THE BELLS! THE BELLS! SANCTUAAARY

25 11 2010

Friend of mine suggested I watch Sanctuary, as it had some steampunk flavoring.

My policy with a new TV show is to watch at least three episodes. The pilots always have a bit of wobble to them, as often they introduce character traits that get dumped soon after. (Good example: Dexter getting aroused at the thought of violence in the pilot for Dexter. Never happened again.) By the time you’re three eps in usually the pattern for the series is established and the characters are showing off their basic traits.

So, in the first episode, we have the following tooth-grinding, eye-rolling tropes. Probably not the accurate name for them, but…

Is That Seriously Proper Police Procedure? Called to investigate strange noises, the woman answering the door says everything’s fine now. It’s in fact quiet again. The cops promptly kick the door in and charge in without backup and guns drawn. They are, of course, killed by the oogabooga inside — right after one tries to coax a scared kid out from a bed by at first going “Everything’s okay, we’re not gonna hurt you” then screaming and grabbing at him. Um. Yeah. Good work, Officer Deadmeat.

The Sherlock Holmes. A cop who, just by glancing at little details around the room, can figure out exactly what’s going on 13 seconds in. Of course, instead of everybody around him going “Yeah, that makes sense” they go “Dammit, McCloud! We’ve had enough of your offbeat theories!”
BONUS POINTS: Accompanied by a ‘WhoooZANG!’ sound effect and a cheesy visual highlight on each object. Not fun when the dialogue is very quiet and the WHOOOZANG! is damned loud, blowing my speakers. Psyche had this problem too.

Stop Making Sense, We’re Trying To Make An Arrest Here. In fact, let’s take that a step further. Example. We have a room that can only be locked from the outside, an open window with fluttering curtains, and wounds that are clearly not gunshot wounds (and in fact weird organic teeth are extracted from the wounds later).
* Obvious explanation: Someone was being kept in here against their will, they get crazy and inflicted some kind of non-gunshot wound which bears further investigation, then got out the window. Someone should probably go find the culprit, who is no doubt in the alley (which was the case).
* Official Police Theory: CLEARLY this is a case of the completely unrelated ex-felon from two floors downstairs heading upstairs to rob these people for no goddamned reason before returning to his own apartment as if nothing happened. Yeah. Okay. Good work there closing the case book, officers.

Secure, Contain, Protect. Basically the whole show premise; gather up all the weird stuff and keep it safe, Men in Black style. I’ll forgive it, because it DOES add a supposedly benevolent / compassionate motive twist on top, but it’s not exactly a new idea.

Green Screen, How I Love You Green Screen. 80% of the shots are being done with virtual sets, using CG that’s just detailed enough and just crappy enough to fall squarely into the uncanny valley. Even something simple like a sewer is being CG’d to hell and back. The entire Sanctuary looks like it was pulled straight from Myst or the Journeyman Project. I get that this was a web project originally with little budget, but what I’m watching is the Sci-Fi channel backed TV ready version. And it’s painfully looking like the Star Wars prequels. Ick.

Junior High Reading Level Dialogue And Maturity. I’ve been pegging a lot of shows for this lately (Psyche, Eureka, Farscape). It’s hard to believe these are adults when they all act like overemotional teenagers who hate common sense and loathe having to think about anything. Pull out the vocabulary book, calm down, and quit carrying on like the village idiot, kplox. It’d be forgivable if they WERE teenagers, but these are grown men and women and they’re exhibiting playground antics.
CAVEAT: I may be asking for too much here. Television is written for the lowest common denominator and the easiest way to make drama is to make the characters completely bungle their Perception and Diplomacy checks. A team of adults working together effectively and not constantly wanking around wouldn’t be as fun to watch.

So… yeah.

I don’t HATE what I’m seeing so far, don’t get me wrong. But that’s a deep hole it’s gotta climb out of if it’s going to keep me on board.

That’s why I watch three episodes; the pilot invariably is going to suck, because it’s the first fumblings towards what the story wants to be. I’ve experienced that in my own writing, too. Sailor Nothing #1 wasn’t indicative of what the series would eventually turn into. So, I’ll give this a few more shots. If I get a few more misfires, it’s on to the next show.

EDIT: Okay, as noted, I always watch three episodes for exactly this reason. Episode three? CONSIDERABLY better than the pilot episode. Less trope failure and more trope aversion, more competent characters, and less CG mess. (Although, seriously, build more sets. It can only help you to have real scenery.) I’ll keep watching, methinks.

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5 responses

26 11 2010
schadrach

Three Episodes
Three episodes to make the cut, huh?
That actually really explains your opinion of Dollhouse back when it came out — it took a while to really take off (seriously, give it another chance, but watch at least through “A Spy In the House of Love”), and although it’s not really evident until near the end of the series the actor that played Victor was really pretty good.
I’ll give you this — the series would probably have been better if someone other than Eliza Dushku had been cast as Echo, but she eventually passably gets the hang of it (although, minor spoiler, you could take her being bad at all the personality switches as foreshadowing, even though it really is just her being fail).
Sounds like I need to give Sanctuary a glance, though.

26 11 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Re: Three Episodes
Dollhouse’s pilot was a complete failure for me. The whole “brainwashed puck fuppets” aspect was squicktastic, and the “perfect hostage negotiator” was a complete joke. Logic and sensibility collapsed around it on a constant basis, as often happens in crime thrillers.
I watched a few more, but generally the show’s premise wasn’t to my liking, I couldn’t relate to or like any of the characters, and I had other things to do with my time. I guess I could give it another shot when I’m bored if it’s on Netflix streaming.

26 11 2010
schadrach

Re: Three Episodes
It’s hard to “like” most of the characters, but I think that’s kinda the point. They are (at least at the face) amoral and engaged in what amounts to human trafficking. It’s a *very* black and grey morality kind of series. Later on they become more sympathetic, but even then you don’t really “like” them as such.
Once they get past the “client of the week” episodes and actually start developing the plot, it gets much better. Especially because most of the obvious uses of “erase someone’s mind and make them into someone else” actually get considered and/or used, instead of being arbitrarily ignored like most series’ phlebotinum does.

26 11 2010
gothstar

I love Sanctuary so much, the first few episodes are NOTHING like what the rest of the series pans out to be. The second season is where everything gets brilliant.

26 11 2010
Stefan "Twoflower" Gagne

Yeah, it was clear even from episode 3 that the faffing about in the pilot was an exception rather than a rule. I’m gonna marathon a bit more of it tonight.

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