To say I'm fond of television is a bit of an understatement. For all of the negative TV talk, I've found myself mired in TV-love...and I've started to justify it by paying attention to things like story, character arc, plot... You can learn a lot from a TV show.
Some television, in my opinion (which is really worth a whole lotta nothin', let's be honest) could benefit from a stellar writer (or four). Some shows have great potential, but they're predictable, the actors sound robotic (often that's the writing, not the acting) and you generally find yourself disinterested mid-way through.
Some shows, though, are more than just that desperately needed mental break at the end of every night. Some shows are smart, clever, educational. (and not in a National Geographic kind of way.)
A well written television show or movie can teach an attentive writer a lot about the key elements of a story,about characterization, about plot. At least that's how I'm justifying my two hours of TV every night.
And here are my picks for the top five most well written shows.
In no particular order.
1. Friday Night Lights. In spite of the shared FNL obsession of my mom and sister, it's Shannan I'm blaming for my own state of smitten. I've never seen a show that combines so many unique elements together in such a brilliant way. The characters are well defined,incredibly flawed and their mistakes rarely go unpunished. They've written strong women, parental roles that are intact (Smash's mom is my hero) and raise valid moral questions at every turn. In short, they've created characters their audience loves. We care so deeply what happens to them, and this is because of the excellent writing.
2. Firefly. I am a girl who grew up watching Star Trek the Next Generation with her dad, who is also now married to a total scifi geek, so it shouldn't be too much of a shocker to see this one on my list. Joss Whedon is a writer we could all learn from. His imagination is what amazes me. In Firefly, he created an alternate world. With alternate swear words. How many people can do that believably? It reminds me of George Lucas...and we all knoow how that turned out. The crew of the ship Serenity, led by one Mr. Nathan Fillion, breathe life into the characters, giving you a lovely mix of unique, different, conflicted...which adds instant tension. They have such different backgrounds (a well educated, wealthy doctor stowing away with a bunch of space thieves?) that every episode is ripe with conflict. It's built in. It's interesting. In my opinion, this show was canceled far too soon, but you can find it on Netflix (or borrow ours because we bought the DVDs.) :)
3. Criminal Minds. Given that my favorite movies of all time are The Jason Bourne movies, it's no surprise that I've fallen in love with Criminal Minds. But it's the later episodes, rather than the earlier that get writing points in my opinion. First of all, the characters all bring something unique and their backstories unravel at a snail's pace. Bit by bit, you begin to piece together what it is that makes the team tick as they're piecing together what makes a criminal tick...only they do it at lightning speed. I love how the show gives you insight into human behavior. The why behind crime. It starts with an interesting subject and puts it all together, like doing a puzzle backwards. Also, they give you just enough information to throw you off, but you never really realize you've been thrown off. There's rarely anything obvious about this show...and that makes for an interesting story.
4. The Good Wife. This week's episode cinched it for me. I love it when I sit back and think "Wow, I didn't see that coming." I love to be surprised, and this smart lawyer show is full of delicious surprises. Scandals and interesting clients, of course, but also characters with layered pasts you get to digest in small bites. Every person on the show is interesting, but it's Julianna Marguiles who is the pulse. The moral dilemmas, the failures, the hints the writers drop, like a trail of breadcrumbs...it pulls you in. They don't give it to you all at once, but keep you guessing, leave you hanging and make you come back for me. And if you can do that, well, then you've hooked them.
5. Blue Bloods. I'm not sure what I love best about this show, Tom Selleck or the writing. This is a great show. The family dynamic here is what draws you in. All cops with one retired police chief grandpa and one assistant DA sister, every person around the dinner table has a unique perspective. It's a lot like real life that way. The show is about more than just finding and catching criminals, it's about why this family is driven to find and catch criminals...and how it affects them. Blue Bloods is brilliantly cast and the writers have succeeded in layering in nuance as the characters reveal themselves and the plotlines unravel, little bits at a time.
Narrowing it down to five was tricky, so here are my runners-up.
1. Felicity. By now we all know how brilliant J.J. Abrams is, but back then we didn't. Felicity showed us. Yes, there were issues when the series ended and they accidentally filmed a scene that included a character who had died in an earlier episode, but all in all, this show, about a girl who follows her high school crush all the way to NYU, is a wonderful story of love, loss and growing up. The writing is smart, the characters rarely do what you want them to and you can feel this girl's angst, elation and every emotion in between. As Felicity fumbles to find her way in the world, you root for her, and you remember those moments when you started to gain your independence. Plus, Scott Speedman. 'Nuff said.
2. House. This show almost lost me for a season or two, but alas, they got rid of David Morse's annoying police character and got back to the medicine. Yes, most of the cases go through a somewhat formulaic unraveling, but it's Hugh Laurie who keeps you guessing. While I still have trouble not picturing him in his Black Adder wig,
I am admittedly drawn in to what this caustic, anti-social and downright mean doctor is going to do next. And that's where the great writing comes in. In so many ways, House says and does the things we all wish we could say and do. Social graces aside, he just lays it all out there. And who doesn't wish to be that bold? Plus, he's got this crazy amazing relationship with his best friend, Wilson. Which is unlike just about any other male friendship on TV.
Honorable, Honorable Mentions...
For many of the same reasons I love House, I love Lie to Me. Even Tim Roth's twitchiness doesn't deter me from the fascinating aspects of this show.
There is a lot of great writing going on...yes, even on TV...if you just pay attention. That's my story and I'm sticking to it!