Ch-Ch-Changes: January’s British TV Invasion
January 19th, 2011
While television in general has become inundated with adaptations of British series, or shows about adaptations of British series, or shows which have been imported from Britain, the past few days have been particularly overwhelming for me. Having put off watching Showtime’s Shameless (a British series being adapted for American television) and Episodes (a show about a British series being adapted for American television) the week before, and then pairing them with a marathon of PBS’ Downton Abbey and Monday’s premieres of MTV’s Skins and SyFy’s Being Human, I gave myself what has to constitute an overdose of transatlantic television.
And, unsurprisingly, I ended up with quite a few things to say about it. The process of adaptation is hardly a consistent one, and its function in these various texts is wide-ranging: It is the subject of satire for Episodes, a topic of debate for Shameless, Skins and Being Human, and a complete non-starter (albeit not without a controversy of sorts, as I’ll get to in a moment) for Downton Abbey.
The response to these various shows has been diverse, but beyond the legitimate concern that the industry has become creatively bankrupt there lies a shifting understanding of change and how we respond to it. Do we want adaptations to be “true” to the original, or do we want them to change in order to find a distinct identity? What, precisely, makes a good adaptation, and does the degree to which a series changes from the original alter our critical focus beyond how we would consider original pilots? And, if it does, should it?
The following is my attempt at answering these questions.
April 27th, 2010
“I don’t try to change you, you don’t try to change me”
There is nothing I hate more than a show doing everything I ask it to and nonetheless leaves me cold. If you had asked me to focus on some of the prevailing problems to this point in Glee’s Spring season, I would have pointed to the narrow storylines which tend to focus on the central love triangles rather than the supporting characters, so to have an episode that so clearly focuses on characters like Kurt and Mercedes seems like it should be right up my alley.
The problem with “Home” is that it feels like the show is being changed rather than changing, characters emerging from their prison of one-dimensionality and returning to the last time they had anything close to character development. At times this results in beautiful musical numbers and emotionally resonant scenes which speak to the larger series, but as an actual episode “Home” feels equal parts honest and dishonest thanks to the sense that none of it has been earned from a narrative perspective.
You could make the same argument about “Wheels,” I realize this, but I think that this episode contained more of both sides of the show’s schizophrenia as it relates to certain characters, and comes directly after an episode which presented such wildly different versions of these characters that the jarring lack of continuity cannot be overcome by an emotional performance of a Burt Bacharach song, no matter how hard the show tries to make it so.
“He’s Our You”
March 25th, 2009
When “316” first aired, it became immediately clear the way in which the rest of the season would unfold, the stories of how the Oceanic Six made their way onto that airplane serving as a new mystery, small but structurally valuable. In a couple of instances, there’s some really important character-driven reasons we’ve yet to uncover (See: Kate), or events which give us reason to be fearful (see: Ben).
But our question for Sayid has little to do with his agency, considering he was led onto the plane in handcuffs: Sayid swore he would not have anything to do with Ben, and whatever got him onto that plane was either something immensely powerful or something wonderfully manipulative. The mystery for Sayid was much less how he got on that plane, since it was clearly not in his control, but rather what he came back for, the same question that at one point Sawyer asks Kate point blank.
That’s ultimately the more interesting question, which makes “He’s Our You” much more about the eventual answer we receive than about anything we get in the meantime. While I find the return to an older style of flashback almost refreshing, a welcome breather after a lot of breakneck episodes as of late, nonetheless we spend a lot of time confirming what we had already presumed before. The value of the episode, then, is in the 1970s, where we see what happens when a man so averse to change decides not to trust anyone else’s word, not to allow anyone the ability to betray him, and to take advantage of an opportunity even when he feels destiny is starting him in the face.
And for the episode’s ending alone, it was all worth it.