Disposable TV

Posted: April 13, 2011 in Braak, Threat Quality
Tags: , , , ,

A spy’s career is destroyed with paperwork, casting him out into the cold – though ironically, the only place he can go to ground is his home town of Miami. The only people who can help him return to the dangerous life he yearns for are an alcoholic ex-Special Forces retiree, and the spy’s violent-tempered, gunrunning ex-girlfriend. While they take odd jobs that help the spy regain a sense of purpose, hidden cabals are working to corrupt him to suit their own ends.

Every time I remember there’s a show on TV with a premise this solid, my heart kind of breaks that it turns out to be Burn Notice.

On the flip-side, every time the description “After a TV psychic’s wife and child are murdered by a serial killer, the former carnival act/scam artist works with the law to trick murderers into revealing themselves” crosses my mind, I can’t believe The Mentalist is also really enjoyable pretty much every week.

TV: Boy, you never can tell.

  1. braak says:

    I am not sure how this is going to prompt a number of insanely long comments discussing the relative intrinsic morality of the universe.

  2. It never has been about the premise, but about the writing. You know that already. With TV especially, it’s all about the acting. The audience has to want to return to these lives more than their own. Sure, procedurals garner a lot of viewings, but without compelling characters it’ll rarely be the same audience every week. Robin Tunney is good. Simon Baker is awesome. Bruno Heller is capable of genius. I don’t know who witted Burn Notice, I’ve never bothered to find out. Anwar is good, Bruce Campbell is awesome, but also, by now he is undeniably half camp.

  3. I’d rather talk about writing than the nature of the universe. I mean, the best writing encapsulates both.

  4. Carol K says:

    Casting has a lot to do with it, don’t you think? I’m a little embarrassed by my love for The Mentalist, because the plots are so generally awful. But Simon Baker kills it every single week — and the supporting cast is also very good.

    In my opinon, they save it from being our generation’s Murder, She Wrote.

  5. braak says:

    I think it must have a lot to do with casting, because I generally don’t feel like the writing in The Mentalist is altogether that much better than the writing in Burn Notice.

    (I do like The Mentalist a lot, though.)

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    I think the casting certainly has a lot to do with it – that Simon West can turn from grinning doof to dead-eyed vengefulness on a dime is one of the reasons I think Patrick Jane is actually one of the better characters on TV – but there’s a certain assuredness Heller and co. bring to the show.

    For reasons I can’t quite place, a given episode of The Mentalist feels…sturdy. A good, solid procedural base, with a whimsical, beatific-detective glaze.

    Whereas Burn Notice feels like it’d fall apart if a feather fell on it.

    Look, all this is making sense to me.

  7. RickRussellTX says:

    Characters aren’t everything, though. Look at shows like The Pretender or Alias, filled with great characters and spot-on acting. But The Pretender basically turned into reruns of The Incredible Hulk (which desperate stranger will he help THIS week? Dun dun DUNNN), and I don’t know what the hell happened to Alias. A bunch of great characters trying to build an Antikythera mechanism or some shit.

  8. braak says:

    I wonder, I’ve been thinking about the difference between the idea of an “open” premise and a “closed” premise, and that generally, “closed” premises are harder to get right on a regular basis.

    If you think, “Mentalist helps the police solve crimes” — really any basic detective show, actually — or “Friends hang out in New York,” or “Friends hang out in a bar” — these are all open premises not only in the sense that they provide a broad range of possible stories, but also in the sense that there’s no implicit termination to the premise.

    If add in something like “…[t]he only people who can help him return to the dangerous life he yearns for…” to “a former spy is a detective in Miami”, now you’re saddled with the idea of progress. The show has a goal, which we have to move towards or away from, which we have to resolve or not, and, most importantly, what happens when we get it?

    Prison Break had a closed premise, too, but was probably a pretty decent show (it’s not implicitly bad to have a closed premise, I think), but it was also a fairly uncrowded premise — two guys are trying to make Progress, everyone else is ancillary to that. The difference between Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (Hawk tries to keep peace on a space station) and Star Trek: Voyager (a crew that is lost on the edge of the galaxy has to find their way home) is that Voyager was essentially a closed premise: it had an outcome that they were working towards, and that periodically had to be spun backwards to prevent the show from ending too quickly.

  9. tierarzt says:


    […]Disposable TV « Threat Quality Press[…]…

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