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Hyperion October 15, 2003
the Hyperion Chronicles
“Habemus Papam”

#165 TV 5: Second Banana and other Theories

Greetings, Salutations, and Yo: to the every-growing Hyperion Nation. I appreciate all the responses we’ve been getting on the columns, and we will be doing another Mail Bag soon. Also, the response to our TV Hoody Awards © has been tremendous. If you haven’t gotten yours in, you have until Midnight on October 31, and yes, we will run the nominations at least once more before then.

Today I’m going to expound on a few TV theories I’ve come up with (or been given) over the years. But first, in my never-ending quest to make the Hyperion Nation an informed Electorate, I have, at great personal cost to myself, watched a few more shows to briefly review for you:

Two and a Half Men (CBS)
The thing about Sitcoms is, they need time to develop their comedic rhythm—in front of a live studio audience, no less—no matter how good an idea they are or how funny the cast is. Charlie Sheen is a jingle writer, and has his life interrupted by his brother and nephew coming to live with him. Sheen can be funny (he gets all the best lines), and the show comes on after Everybody Loves Raymond. And, in the episode I saw, there were some funny lines. Other than that…Two and a Half Men rivaled the old T.G.I.F lineup for predictability. Maybe that’s what you’re looking for. I’m not. Mondays.

Miss Match (NBC)
This is a show about a girl (Alicia Silverstone) who’s a divorce lawyer with her dad (Ryan O’Neal) by day, and a matchmaker by night. But every single client she had was gorgeous. I mean, I know it’s California, but shouldn’t ugly—or even ordinary—folks be more likely candidates? I saw (almost) every plot line 10 minutes ahead of time. And yet, Alicia Silverstone is adorable, one of the most charming actresses out there (her character is an extension of Clueless). I can see some women loving this show. For me, I’ll be watching Joan of Arcadia, but if you like shows with romance and happy endings, and want to get in a good mood before heading out on Friday nights (college girls: I’m talking to you), there could be worse ways to spend your time. Fridays

The O.C. (FOX)
This was a show FOX started in August, trying to get a jump on the competition. Then they shelved it for the baseball playoffs, and it will be spotty until baseball is over. Basically, it’s a teen soap opera. A kid (Ryan) from the wrong side of the tracks (Chino, CA) is taken in by his public defender when his mom abandons him, and now he gets to live in the land of the rich (Orange County, which is where you get the titular acronym). Of course, even the rich have secrets, and there is a next-door neighbor that Ryan loves, and etc. etc. If the plot matters to you, this is not the program to get into. I will say that while it’s more or less an updated 90210, the director is Doug Liman, who made Swingers, Go, and The Bourne Identity, so the camera work is a cut above. The definition of a guilty pleasure. Moving around during baseball, then Wednesdays.

Several readers have asked why there has been no review of 24 or Arrested Development. As I mentioned, because of baseball, FOX has delayed most of its schedule. I’ll get those as soon as I can. If there is a show on TV now that hasn’t shown up that you want me to review, write and let me know, and I’ll consider it.


The To-Be-Continued Theory
If there is a two-parter, one of the two episodes will suck, as most producers put their good stuff in one part. If it’s the Season Premiere, the first one will be the good one, but generally, it’s the second half that’s worth watching.

The Guest Star Theory
When a TV show—especially a crime drama like Law & Order—introduces a famous actor as a supporting character (for that show only), that character is going to be around until the end, and centrally involved. For example, if Robin Williams shows up, he’s not going to be a red herring in the murder mystery, you know? When you have that kind of firepower, you use it.

The Hot Cop Theory
All women in law enforcement are in the top 1% of the gene pool (this is all post Cagney and Lacey) and will usually wear clothes much more suited to a catwalk then solving crime.

The Cop-Split Theory
When two law enforcement partners enter a dark place where there is a bad guy waiting, they will always split up, and this will always end up putting at least one (usually the woman if there is one) of them in peril.

The Musical Clue Theory

When a TV show uses regular music for certain aspects, you can tell what’s going to happen by listening. For instance, danger approaching, this is a bad guy, etc.

The Very Special Episode Theory
Actually, this isn’t a theory, but more of a rant. Don’t you hate it how some networks (NBC: I’m looking in your direction) call every single episode of every single show a “very special” show that, “you can’t miss.” ??? That bugs me. Just once I’d like to hear a promo that ran: “A normal episode, but well written and acted, so please watch.” I’d even watch Tarzan again if they did that. And while I’m on the subject, I’ve been watching all these new shows, and right after the first episode, before there can possibly be any data, they start calling it a “new hit show.” Shouldn’t there be a law about what you can and can’t call a hit show? Who’s with me?

The Second Banana Theory
Crazy side characters are fun because they are side characters. In general, it’s not a good idea to build a show around them. Think Kramer, George, and Elaine: people always said they needed their own show, but the reason Seinfeld worked is because Jerry was fairly normal. This is also why, I think, most Spin-Offs don’t work, because they take these crazy side characters and try to give them their own show.

The Conflict Theory
All successful TV shows are based on conflict. Actually, just about any form of art is based on this, but especially TV. Think about it: if there was no conflict, why watch? The magic of TV is the anticipation, apprehension, and excitement watching our favorite characters overcoming (or not overcoming) those conflicts. This theory has several subsets.

The Diminishing Conflict Theory
Most dramas, especially cop shows, like to set up their characters to have a good deal of personality conflict. But the longer those characters are on screen together, the harder that natural conflict is to harness. After a while, they all get along, and if the writers try to steer the characters into conflict, it seems more and more contrived.

The Shelf-Life Theory
All shows have a shelf life, but this is nowhere more true than for Sitcom characters. Not only do they have the problem of Diminishing Conflict, but also their characters have a limited shelf life before they go stale. When Sitcoms first come on, the characters are almost always stereotypes, so you can quickly recognize them. If the show is successful, the characters develop their own sense of identity, and that’s the best time. But, inevitably, after a while, there are only so many conflicts and situations you can put them in before it seems repetitive, and then the characters become clichés, often going through the motions because you know how so-and-so would react to that, so why waste time doing the response? This is a good indicator it’s time for a show to move on.

The Unrequited Love Theory
The best monster movies wait as long as possible to show you their creature; knowing that whatever you come up with in your imagination is worse than anything they can film. The same works with TV, in a different way. Based on the earlier Conflict Theory, it is almost always better for characters not to get together romantically. Sometimes the whole show is based on love, but even then, it’s better if the love stories don’t work out, at least not for very long. I hear so many people (read: women) wish for certain characters to have relationships (in the business these people are called “shippers”). They want the happy ending. Everyone does. But in an ongoing TV show, this is death. Like I wrote, all drama is based on conflict, and once the conflict is resolved, there goes the tension of the drama. As much as you might hate this, you know it to be true. The best shows are where it doesn’t work out for the characters, and you’re so frustrated at his/her inability to get the girl or keep the guy that you could scream. That’s what makes serialized TV so great, and that’s what keeps us watching.

Until next time, keep the unrequited torch lit,

October 15, 2003

Thanks to Kimbo
Thanks to Hulk

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