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When the writing lets you down

Like many people who read spec fic, I'm also a fan of a lot of spec fic TV and movie franchises. The new Fox show Fringe sounded it like it was an attempt to update a really excellent, well-written show The X-Files, so I watched the pilot.

It had some good things going for it. The actor who played the crazy scientist was very good, and that character is very intriguing. The guy who plays his son is pretty good, too, and their family dynamic added some interest to the plot. I was ambivalent about the office romance; it seemed a pretty tired trope to me. Likewise the seemingly nasty boss who might not be so bad after all. But in the end I felt totally let down by the writing. The first hint was the plane landing by itself because there is now (somehow) an automated system that can safely land a jet airplane at its intended destination once the pilot flicks a single switch. Excuse me? If you want to set the series 30 years in the future I might buy that, but this show appears to be very now. There's a lot of talk about how things are different because of the Department of Homeland Security. So that was one strike against the writers—lazy writing! They wanted everyone on the plane dead, so they just made up a spiffy new invention that can let a plane full of dead people land at Logan, an airport that's on the edge of major city and very near the water.

Turns out that was just the beginning. If you want to see the show but you missed the pilot, don't click the link below because it's hiding a total spoiler.

A main thrust of the plot is the love affair between two FBI agents, John and Olivia. After the plane full of dead people lands, the two of them are investigating a self-storage facility, and John comes upon a suspect. He starts running after him but manages to whip out his cell phone and call Olivia. He asks for her help in chasing the suspect, saying "We need him alive." Olivia has not seen the suspect, mind you. She joins the chase, and then the suspect blows up a lab and exposes John to a lot of dangerous chemicals. A lot of the rest of the pilot covered Olivia's efforts to save her lover's life, part of which included a bad-science Vulcan mind meld scene where she's virtually in his brain so she can get a picture of the suspect. She finds the bomber, he's caught, he tells them what the chemicals were, they save John, and this is where it's gets really bad.

I don't mind the bad science so much—no one ever said Star Trek was plausible—but the writers wanted to pull a rabbit out of their hats, so they have John turn out to be a bad guy, working for the evil giant corporation that's behind the whole plot. He smothers the suspect, whom he knew well, and who is conveniently restrained but completely unguarded in a hospital room.

Oh, come on! It's totally cheating! If John had been a bad guy from the get-go, he would never have called Olivia. He would either have shot the suspect or told him to get lost, depending on whether he needed the guy alive or dead. Plus, there was no hint of any malice in John when he and Olivia played their tender love scene in his brain, where presumably he couldn't lie to her. It's not that the lover-as-a-bad-guy twist wasn't a good one, it's that they didn't bother to set it up and make it plausible. Lazy, lazy, lazy!

It's writing like this that gives science fiction a bad name. The X-Files it ain't.

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( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 14th, 2008 01:20 pm (UTC)
I agree.
I watched the first half hour of it, and turned the channel. Did nothing to grab my interest after the opening scene with the plane.

And I completely agree with you on the romance theme. One thing I noticed with the new shows of this genre from last season, was the ones that started off with a romance undertone, were cancelled. New Amhersterdam, Moonlight, both had that 'looking for past/lost love going on, and I'm sorry, but IMO, the people who tune in to watch shows like this don't care about romance. They want teasers of it, like between Mulder and Scully, or none at all. Look at what happened to the poor Jo in the second season of Supernatural. She was written in to be a love interest for Dean, and the fans trashed her.

The only successful onscreen romance I've seen between two characters was Delene and Sheriden of Babylon 5. But even then it wasn't right away, but happened over time.

Sep. 14th, 2008 07:42 pm (UTC)
Re: I agree.
It's particularly galling when it's a secret romance between agents of an organization that keeps track of people. Sort of like, how could a reporter could Lois Lane be if she didn't know Clark Kent was Superman?
Sep. 15th, 2008 11:36 am (UTC)
Re: I agree.
So far, the site I mod on, no one other than myself has watched it. And that goes for many of the newer shows of this genre. Fans of shows like this aren't stupid, so why do the networks think they can spit out clones of the same show over and over again, when the really good ones, like Jericho, are taken off the air even with good ratings?

I don't get it.
Sep. 15th, 2008 06:30 pm (UTC)
Re: I agree.
I don't get it either! I did like New Amsterdam, BTW. I thought it was one of the few shows that dealt with how lonely it would make you to be immortal.
Sep. 16th, 2008 11:35 am (UTC)
Re: I agree.
So why didn't they keep it that way, instead of him finding his love? Or even looking for her? I think if you introduce the romance element too soon, it kills the story. It would have been better if they let him suffer for a season, then maybe run into her at the end of the season.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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