The interesting thing about this production is that the characters speak the languages they would have been speaking in those situations, with subtitles. When they’re in Norway or when Norwegians are talking to each other, it’s in Norwegian. When they’re in Sweden, they’re speaking Swedish. When they talk to the German ambassador, it’s in German. Once they get to America and England, it’s in English (unless the Norwegians are talking among themselves). American actors play the American characters (Kyle MacLachlan plays FDR), and it looks like they have British actors playing the British characters. I’m more accustomed to American and British shows in which everyone speaks English, and you can tell they’re supposed to be foreign people because they speak English with a foreign accent.

I’ve been learning Norwegian, so this has been great practice in listening for me. I don’t think I’d understand it fully without subtitles, but I pick up on a lot of words, and I seem to do better with each episode, either because I’ve learned more in the meantime (last week’s lessons were particularly applicable to this story) or because my ear is getting better attuned to it (probably both). It’s also an interesting perspective on the war, looking at it from the point of view of people whose country was invaded, and they have to wrestle with the dilemma of whether to stay with their people or get away and try to do some good where they can while staying out of Nazi hands. Meanwhile, there’s also the human story of a family that’s been separated and finding a sense of home in a new place. Apparently, the current king of Norway still speaks English with an American accent because he spent a good chunk of his early childhood in the US, and FDR was like a godfather to him.

I wouldn’t mind PBS picking up some other foreign productions beyond the usual British fare. I don’t mind reading subtitles, and it’s interesting seeing the other perspectives.

TV, My Books

Mental Casting

If you’re subscribed to my newsletter, you should have received the link to get the Enchanted, Inc. short story (it was in the newsletter). If not, you can still get it by subscribing. A link to get the story should be in the welcome message (if I did it right).

Re-reading and editing that story was an interesting experience, taking me back to when the series was brand-new, with everything but the first book only being a vague idea in the back of my head. I have to admit that the story got me a little misty. I’ve generally felt like writing emotion is my weakness, but it seems I can do it when I try. I think it helped that this story was purely self-indulgent. I didn’t think anyone else other than maybe one friend would ever read it, so I went further than I might normally go with the pathos. Maybe I should let myself go more often.

It’s been interesting continuing my rewatch of The Office while working on this because it reminded me that one reason I first started watching that show was that when I saw one of the promos, it hit me that Pam was pretty much the way I imagined Katie. The series came on not long before the first book was published, so at that time I’d written two books in the series. I didn’t have strong mental casting for Katie, but then this show came on, and there she was. I didn’t imagine Katie with the curly/frizzy hair Pam had in early seasons. Physically, she looked more like Pam did when she got a bit of a makeover and her hair was straighter and a little shorter. But the way she dressed and her mannerisms were very much like the way I saw Katie. It’s weird to have a character you’ve been writing suddenly be brought to life for you in some entirely unrelated thing.

But then over the years as I wrote more books, Katie became more her own person in my head and although she still looked more or less the same, I no longer saw that specific person, mostly because I wasn’t thinking about The Office anymore. Then lately, the two things converged once more, with me editing a story in which Katie was discussed and made a brief appearance while I was watching the part of the show where she changed and started looking more like Katie, and poof, the Katie in the story was basically Pam in my head.

Alas, even if they did make an Enchanted, Inc. series, Jenna Fischer has probably aged out of the role, since Katie was 26 in the first few books and turns 27 between book 3 and book 4.

I have no idea who would be good casting now. When they were talking about a TV series, they were planning to go with an unknown they could make into a star, though at one time there was mention of going after Hillary Duff. And before that, there was a time when apparently Anna Faris was trying to get something put together for a movie. I don’t know how real any of that was or if it was just agents and producers talking and spouting off names.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the story (or enjoy it, if you don’t have it yet). I’m planning to add some other free stories as newsletter exclusives along the way.


Revisiting The Office

I haven’t been watching a lot of TV or movies this summer, but I did find myself revisiting The Office (the American version). I rewatched the first season while John Krasinski was doing his “Some Good News” online show and had an Office reunion, but then got sidetracked and didn’t look at it again once I finished that season. But then recently I overheard a conversation in the grocery store in which a teenage girl was talking to a woman I believe was her aunt about her obsession with The Office. Then I saw an article about how popular it was for lockdown viewing. The episodes are short, so it’s perfect for when you just want to watch a little of something without sitting there for a whole movie. I got out my DVDs and got into season 2.

