Tag Archives: Sherlock

The Right Hook

So I’m using this blog to spitball ideas for a paper. And no, it’s not on boxing.

What gets us hooked on a tv show? As in, what is it that makes you keep coming back? What was it about the shows we’re discussing in class — Sherlock, Mr. Robot, Firefly, and Daredevil — that made them stick (or not?).

Sherlock is an interesting case. Each episode nears the length of a feature length film, making it an odd hybrid of film and television. But the show hooks you early in the first episode. Partly because of the familiarity we as a culture have with the mythos of Sherlock Holmes and thus there’s the inherent intrigue in seeing in reinterpreted in a more modern setting. That alone wouldn’t necessarily be enough; fortunately it’s augmented by the incredibly interesting characters of both Sherlock and John. John’s characterized quickly as a war vet looking for a way to make life livable; Sherlock’s an insufferable genius. Because the characters are so darn interesting, you can’t help but to be interested in finding out what will happen next to them. Really well defined protagonists, plus plots that keep pushing them makes it irresistible. 

Which Mr. Robot tried valiantly. You’ve got a character who’s somewhat Holmes-ian: freakishly good at something, socially un-adapted, something of a drug habit, insufferably, etc. But where Sherlock of Sherlock has various normal characters to balance him out, everyone in Mr. Robot is off their rocker to one degree or another, making protagonist Elliot seem, well, negligible. That and the fact that the show relies on really lazy storytelling techniques (creepy Scandinavians, diabolical Chinese, killing women for manpain, killing/threatening women because edgy) and mistakes shock value for actually value makes it much harder to get into, or to invest in to the extent that you can in Sherlock.

Investment then, like in banking, is key. It’s not so much as being hooked by a show as getting invested in it. Get invested enough and the sunk cost fallacy will keep you yearning to find out who the mother is even if the quality deteriorates. A lot of the time, this comes down to one of two things: Character and Premise.

Daredevil’s premise trumps its characters. Not to say that Matt Murdock and Wilson Fisk aren’t developed characters: they’re incredibly rich and compelling. Understanding them and who they are is a great part of the show. But the set up, that of a vigilante fighting to defend his slice of New York against crime, is what gets you. That and the whole superhero aspect of it all. You wanna see how this battle of good versus evil is going to play out and what twists are gonna happen as it goes along. In a sense, it’s a lot like Mr. Robot, only with better defined characters and the ability to actually tell a good story. Now, without its excellent characterization, Daredevil wouldn’t be as exceptional as it is; but it’s the premise that hooks us.

For Firefly, however, it’s all about the characters. Having nine well defined characters means you have someone to latch onto off the bat. Could be Mal ‘cause he’s hot, or Zoë ‘cause she kicks ass, or any of the others for a myriad of other reasons. It’s the characters that anchor you through the bizarre space western setting that’s interesting and all, but primarily serves as a backing for the inter-personal drama that develops. It’s set on a ship (which is a great place to set stories, by the way), forcing each nine to interact no matter what. Every plot is done to facilitate either character growth or conflict: let’s see how Wash responds in an action capacity! Showrunner Joss Whedon himself describes it as  “nine people looking into the blackness of space and seeing nine different things.” We get hooked on the characters and want to see what will happen next.

So what, then? Good television is a balance between premise and characters. You can’t have one without the other and shows that do it really well (Daredevil, Sherlock, and Firefly) have great staying power. There’s a hook, and you’re stuck on it.

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Computer-Mediated Communi-what now?

Being a big fan of his other stuff, I saw Jon Favreau’s Chef last night. It’s a wonderful movie full of heart and food porn. Seriously. That movie will make you hungry. Really hungry.

It’s remarkable for more than just salacious shots of food, though. There’s the fun character dynamics and the great soundtrack. There’s the fact that it avoids the obnoxious Bad Thing Before the Third Act that’s so commonplace in comedies and other films like Chef. But what I wanna talk about is its use of social media.

Oh boy, there’s that buzzword.

Social media and other forms of computer-mediated communication, as it’s known in Conversation Analysis (which is a thing, and I’m taking a class on it), are becoming more and more common. Heck, you’re probably reading this ‘cuz I posted the link on my Facebook or Twitter.

In Chef, the protagonist, Carl Casper, sets up a Twitter account and gets involved in a flamewar with a critic. It’s delightful to watch because of how it’s presented: we see an overlay of the Tweet box which, when sent, becomes a small blue bird that flies off screen. But what’s really great is that it’s treated not as a fad or something insignificant, but rather as a legitimate means of communication. In the world of Chef, just as in the real world, Twitter (along with texting, Vine, and Facebook) is a perfectly normal way of interacting with other people (and drumming up noise about your awesome new food truck).

The TV show Sherlock and the film Non-Stop both use an overlay effect for texting and present it as a normal means of conversation. Non-Stop uses its potential anonymity and discreetness to hide the identity of the hijacker and to build tension, but it never feels like a gimmick. Characters in Sherlock, well, mostly John, will get texts during conversations. As viewers we now get to watch the all too familiar tension that comes from being stuck in one conversation when there’s another waiting in the wings. Wonderfully, Sherlock also treats texting as something people do. It’s as commonplace as phone calls and given equal weight.

Texting is showing up in books too. The Fault in Our Stars has Hazel and Gus texting each other. Like in the other examples, it’s treated as a normal part of life. People text to talk. It’s a thing. The Fault in Our Stars has a very, well, contemporary, attitude to texting. It’s not a Big Deal or even some magical piece of New Technology or a sign of Declining Sociality; instead it’s downright normal. It’s not trite, it’s just a part of life. You don’t have to call someone, you can text them instead — which is often more convenient.

What sets these examples apart is how well integrated they are. A lot of shows and movies either ignore the presence of cell-phones or only use them on occasion. It’s seldom to see texting and social media as integrated into a story as in Chef, Sherlock, and The Fault in Our Stars.

The world’s changing. Computer-mediated communication is becoming really commonplace. Not only that, but it’s steadily being scholarly accepted as a legitimate form of communication (seriously, I read a paper on gossip in instant messaging). Yet pop-culture has been oddly slow on the upkeep. There aren’t many shows like Community where everyone’s digital lives are presented as normal, including Jeff’s constant texting and Troy’s Clive Owen Tumblr. Granted, it can be a slow or overwrought way of communicating exposition, but it can be done well and, as in Chef, it can be visually interesting. I want to see more movies, shows, and books like this; where computer-mediated communication isn’t necessarily nerdy or reclusive, where a Vine and Facebook can be a bonding moment between a father and son.

Because hey, this is the world we live in.

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