August 29, 2013

Doomed TV Couples - Imminent Break-Ups Don't Keep Me From Watching

Reign premieres October 17, 2013
I read this article about Reign, a show I've posted about before, and I have to say, I think it is a little ridiculous that any viewer would expect a show on the CW to maintain historical accuracy. (And I don't think the CW has to.)

But all this got me thinking: Surely one fact that the writers won't take creative liberty with is Prince Francis's fate. (He dies two years after they marry. And that's not a spoiler, because it's historical fact.) Knowing this, knowing the inevitable break-up of Mary and Francis's relationship is imminent, should we still watch and/or care?

I say yes, because there have been plenty of doomed relationships in television history, and none of them kept me from watching. There are, of course, the relationships that we expect to fail or hope will fail or fear will fail (like Ryan and Kelly on The Office, The O.C.'s Ryan and Marissa, and Lost's Sun and Jin, respectively.*) But I'm talking about the ones we are certain will fail. Like these:

The Anti-Canonical Couple
This is the category into which Mary and Francis fall: Couples we know won't last because their story has already been written and told. If they ended up together, it would go against the canon. A notable example is Smallville's Clark and Lana.
More than a picket fence will eventually separate these two, am I right?
Everybody knows Clark Kent will end up with Lois Lane. But does that make Clark's relationship with Lana unimportant? Of course not. It was a vital step in his growing up, which is what the show was all about anyway.

The Pilot Betrayal Couple
There are some shows that tell the audience from the very beginning who is going to end up with who. Yes, I'm talking about Rachel and Ross. That's why Rachel and Joey are a couple who betray the pilot of Friends.
Ross is fine. Really, he's fine.
Source: Friends Wiki
Cheesy as it was, the pilot's gazing out the window scene set up a romance from which there was no turning back. When Rachel detoured to Joey, fans revolted, but they didn't need to. Rachel and Joey were doomed from the start. Another couple in this category is Gossip Girl's Blair and Dan, since the pilot dictated that the primary romance of the show would be between Serena and Dan.

The Couple Who Wouldn't Have Lasted Much Longer
Then there are the shows that don't last long enough for the couple to fail. The exceptional and delightful show Pushing Daisies (which you must watch if you haven't) offers us an example in this category: Chuck and Ned.
That's about as close as they can ever get, folks.
Their relationship hinged entirely on the fact that if they touched, she would die. Even though Pushing Daisies is fantastical, the rules of the fantasy were inescapable. If the show had lasted beyond its two seasons, Ned and Chuck's relationship restrictions would have stopped being endearing.

All of these couples remind me that knowing a relationship will end doesn't make watching it play out on screen any less entertaining. In fact, in the best written shows, it can be even more entertaining, because we can focus on the details rather than the overarching "will they or won't they" question.

*All in my humble opinion, of course.

August 13, 2013

Under the Dome: "Thicker Than Water" Review

It's been a few weeks since I've written about Under the Dome, and things have gone from bad to worse in Chester's Mill. They also haven't gotten that much better in terms of the show's writing or acting, but I don't need to talk about that again.

Regardless, last night's episode, "Thicker Than Water," was a pretty good one. It didn't advance the plot much, but as its title suggests, it delved into family relationships, offering character insights that up until this point, the show had lacked. At the start of the episode, we learned that Big Jim is just about the worst father since Darth Vader, kicking his psychotic son Junior out of the house in a fit of rage. I'll admit, this made me laugh out loud. I mean, where's he gonna go? Later, we learned that Junior's mother, who he believed died accidentally, actually committed suicide. There was a lot of blame bouncing between the father and son, which may explain both their fragile relationship, and their fragile grasps on reality.

Alexander Koch as "Junior"
The episode's title was also a play on words, as the main plot line focused on a feud between Big Jim and Ollie over the town's water supply. Big Jim recruits a group of townspeople to storm Ollie's property and seize control of his well. (Is it just me, or do the residents of Chester's Mill seem particularly predisposed to vigilante violence?) The twist here is that he'll also be opposing his son who, in your typical act of teenage rebellion, has joined forces with his father's nemesis.  Barbie, however, concocts an alternate plan. He believes the best choice is to blow up Ollie's well, diverting the water to the town's reservoir. To the viewer, this seems like the good solution, and a way to prevent bloodshed. But Big Jim protests that there's no way to be certain that the explosion won't taint the entire supply of water. This is another in a line of reasonable concerns from the unreasonable councilman.

For better or worse, Under the Dome is good at keeping the viewer guessing who the true villain of the story is. Certainly, neither Ollie or Big Jim is to be rooted for. Both of them are willing to lie, steal, and even kill for their own selfish gain. And while Barbie often comes out looking like the hero, we can't forget that the first time we met him, he was burying the body of a man he murdered - a man whose wife he's now sleeping with. Not exactly heroic qualities. Junior, for all his faults and acts of kidnapping and murder (add Ollie to his list of victims), is looking more and more like a victim himself, if only of his father's horrific parenting. Of course, many of these villainous actions wouldn't have happened if the Dome hadn't fallen. So does that mean the villain is the Dome itself? Norrie certainly seems to think so, blaming the mysterious phenomenon, as well as Joe and ultimately herself, for her mother's death.

Now that the Dome is speaking through hallucinations (do I need to reference Lost again?), it may become easier to view the fishbowl anthropomorphically. Even if the Dome is the bad guy, though, are the residents of Chester's Mill really the good ones? I suppose things aren't that simple when your town is "cut off from the rest of the world by a mysterious dome." Normally, I would say that makes a story good. Stories shouldn't be basic and characters shouldn't be one-dimensional, but I'm having trouble finding anyone in Chester's Mill heroic (or interesting) enough to root for. I'm hoping that changes by the end of the season.

Speaking of which, I was somewhat bemused to hear that Under the Dome has been renewed for a second season. Bemused, but also encouraged. It's always a risk to invest in a summer show, as these are so often short lived. So it's nice to know the snowglobe town will be waiting for me when summer 2014 rolls around.