Something that struck me was how sweet it was at its core. It’s about a terrible workplace with a clueless boss and annoying coworkers, but there’s still so much kindness there, mostly because of Jim. He certainly can be a jerk at times, and some of his pranks on Dwight can be a bit mean, but he’s also the heart of the office, the one who can pull everyone together and make them feel good. He notices when others are sad or upset and does things to make them feel better. He intervenes before the office awards ceremony to keep the clueless boss from giving out prizes that poke at people’s sore points, and his Office Olympics manage to find a strength for everyone.

And even the annoying coworkers and clueless boss aren’t necessarily bad people. They generally aren’t acting out of malice. Michael is selfish and acts out of self-interest, but he’s not intentionally cruel. He really does love his employees and wants them to love him.

All of this is a big difference from the British version, which may be funnier in ways, but it got pretty mean and nasty. Their boss is truly toxic, not simply clueless and immature.

The other thing I’ve noticed while rewatching and looking at it from a writer’s perspective is that they do such a good job of showing vs. telling, and how you can use subtext to show something that’s different from what we’re being told. In the early seasons, it seems like they’re showing us that Jim is the true leader in the office while Michael is mismanaging his people. There’s an episode about Michael trying to make the workplace “fun” with jokes and antics that actually make everyone uncomfortable. He’s afraid work won’t be fun anymore if he can’t forward jokes full of sexual innuendo. That’s followed by the “Office Olympics” episode about Jim making a boring day at the office while the boss is out fun for everyone in a way that makes everyone feel good while they still end up getting their work done. Or there’s the episode about a fire alarm in which we see Michael rushing out of the building first and then getting obsessed with showing his business and leadership acumen to the temp who’s in business school juxtaposed with Jim pulling everyone together with games while they’re stuck outside. It’s clear that Jim has more leadership skills than the actual boss does, and the terrible corporate structure doesn’t seem able to find and nurture his talents. If this were a realistic workplace, that office would probably have been a revolving door, with a lot of turnover, and upper management would never have figured out that Michael was the problem. They’d have prioritized keeping him, I suppose because he really was decent at sales, without realizing how much he cost them.

Meanwhile, the romantic storyline at this point in the series is an excellent use of subtext. It’s clear to us (and to the makers of the fictional documentary being filmed about the office) that Jim and Pam are in love, but in the first couple of seasons, that’s entirely subtext. Neither of them says anything overtly about it. They claim they’re just friends. Pam is engaged to someone else. But in their interview segments they praise each other. We see that she lights up around Jim but seems to wilt around her fiance. We see him react to her interactions with her fiance by asking out someone else (a pre-famous Amy Adams). Then we see from their interests how right Jim and Pam seem to be for each other and how wrong they are for their respective significant others. All without a single word about their feelings for each other — at least, not an honest word. It’s all told with little clues, facial expressions, and body language. I want to take notes, or attempt to write these scenes as though I were writing them in a novel to see how I’d describe what they show us and see if I can maintain the same subtext in prose.

Sometimes the show gets a little stressful to watch because I had a boss very much like Michael. He even had the same first name and a very similar hairstyle. He was less childish, so he didn’t have the aura of innocence underlying Michael’s selfishness, but he definitely was the kind of boss who wanted to make work “fun” by his definition of fun, which was a frat party. If you didn’t want to get drunk and didn’t want to spend your leisure time partying with your coworkers, you weren’t going to fit in very well and weren’t going to move up within the company. He was also very big on “loyalty,” but that was a one-way street. I’ve been away from that job for more than twenty years, so it’s a little easier to take with more distance than it was when the show first aired.

Fortunately, I’ve never worked with a real Dwight.

TV, writing

Flawed Characters

I had yet another writing epiphany while watching TV this weekend.

One of the things I struggle with is writing flawed characters. Readers tend to like my characters, but I don’t usually have big character growth arcs of the sort that are necessary to sell books to publishers these days, especially for younger readers. The last couple of projects I’ve sent to my agent, that was one of her biggest complaints, that my characters pretty much have it together at the beginning and don’t have much room to grow. They don’t make a lot of mistakes. When I look at most of my books, my character arcs are mostly about gaining confidence and learning to step out and take action, which works, but I seem to have gone to that well too many times, and it’s not very dramatic.

The other night, I was watching Beecham House on PBS. It’s a frustrating series because it’s beautifully filmed and full of potentially interesting stories, but it’s pretty dull. The series centers around an Englishman in India in the late 1700s who’s trying to build trade relationships outside the East India Company, and he’s competing with the French. He’s a widower with an infant son who’s the heir to a maharaja, and he has to protect the baby from the evil uncle who wants to kill him. His mother has shown up in India with a young woman as her traveling companion who she wants to marry her son (who is so not interested), and his younger brother is a soldier for the East India Company who’s embraced the local culture (in more ways than one), but who is kind of a wastrel. The older brother makes for a pretty dull hero because he’s practically perfect (just a bit dense in trusting the wrong person, but then he doesn’t have the advantage of having watched enough British television to know that guy is always the villain).

