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Tuesday, 7 May 2013

But That's Just Wrong!

Do you have a pet peeve when it comes to watching TV? That one little thing that winds you up really badly but you don't like to tell people about it because it makes you sound really petty?

I do.

Before we start, let me share with you a tweet from a spoof account that I follow on twitter, because it perfectly encapsulates what I'm talking about;

Do you see the problem? If you remove the 'of course' from the end of that tweet, you have weapons grade geek bait; leave the 'of course' on the end and you're drawing too much attention to the punchline; you're advertising that it's a joke. Remove those last two words, and it's a massively better joke.

Now, that's a joke tweet from a spoof twitter account. What has it got to do with television shows, I hear you cry. Well, I'll tell you.

Television shows are written, by and large, by professional writers. Networks tend to insist on it, sadly. Most of the time, they even expect a certain level of talent to go along with the business card, unless you're Tony Blake & Paul Jackson, or Chris Chibnall, in which case the incriminating photo's are enough. But if you're a professional writer with a modicum of talent, shouldn't you be able to recognise when a line just sounds wrong?

The most recent example of this, and the one that prompted me to write this post; you were gonna get a bit on Da Vinci's Demons, but you'll have to wait until next week for that now; was the 'The Originals' episode of The Vampire Diaries. (Don't worry, this isn't going to be a rant about the continued neutering of Klaus' character; I got that off my chest on twitter.) No, it's about the final scene, between Elena, Stefan and Damon.

Picture the scene. Elena is being held captive by the brothers. They enter her cell with the intention of torturing her. She knows what's coming, and greets them with the following line.

"Go ahead. Let's see who breaks first. Me...or you."

Couldn't find a relevant screenshot so you're just getting Nina Dobrev looking all smouldering and shit.
That line just made me want to scream at the television. 'Let's see who breaks first' is a challenge. It makes her seem confident and strong. The 'Me...or you' bit at the end was completely unnecessary and if anything it weakens the line by beating you over the head with her point. Why do it? It doesn't sound natural coming out of the actresses mouth, and it doesn't give the ending any more of a dramatic punch. It just sounds wrong.

Of course, I said that was the most recent, but it's far from the only example that springs immediately to mind. Take the Spartacus: Vengeance finale, for example. Season villain Glaber is having his climactic fight with our main man Spartacus; Spartacus has him beat, and he knows it, so he spits out a desperate...

"I will not die, at the hands of a fucking slave!"
The obvious retort from Spartacus of course, is...

"I am not a slave!"

See? Makes perfect sense, doesn't it? It was so obvious in fact that I said it before the actor did, so certain was I that that was the line that was coming. It's a perfect, punch the air, hero triumphant moment that sounds right.

So of course he didn't say it. He said this...

"I am a free man."

Exactly the same meaning. Shouldn't matter. But it does, because the line they went with  just sounds wrong. (I found it so troubling that I actually told the TV, out loud, that it was wrong and had to rewind to convince myself that they really had botched it so spectacularly.)

There are a million of them. I could bore you with them all day, but I won't. I'll just do a couple more; both from the Whoniverse, because while they are quite far back in the distant past; Tennant was still stinking up the show, for heavens sake, that's how long ago they're from; they stick with me to this day as being really horrible, annoying lines.

The first is from The Master. He's giving his speech about the country being in a bad way. You know the one, it ends on the 'what this country needs, is a Doctor' line. That is a good line. A really good line. It's zingy enough to lead into the titles with an appropriate flourish, whilst at the same time serving the plot by letting us know that The Master is calling out the Doctor. Perfect.

'This country needs medicine' - A Tit.
Except, to get to it we have to listen to the rest of the speech. It's patently obvious that RTD knew were he was going with the speech, knew what the punchline was, and didn't give a toss how he got there. 'This country needs medicine' indeed! Is that a phrase that anyone has ever said ever that wasn't a two year old at the time? That one line, in all it's infantile lack of glory, ruins an otherwise serviceable speech. It just sounds wrong.

The medicine line is a glaring example of something that worked fine as a first draft placeholder, but should have been excised and/or replaced before they ever switched on a camera. Which is convenient for me, because so is the next line that I'm going to tell you about.

Torchwood is the culprit this time, and would you believe it, it's good old Chris Chibnall who provides it. The episode is Countrycide, the culprit is psycho daddy dude, and the line is...

"Because it made me happy."

Fuck Off
It's meant to be chillingly banal, a reminder that sometimes ordinary humans can be far more scary than any monster or alien. It's not that, though; it's rubbish.

I'm not saying that a villain who did terrifying things just because he felt like it is a bad idea. There's nothing wrong with it at all, as concepts go. But just say that line to yourself; doesn't sound right does it?

"Because I liked it."

Exact same meaning. Shouldn't matter, but it does. Because the line they went with just sounds wrong.

I'm not a writer; I'd like to be, and if I ever win the lottery you can expect my atrocious vanity projects to be clogging up the interwebs; but then again I've never been behind the wheel and I still recognise reckless driving when I see it. So if I can see, or rather hear that these lines don't work, then why can't these so called talented professionals (and Chris Chibnall)?  Come on Telly bosses! Sort it out!

There you are. My pet peeve about the telly. I told you it made me sound really petty, didn't I?

Come back next week when I'll attempt; and probably fail; to express why Da Vinci's Demons is hard for me to watch, despite being objectively a very good show.

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