Wanted: Explosions

Burn Notice’s season ended just in time for Leverage’s to pick back up. I like both shows for mostly different reasons, but there’s one appeal that they both share: Competent characters.

This is not a given. Most sitcoms feature characters who introduce conflict by acting like idiots for twenty minutes. The moronic hero is so common in shonen anime and its derivations that it’s a cliche. Even reality TV is about people who are quote-unquote famous despite being loathsome fools. Patton Oswalt said something in an interview that’s stuck with me for a while… we used to lionize people because they had a talent, because they could do something no one else could, or that we wished we could. Now we make celebrities out of the people we hold in contempt, secure in the knowledge that no matter how bad we’ve got it, at least we’re not as dumb as those people — and that’s how you get the Kardashians becoming household names.

But neither Burn Notice nor Leverage is like that. They star seasoned professionals who know what they’re doing and rarely make obvious mistakes, who can think three or four moves ahead and can get inside their enemies’ heads. Leverage showrunner John Rogers (aka Kung Fu Monkey) calls this “competence porn”, and that’s as good a phrase as any. It’s nice to have heroes who win not due to luck or authorial intervention or nebulous “heart”, but because they know their business and do their homework.

My only problem with Leverage — and it is very much my problem, not one inherent to the show — is that there isn’t enough action. Aside from Eliot’s one fight scene a week, the show is mostly about the main characters sneaking around and outsmarting the bad guys. Which is fun, but… I’ve really been wanting another show that really hits that kung fu/gunplay/explosions button. I had high hopes for Covert Affairs, which USA advertised as being behind one of the creators of the Bourne movies… surely he knows his way around a flashy spy show, right? But the very first scene of the pilot dealt with the heroine’s relationship drama, and it escalated from there. I do not care about the heroine’s love life. I do not care about the heroine’s best friend’s love life. I do not care about the heroine’s bosses’ rocky marriage. I sure as fuck don’t care about the heroine’s sister, who doesn’t know about her job and seems to only exist to make humorously ironic remarks (“Oh, Annie, it’s a good thing you’re not a spy — you can’t keep secrets at all!” *cue laugh track*) All I want out of my action shows is enough plot to keep me moving from one flashy setpiece to the next, and no more. I gave it a season, and while the actual espionage-related stuff was fun, there was too much of that extra… well, crap… for me to really enjoy it.

I’ve realized in recent years that I watch American television for one of two reasons: Genuinely clever writing, or sheer spectacle. There’s been a boom of long-form, vaguely supernatural mystery series in recent years as a result of LOST’s popularity, but those shows almost never do anything for me — I always get the feeling that I’m being strung along, that the writers never have a real endgame in mind and are just making it up as they go. Medical, legal, and police procedural programs are still as boring to me now as they were years ago — have any of those genres advanced at all? So, either you have great writing (Futurama, Leverage) or you’re showing me something that keeps me on the edge of my seat and dazzles the eye (Burn Notice, most animated series that I like).

I don’t think I’m being unreasonable here… I just want to see things blow up. TV producers, you’re on notice.


1 Response to “Wanted: Explosions”

  1. 1 kaisel December 20, 2010 at 3:27 pm

    On a side note, the “competent character” thing is something that I love in shows, and probably why I rate a lot of highly rated heroic shows lower than most folks. I can only take so much of the heroes getting beat/screwed, before I realize that I’d rather the villains win so someone competent could take over.

    Which, incidentally, is why I like Leverage so much, the heroes actually accomplish stuff, and any set back is temporary because of their skill, rather than a deus ex machina.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s