But then in the latest episode, the older brother has been framed and arrested, and the younger brother has to step up and deal with everything. I found myself thinking that the series would have worked better if the younger brother had been the main character, the slacker party boy who suddenly has to deal with everything when his practically perfect brother gets in trouble.

And that was when I had my “duh!” realization. The guy who has lessons to learn makes for a more interesting hero. He’s still smart and capable, and he actually figures out that the untrustworthy guy can’t be trusted, but he also has to make some big moral choices and go way out of his comfort zone. And I still like him, even though he isn’t perfect.

It is a bit easier to do this sort of thing on a TV show because the actor can make a big difference. I was prone to like the younger brother because he’s played by an actor I liked in something else, where he played the nice, smart guy, but he’s also got a lot of personal charisma. In print, you have to create that for readers without being able to rely on an attractive actor who may bring positive baggage to the role. Still, the hero who has to step up and go outside his comfort zone and overcome his own flaws to succeed makes for a better story. When I’m struggling with this in the future, I can remember this vivid example.

I keep having these breakthroughs while watching TV, so maybe I should go back to doing more of that. I’ve just about stopped lately, but everything I have watched has given me a big writing realization.


Historical Drama

I had a more successful movie weekend this week than I had the week before. No, I didn’t do a Lord of the Rings rewatch. I’m waiting until I can get the extended editions from the library (they were checked out). I went the historical fiction route, a miniseries that on Amazon is called The Devil’s Mistress (on IMDB it has a different title that might keep this post from being suitable for all ages, which is probably why Amazon changed it). It’s about the English Civl War, a period I’ve only recently started learning about, and is the kind of historical drama in which a fictional character manages to interact with all the major historical players (with some of the real people being altered with dramatic license).

It’s about a young woman in the court of Charles I whose life is upended by the conflict between the king and Parliament, and she ends up on just about every side in the conflict at various times, not because she’s fickle but because everyone she aligns with ends up betraying her. I was intrigued enough by the things that were going on that I started reading up on it all, and it seems like there were no real “good guys” in that war. Both sides seemed pretty obnoxious and trampled the people who might actually have been good.

It was one of those things where most of the cast were at least mildly familiar faces. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, there was some amusement to be had because Peter Capaldi played Charles I and John Simm played a mercenary who ended up fighting for Cromwell, so in a way we had another round of the Doctor vs. Master conflict (though this series was made long before Capaldi was the Doctor, but I guess around the time Simm was playing the Master).

There were a few scenes in which it verged on being the kind of romantic fantasy adventure I’ve been looking for, if only there had been even a tiny magical element. At one point in the story, the heroine has been betrayed by the side she was on at the time and has pretty much hit bottom. A wealthy man tries to rape her, she kills him, and then she puts on his clothes to be able to travel disguised as a man. She comes across the mercenary who at one time had been hired to guard her, who’s been captured by enemy soldiers, and she rescues him. The two of them end up traveling together and working as highwaymen, with much swashbuckling. The whole “woman dressed as man, avenging herself against the men who wronged her and her family at the side of a man who’s secretly in love with her” would make an excellent basis for a rollicking adventure. But it’s only one part of this story that’s more about the history and how ordinary people in this era were affected by the conflict, as well as exploring the various factions that arose in the vacuum of a king.

If you’re into costume drama, this one’s worth watching for the cast, the costumes (such lovely gowns!) and the history, but you may find yourself imagining an alternate story about the lady highwayman.


Books on TV

A conversation I had the other day made me realize how oddly TV and movies portray readers. It’s pretty rare for a person to like books or be shown reading, and a person who likes books is treated almost like an alien species.

It’s an alien species with superpowers, though, because the person who likes books knows just about everything and can often read in multiple languages. There is no middle ground. You either don’t read at all and groan when asked to help with research to stop the latest threat or you love books, know everything, and can read anything. There’s nobody who’s like, “Do I have to help with the research now? They’re about to reveal the murderer in this mystery novel I’m reading.” Pure pleasure reading seldom exists. It’s almost all highbrow reference books or classics. Only the occasional SF/F-loving nerd reads anything just for fun.

And there’s just one book-lover per group. I’ve found that in real life, people tend to hang out with other people who have things in common. Most of my friends are big readers. We may all read different stuff, but we do all read and value books. I guess on these TV shows, these groups are brought together by a common goal. They have to team up to fight evil and might not have become friends if not for that, so maybe that explains the person whose life is books hanging out with people whose attitude is “ew, books.”

