14 May 2007

Hellyeah Moments

Note: I haven't caught up with any of this year's television -- now that the shows are winding down, we'll catch up in the summer, when it's too hot to do anything but sit in front of a fan and chug water!

My husband and I watch a lot of TV throughout the year. But we take full advantage of technology 'round our house, too, so we don't schedule around primetime TV. Between DVDs and downloads, wee able to watch whatever we want whenever we want it. Case in point: we watched the first 14 episodes of Lost, Season 3, in 2 days, while we were both too sick to do anything else.

Over the past six years of our marriage, we've collected and dropped TV shows to our repertoire. We like quirky comedies, intense dramas, great dialogue, action, and character development (we stuck with Alias even when it began to fizzle in season 3, then redeemed itself in season 5, only to make us roll our eyes so much we passed out during season 6...). We're not TV authorities because we don't like all TV, and we can close the book on a series (how's that for a mixed metaphor?) mid-season if we've gotten let down after a handful of episodes.

Last autumn, the new season rolled around and we started weeding through the new shows. One of these was The Nine. We only made it to episode two. The show has some great hooks and all, but I just don't care about it. I like the actors: I just adore the actress who plays Katherine, who played Audrey on 24, Chi McBride's great, and all the others were really good, too. I'm kind of disconcerted by seeing Scott Wolf looking older than Matthew Fox, but I can deal. But something was missing. I got to thinking about why I didn't care.

I realize that characters must have weaknesses. I don't like characters that don’t. Even Clive Cussler realizes that his superhero-like Dirk Pitt and offshoots need their share of weaknesses...even if they can swim a mile underwater with no air tanks uphill in the snow. But I don't like stories where all the characters are just plain weak, and that's the feeling I got with the close of The Nine, season 1, episode 2. It depressed me.

I think it could be rectified very easily, and maybe that's what frustrates me. You've got a cast of well-developed (if morally weak) characters, you've got great character hooks, and it's a mystery in the idea of "What happened inside the bank?" And you've got plenty of conflict: episode 2 dealt with everyone's work-related troubles, and work-related troubles are totally...well...relatable to the audience.

But the conflict didn't have any high points. I'm going to take the most conflict-driven, conflict-dependent show out there as an example here and talk about 24 for a moment. The show gives me ulcers. I worry and worry and cringe and cry and look away and, at the same time, can't force myself to quit. I love the exact characters I hate: I mean, come on, President Logan is the worst of the worst, a true devil, and I concede that he's probably the best villain in the history of television. But damn, is that guy interesting. I can see all sorts of connections between his badness and the badness of pre-Logan seasons. But amidst all the badness, the "good guys" get a win here or there, whether it's by a line or an action. And we're pulled along from win to win.

On Alias, Jack Bristow seemed to be responsible for most of the hellyeah moments. But they don't have to big, jaw-dropping turns of event, either. On Buffy, everyone got them in one form or another: remember when Dawn thought she was a Potential? There were some heavy slopes for that girl to slide down, but at the end, when she's at her lowest, Xander says the very right thing to her and boom, they both get their hellyeah moment.

I think it's the driving force behind American Idol, too. The Simon Phenomenon, I’ll call it. You meet all these different characters, and through the course of a few months the protagonists become clear. You know who you want to win, and every time they get a bad evaluation, you feel just a little bit of their disappointment or pain. The voters at home kill off the characters. And the show becomes more intense during the finals. For each harsh comment Simon has made to Your Favorite, each praise is more potent. And with each praise, you say to yourself, "Hell, yeah!"

I love writing conflict and angst, but I try to remember to write a hellyeah moment in every few chapters through my middle, to remind me why I like a character, and to keep me rooting for them. Toward the end, when things start to get very dark, readers will need to draw encouragement from the character's previous triumphs.

So what about you? Do you recall any hellyeah moments in film, TV or literature?