Monday, August 29, 2016

Sounding Robotic when Writing about the Second Season of a TV Series


Maureen Ryan wrote a piece for Variety about two TV shows

currently in their second seasons - MR. ROBOT and “Unreal.” Apparently Ms. Ryan saw a thematic need to group the two shows together under one banner (and the quotes from her article I cite below refer to two shows, but the points she attempts to make all apply to MR. ROBOT) even though the only real
factor common in the two series is that they are both in their second season. It's just the first of Ryan's many missteps.  


“The Glut of television that led to the creation of these shows.”

I don’t know how Ryan came about using the word “Glut” for whatever problems she sees with the two TV shows she intends to examine. Perhaps it has something to do with FX programming head, John Landgraf, and his 2015 upfront presser with reporters when he bitched and whined about “too much TV” as a reason for him failing to secure the services of the Entertainment Industry’s best show running talent to work at his network. In Landgraf’s embarrassing cry for help he was really talking about how there is a shallow pool of Creative Talent for TV shows and it was being stretched too thin. Perhaps his message was somehow mis-interpreted by Ryan as a “glut" in TV that was challenging the creative talent behind shows renewed for a second season.
Setting aside the other show Ryan writes about, there’s no way anyone could use a “glut” of quality shows across the TV spectrum as a challenge to the quality of the second season of MR. ROBOT. The same creator (Sam Esmail), and the rest of the Producing and Writing staff which guided MR. ROBOT the first season, are the same creative people behind the second season effort. How does a “glut” (in whatever way Ryan defines it) affect MR. ROBOT?
I wish I could say that the other reasons Ms. Ryan cites in her article make more sense, but they don’t.
Esmail got the chance to direct every episode of his USA show (and write many of them) in its second year. As their creators gained power, it almost seemed as though both shows were nervous that viewers would lose interest in how their stories evolved.

What? Is Ms. Ryan actually saying that for the benefit of viewers, the creative direction of the show should have been spread out amongst more people rather than letting the same creative team/creator work on the second season? Is she suggesting the executives at USA network should have a bigger hand on what happens with the series?  


On the assumption that even buzzed-about shows need to go to very elaborate lengths to keep viewers on board…

The above is typical of the way Reviewers (without a creative clue) write about a TV series. They write stuff that has words/phrases like “assumption,” …  “buzzed about” and “elaborate lengths” as if somehow they are in the inner circle and know all about creating and maintaining the success of a multi-million-dollar TV production.  

Even if what Ryan writes above is true, can’t we assume if the creative brain trust behind MR. ROBOT had not gone to “elaborate lengths” and instead “played it safe” (a phrase often used by reviewers) creatively, Ms. Ryan would instead be writing her mid-second season autopsy on MR. ROBOT citing her disappointment because the writing talent running the show was creatively “phoning in” the effort, and everything was predictable, boring, not at the same excitement level of the first season.

For the record, I think what MR. ROBOT achieved in the first season was creatively remarkable. The show was arguably one of the top 5 shows on TV in 2015. The bottomline about whatever creative problems MR. ROBOT may or may not be having in its second season, I believe the series had a huge challenge at the conclusion of it's first season. The creative brains behind MR. ROBOT executed the First Season with this creative philosophy -- Don't hold anything back. There is no tomorrow. Leave whatever game you have on the table. Keep nothing in reserve. Do it all with the goal of telling a fascinating series story, with just enough details about the characters and the milieu, and sprinkle in some interesting plot twists along the way. And after several hours of storytelling, when the final credits come up on the season's last show, the audience feels like they've been on a journey... an adventure that feels complete.  This is what Esmail and his staff achieved. And it made coming up with Season Two way more challenging. They also must have known that whatever they created for Season Two would not be viewed with blind devotion, but probably watched from a rearview mirror.