That makes me want to write an evil-fighting team that’s all people who like books, but they have different areas of expertise because they read different things.

I find it interesting seeing how one of pop culture’s big book lovers, Belle from the Disney Beauty and the Beast, is portrayed. In the cartoon version, and to some extent the Broadway version, she loves to read, but I don’t think she’s necessarily meant to be a super intellectual. Her favorite book seems to be a romance novel. She is the only reader in town, apparently, which is odd because there’s a bookstore in town that lends books to Belle. I’m not sure how a shop that lends books to its one customer manages to stay in business. In the live-action version, there’s no bookstore, just a local priest who has a shelf of books he’s willing to share. Belle reads Shakespeare in addition to that romance novel, and she seems to do some research and tinkering. When they used Belle on TV’s Once Upon a Time, she became the designated Loves to Read and Therefore Knows Everything character who can translate almost any language and is the go-to person in the group for research (that show’s version of Willow, from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Oddly, there’s later a character on the show who’s an author, and yet I don’t think we ever see him reading anything. I don’t know any authors who never read.

Of course, sitting and reading is hardly the stuff of exciting drama, and fighting evil does mean less time to read, but there are ways to show that someone likes to read. They may carry a book around or have books on the nightstand or coffee table at home. They might be reading at the beginning of a scene when another character shows up and interrupts them. They might be reading in the background while other characters do stuff in the foreground. They might be in a bookstore or library when they get an urgent message and have to rush off to fight evil.

I think it’s different in books, which tend to be written by book people, so the characters are more likely to also be readers, and authors weave in mentions of books. Maybe TV writers are less likely to read, so they don’t get how it works.


What Might Have Been

I’ve been rewatching the entire series of Once Upon a Time, an episode or two a week, with an online group, with discussion and analysis along the way. Last night, I rewatched the finale for the first time since it aired, and it has to be the most bizarre way to end a series that I’ve seen. Really, the last season was a mistake, and this ending felt oddly tacked on, like it was what they always wanted, and they just stuck it on the finale without any setup.

The final season jumped ahead at least ten years for most of the “flashback” bits, with the character who was an early teen (12-13 or so) at the end of the previous season all grown up and played by a different actor, and then the “present day” bits were at least 11 years after that (since he had an 11-year-old daughter). But there were still some of the adult characters who carried over, and they didn’t change at all even though, based on ages of various characters that gave us some kind of timeline, nearly 30 years had passed since the end of the previous season. And there was never any explanation given for them not aging or changing. They were treated as though they were the age they looked, generally 30-something, even though they had adult children. To complicate things further, these events were taking place in the present, with them having been sent back in time by a curse that took them from the fairytale land where they’d been living to our world (for no reason other than that the premise of this series involves fairytale characters living in modern America, and it would have been a strain on the budget to try to create the setting decades into the future). The season mostly focused on new characters rather than the returning characters, though one of the problems was that there was no clear protagonist.

When that storyline was resolved, they didn’t send these characters back to their world and their own time. They came to the original setting for the series, to live among the past versions of themselves. And then they merged all the fairytale worlds and elected the original villain to be queen of them all. That would be the future version of the original villain, who did become a good guy along the way, but still, when you’re redeeming the villain, you don’t give them their original villain goal as a happy ending. You give them what they really needed, deep down inside, which is probably the opposite of their villain goal. When someone starts the series trying to seize power and never actually gives up power in spite of turning good, except when the responsibility is inconvenient, you don’t end the series by giving her ultimate power. It was even weirder given that this character had barely played a role all season. She hadn’t done any big thing to save the day, hadn’t made a huge sacrifice, so it felt very weirdly tacked on.

That series is so frustrating because there’s so much about the concept that I love — fairy tales, magic in a modern setting, mixing up characters from different stories — and most of the characters and the casting were great, but the writing went way off the rails. I could write essays about how they messed up. There was no coherent worldbuilding, so their magic never made a lot of sense, nor did how their society dealt with magic. And their morality was so screwy. The really frustrating thing is that the premise is pretty unique, so I can’t really find a way to file the serial numbers off and do it right and have it still be those elements that I find interesting. The best I can do is take some of the things as inspiration and go off in a different direction with them.

The first season is still really lovely, fleshing out the story of Snow White in the flashbacks and dealing with a cynical modern-day Disney princess who doesn’t know she’s a princess in the present, set in a small town with a real fairytale flavor. And if I get bored, I can amuse myself by mentally rewriting the whole thing, fixing where they went wrong and imagining what might have been.