The Problem with Modern Television

I’ve watched the first few episodes of the remake of V (Not for Vendetta! V, a different sci-fi show.) showing on ABC. I don’t think I will be watching any more. This is not because it’s bad. On the contrary, I think they’ve done an excellent job of updating the story to account for today’s sociopolitical atmosphere and adapting the storytelling to the standards of modern television.

Unfortunately, the standards of modern television don’t work for V.

In order for a prime time drama to remain on the air these days, it must have some combination of action, plot twists, and unbridled coolness packed into it like sardines in a can. This has to be true of every single episode. The exact combination varies from show to show, depending on its plot. House, for instance, doesn’t usually have a lot of action, but it has a plot twist every five minutes. (Oh, that didn’t work? Then it must be this!) Any show that tries to develop its plot gradually at first doesn’t survive to explode into unbridled awesomeness later.

The brilliance of V: The Original Miniseries was in the Visitors’ gradual rise to power. They charmed people with their happy, friendly faces, claiming to need our help. Once everyone trusted them and eagerly looked forward to the advantages of being friends with them, they framed scientists for supposedly trying to destroy the alliance between Earth and the Visitors. With scientists universally detested, the likelihood of their actual physiology being discovered was unlikely, allowing them to continue their sneaky rape of our planet. By the time the resistance was formed, the visitors already had the upper hand. The resistance fought an uphill battle. They were only able to defeat the Visitors in V: The Final Battle because they got lucky.

In the first episode of the new V series, they’ve already given you half of the story. The resistance is already in place because the Visitors sent some people ahead some thirty years before the story started to lay groundwork for their invasion. Where can they take this? What can they add?

I’m afraid it’s going to end up like the recent Battlestar Galactica series did. The first two seasons were great… but by the end of it, it was dumb. They tried to make it deep and it ended up being incomprehensible, like a bad anime.

Or worse yet, it could end up like Heroes. So many plot lines and characters and details introduced in that show have been dropped. When Peter Petrelli accidentally whisked himself and his girlfriend to the future, she got deported to Ireland and left there. He has done nothing — nothing — to get her back. Sylar also shows no sign of the inconvenience his super-sensitive hearing should be causing him. The woman he stole it from had to listen to rap music constantly to keep her ability under control, but he seems to have no trouble with it, in spite of the fact that he has so many other powers to control at the same time.

That, my friends, is the real trouble with today’s television. In order to stay on the air, a show must be cool. Cooler than cool. So cool you can’t stop watching. Even if it means that the show makes no sense. Even at the expense of the ability to tell any kind of story that needs to set itself up first. It works for some stories. It destroys others.

Babylon 5 is the show that taught the TV executives that people would watch prime time shows with an ongoing story. But if it were to have come out today, would it have stayed on the air? The first season is titled Signs & Portents, if I recall correctly. The action doesn’t really pick up until season 3. So no, I don’t think it would. Isn’t that ironic?

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