Narrative Pollution in HBO Canada’s Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures
January 8th, 2010
I like to consider Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, a short-form Canadian series debuting on Sunday, January 10th at 8pm ET on HBO Canada, a show made just for me. This is selfish, I know, but I studied the book as an undergrad so it sort of feels like Vincent Lam’s work is following me on my academic/personal/critical journeys. In fact, I even gave a presentation on the short story composite’s (I’ll explain that term in a second, although not in as much detail as I might be tempted to) relationship with television narrative (in a class which had nothing to do with television, by the way) during my time at Acadia University, so the long-gestating adaptation announced soon after the book won the prestigious Giller Prize in 2006 has been of great interest to me.
And while I’ll spare you (most of) the more academic consideration of the series that’s floating around my head after watching the opening episode (which, for Canadians, can be streamed on TheMovieNetwork.com), I will say that this is one example where having first-hand knowledge of the text at hand has largely ruined the series for me. This is not to suggest that Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures is a failure, or that what has been put on the screen is of low quality – there are some solid performances here, and the characters from Lam’s book remain compelling.
The problem is that in a text, and a medium, defined by its presentation of various time periods, executive producer Jason Sherman simply got it backwards – the parts of the story which have the most weight are relegated to flashbacks, and instead of allowing the narrative to unfold on its own time the series creates a melodramatic and unnecessary “present” which keeps it from engaging with the complexities of Lam’s story, complexities that seem perfectly suited to a new generation of serialized storytelling. I do not mean to suggest that there is only one way to adapt this series (after all, any adaptation will skew the original source text based on the writers and directors involved – I’m not THAT guy), but I will argue that the changes made reflect a reductive view of the short story as a medium and are unnecessary measures meant to kow-tow to genre stereotypes the producers are actively trying to avoid, resulting in a series that (while solidly made) fails to capture what made the original text so compelling as both a short story composite and as a potential television series.
October 15th, 2009
All I can hear is the clock ticking.
Yeah, well, all I can hear is the crickets, FlashForward.
“Black Swan” is yet another example of the ways in which FlashForward seems fundamentally unwilling to engage with its most interesting elements and choosing, instead, to continue to ponderously engage with small-scale stories that feel like note cards on a bulletin board rather than something that’s part of a mosaic.
What’s interesting is that, if the show had ignored the notions of global conspiracy and the worldwide destruction, I actually think this would be an interesting hour of television. If the show had ignored the chaos of the pilot, and had instead had everyone experience a vision of their future without any time passing, then “Black Swan” would be an interesting investigation into a patient whose flash forward is inexplicable, or a young babysitter who wonders how she can atone for a sin she has yet to commit. Those questions are on their own a decent structure for an almost procedural series, a world like our own but where alternate futures dominate everyday conversation.
The problem with the show hasn’t been sold as anything close to that, but rather as a show rife with conspiracy theories and exciting serialized elements. And in an episode like this one, we understand the show’s central dilemma: when the show spends time with the mundane, we’re left wondering what’s going on with the big picture, but when they do spend time with the big picture we wonder why we were spending time with the mundane at all. And as long as both sides of the show’s storylines have some pretty serious execution problems, I don’t know how long the dichotomy is going to hold.
September 25th, 2009
“I am all of them, but none of them is me.”
I never thought I’d be writing this post.
No one gave Dollhouse a chance of succeeding when its first season debuted to pretty abysmal numbers at midseason, and when it showed little signs of life on the ratings board when it concluded. It was a show that never found an audience, on a network that had done Joss Whedon wrong before with Firefly, setting everyone up for the inevitable letter writing campaigns when the show was canceled. Not only that, but to some degree people weren’t convinced the show deserved a second chance: it only late in the season discovered anything close to an identity, and even then some believed the show would be let down by some miscasting or the battle between procedural and serial proving too much for the show to handle.
So when the show got a second season against every oddsmaker, it was kind of surreal. On the one hand, as someone who liked what the show did at the end of the season, I was excited to see that Joss Whedon and Co. would have an entire summer to figure things out and put themselves in a position to really deliver some great television. However, on the other hand, I wondered if the end of the season was just a fluke, and that its premise and its star were just never meant to carry this show forward.
And then I saw “Epitaph One.” And then, in that moment, I realized that the premise was not going to be the problem, and that the show’s real challenge was how it will get from Point A (its rather auspicious start) to Point B (a science fiction thematic goldmine). “Vows,” of course, doesn’t entirely answer that question, but what it does indicate is that the ramifications from the end of last season haven’t ended, and that this is still a show capable of delivering an hour of television which treats this subject matter with the right balance of philosophical investigation and narrative procession. It is not a perfect premiere, by any means, but it confirms what I think we were all hoping when we heard the show got a second season: the growing pains are over, and a new life has truly begun for Dollhouse.