AMC has officially dubbed their airing of Rubicon’s pilot a month and a half ahead of its premiere as a “sneak preview,” but I think a “teaser trailer” may be a more accurate description of the episode in question. A good teaser trailer shows you atmospheric scenes which give you a sense of the mood a particular movie or television series is going for, but really doesn’t tell you much about the plot in question: for example, HBO’s teaser trailer for Game of Thrones, the much-anticipated adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, shows a few key images and establishes the series’ tagline.
Considering this, it’s fair to say that my use of the designation for “Gone in the Teeth” is symptomatic of my frustration with the enigmatic lack of clarity which pervades this series. If a show’s pilot is supposed to be a teaser trailer, an aesthetic exercise designed to build hype, then I would consider this to be moderately successful: there was absolutely nothing here which would keep me from tuning into the series in August. However, a pilot needs to be something more than a teaser trailer, and the series’ shortcuts in establishing both its central character and its central conspiracy show a lack of elegance which does little to convince me that this belongs in the same breath as AMC’s other original series.
The Theme Song Lives: “Main Title Design” in 2009-10
April 19th, 2010
There’s a lot of news posts out there today which are viewing the elimination of the “Outstanding Main Title Theme Music” Emmy Award as a long overdue decision, a logical move to reflect the “death” of the theme song in modern television. I understand this impulse, and certainly think that there is an element of lament and loss to this particular development.
However, my immediate thought upon hearing this news was that it was perfectly logical: however, it is perfectly logical not because the theme song is irrelevant, but rather because the theme song is no longer a distinct element of a show’s identity. Just look at the winners over the past three years: two went to theme songs to anthology series (Masters of Horror in 2007 and Great Performances in 2009), and the other went to CBS’ Pirate Master (which was a complete and total bomb). The fact of the matter is that these are probably very impressive compositions which have had absolutely no staying power as pieces of music due to their lack of connection with the role of the Main Titles, as I discussed in earnest a few months back.
Really, the award for “Main Title Theme Music” is now wrapped up in the “Outstanding Main Title Design” category – I would personally consider theme song to be part of the opening credits design, and I’m presuming that a good theme has played a role in past winners like Six Feet Under, United States of Tara and Dexter taking the award. While I don’t know if the Academy would go so far as to include composers within this category as a way to honour them for their work (for the record, I support such a motion), I do hope that the role of the theme song within these openings becomes more important. It’s always one of my favourites to predict in each given year, and I think that this almost makes that category more interesting as we see whether a quality theme song plays an even more substantial role in this year’s winners and nominees.
And so out of respect to the composers who continue to write main title themes, and due to my love for both main title sequences and Emmy predictions, I figured I’d run down the contenders for this year’s Emmy for Outstanding Main Title Design (all of which feature effective use of music, albeit some using pre-existing musical soundtrack).
By cleverly combining the most buzz-worthy (the sex) and the most subtle (post-recession America) qualities of the series into a single set of images, the opening very clearly lays out both the tone and the premise of the show in an iconic fashion.
HBO’s The Pacific
I will be honest: I’m not a huge fan of this credits sequence. As impressive as the style of the piece is, and as strong as the theme may be in its own right, I think it’s honestly too long and has absolutely no sense of narrative or function beyond the stylistic flourishes of the charcoal. They’re guaranteed a nomination based on the strong technical work, but I haven’t watched them since the premiere.
FOX’s Human Target
While these credits deserve to be here stylistically, I think that the thematic value of these credits is perhaps their most important role: they very clearly place the series within the area of James Bond through the aesthetic choices, and the great main theme song from Bear McCreary informs us that this will in some ways be a throwback to something familiar and that some would consider to be old-fashioned. It really captures the tone of the series, which is something that any Main Title should strive towards.
In this week’s review of AMC’s remake of The Prisoner, I wrote at length about what I saw as a failure of the show’s narrative: in my eyes, the series struggled due to a lack of information that resulted in no emotional connection with the characters and, as a result, no real connection to the story. I resisted the argument that the series’ sense of mystery, and its complex thematic conclusion, justify this structure, and friend of the blog David J. Loehr brought up a great example to support my point:
It makes me think of Hitchcock’s example of the “bomb under the table” idea, that you can show ten minutes of two men having the most boring lunchtime conversation ever and BOOM, their table blows up. That’s a cheap thrill at the end of ten boring minutes. Or you could show the bomb under the table, then continue the exact same scene, boring conversation and all, except now it’s fraught with tension as you wait for the bomb to go off. The sixth episode is the bomb, at least in this example if not in modern lingo.
However, based on conversations I had with some of the always great posters at NeoGAF and today’s Futures of Entertainment 4 panel on Producing Transmedia Experiences: Participation and Play, I’m starting to understand why some have argued that the series was actually a success. It seems that those who enjoyed the miniseries are those who so inherently bought into the sense of mystery and intrigue (inspired both by the density of this miniseries and the decades of debate over the meaning of the original series) to the point where they began to see narrative gaps as clues, and inconsistencies as paradoxes meant to be seen as part of the broader narrative.
I would argue this was not by design, and that these viewers are taking poor execution and turning it into a game that the writers and directors didn’t actually create. They have effectively “gamed” the miniseries, taking a trend that is popular within serial dramas like Lost and applying it regardless of whether it is actually part of an intended transmedia experience.
It’s a behaviour that indicates television has become an environment of “game” (by providing a clear sense of how audience can participate in the construction of narrative) or be “gamed,” and that AMC missed an opportunity to improve the response and increase the impact of the miniseries by not actively pursuing this avenue.
There’s a moment in the final hour of AMC’s remake of The Prisoner where I started to realize where its real problem lies. This is not to say that I haven’t been realizing the show’s problems from the word go, as the first five hours of the show were highly problematic, but when Ian McKellen’s 2 utters the above line I realized that this is where the intentions of the miniseries went awry.
There are problems with the thematic content of this miniseries, but the real problem is how the writer chose to structure this story in order to create a sense of mystery that was ultimately more vague than it was exciting. In the eyes of the writers, the climax of this story is when the story becomes clear to the audience, and the purpose of the rest of the miniseries is to effectively buy time and confuse us until we’re so desperate for clarity that when we receive it we give ourselves over to the truth. And, to some degree, the strategy worked: the final hour was, in fact, the best of this miniseries primarily because it was finally revealing and engaging with the larger thematic issues being discussed.
However, the problem with this strategy is that the cloudiness of the first four and a half hours of the miniseries not only made us hunger for thrills but also destroyed any sense of thematic consistency and, as a result, destroyed audience interest. While the theme presented at the end of the miniseries is actually compelling, it was so wholly absent for the first four hours (in particular) that it ends up depending entirely on the audience’s willingness to slog through an abstract and experimental four hours where the writer keeps adding new elements to the series when it’s in some way convenient for them as opposed to when it feels earned or natural.
While the miniseries eventually creates a compelling image of modern society, it’s an image that does little to make the first hour hours any better, and in some ways makes them even more irrelevant. It results in a miniseries that is the absolute worst sort of failure, where an intriguing idea and a couple of strong performances are executed in such a way to rob them of any potential to move their intended audience.