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March 6th, 2012


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03:21 am - Musings on TV, Fanfic, Continuity, and Change
I've given up on watching White Collar, to the point that after watching the season finale, I no longer particularly care what happens, and that got me thinking about the various reasons I watch and enjoy TV.

White Collar is one of a very small number of shows I started watching because I first encountered the fan-fic, which was largely fanfiction involving polyamorous triads, some of which was written by people who actually understood polyamory, which naturally made it of interest to me, and the show was enjoyable and pleasantly unusual for actually featuring a happy and functional married couple whose interactions did not have the hideousness that seem exceptionally common among TV het romances. However, I remained more interested in the fanfiction than the show, and so over the last season as the show slipped in quality and began a season-long plot that was both dismal and seemed to violate a number of established truths about several characters, my interest in the show waned. In addition to bad long-term plotting, I particularly noticed two problems. One was simply that the direction the show was taking made the fanfiction I liked increasingly less plausible for a number of reasons.

This is pretty much inevitable for long-term shows and is one reason that I've discovered that all of the shows I really like are ones where my enjoyment of the fan-fiction is secondary to my enjoyment of the show itself – as I've mentioned before, I'm a huge fan of Fringe (in fact, teaotter and I are gradually rewatching seasons 2 & 3 with amberite (who didn't have time to see it when Becca and I first watched it a few months ago), and I'm enjoying it almost as much the second time around), and I've tried reading Fringe fanfiction, but haven't found anything I have more than a passing interest in. At this point, I'll keep looking for good fic for shows that I enjoy, but it's clear that I should avoid shows if what I enjoy most about them is the fanfic.

Also, another problem I with White Collar is something that I periodically see in TV, and unwillingless to alter either the basic premise or the basic character dynamic, even when events on the show make one or both of these changes seem inevitable. White Collar set out the two protagonists as the untrustworthy and undisciplined con-man and the by the book, law-abiding FBI agent. By the end of the second season, this dynamic had changed, and the attempt to reset it in the last season felt forced. For the past 20+ years, TV has increasingly been dominated by shows which have a large degree of series-long continuity, and the older episodic (and IMHO largely far inferior) shows have faded away. However, it's clear that some people working in TV have habits formed by working on or watching episodic TV and the result is typically annoying and problematic. Also, one of the things I love about modern TV is long-term story arcs. I love good long-term story arcs, including both season-long story arcs or multi-season arcs as well as long-term arcs focused on how characters change and grow, and it's become clear to me that I'll tolerate a large number of episodes of exceedingly dodgy plots if the long-term story or character arcs are done well.

For example, Fringe has truly awesome small details, impressively excellent character arcs and long-term story arcs, as well as wonder character interaction, but many of the individual episode plots that are not focused on the long-term arcs are ludicrously dumb, and yet it's my second favorite show (after The Vampire Diaries, which has both excellent long term arcs and often equally good episode plots). In contrast, I remember that the X-Files often had quite good individual episodes, but the long-term story arc was frustrating and increasingly stupid, and so by the middle of the 4th season, I stopped watching it. Similarly, when White Collar fell down on the long term story and character arcs, I lost interest.
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Comments:


[User Picture]
From:ladyjestyr
Date:March 6th, 2012 02:17 pm (UTC)
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I've long found that the shows I really like are the ones where I feel little urge to read the fanfic, because the show is so good that there aren't many holes to fill. It's the inferior shows - the ones with so much potential that lie wasted in the hands of TPTB - that spawn the best fic, IMO, because there's so much for the writers to do.
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:March 6th, 2012 08:52 pm (UTC)
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I entirely agree. From what I've seem, most good shows have an insufficient number of loose ends for much fic, and some exceptionally good shows develop the characters sufficiently well that the doubts, hints, and unanswered questions about characters that are the basis of much good fic are largely all revealed within the show.
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From:china_shop
Date:March 7th, 2012 12:19 am (UTC)
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As a huge White Collar fan, I totally agree that watching for the plot (such as it is) is a mistake. I watch for the characters and the relationships/dynamics between the characters, and although I've had to mentally erase a chunk of season 3, I'm still enjoying it enough to keep tuning in. But that's largely because what I want from a fannish show is for it to provide fun building blocks for me to play with. So long as they don't mess that up too much, I'm not hugely invested in what they do with the plot arc or plots of the week.

Conversely, the problem I'm having with Fringe is that they got me invested in a bunch of characters and then hit the reset button and made those characters disappear. I am still waiting to find out what's up with blue universe Walter and Olivia and Astrid. I miss them! And I want to know more about red universe Olivia and Charlie and Lincoln. But the show is busy with its clever twisty plot and doesn't seem to care that they stole those people away from us.

My partner told me the other day about an article he read theorising that HBO had ruined TV by making all shows try to be arcy like The Wire, even ones ill-suited to it or ones that aren't quite clever enough to pull it off. I think there's a place for episodic TV -- for people who don't want to have to tune in every week, or just for certain set-ups where it makes sense. Personally I like a mix of arc and stand-alones, but then, I imprinted on BtVS. :-)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:March 7th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
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How much of Season 4 have you watched so far?
[User Picture]
From:china_shop
Date:March 7th, 2012 01:52 am (UTC)
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Of Fringe? All of it.

ETA: And yes, I know that amber universe everyone might well be blue universe everyone, but they don't feel the same, and all their communal history was erased, so it's not being in a meaningful sense, imo.

Edited at 2012-03-07 01:54 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:heron61
Date:March 7th, 2012 09:17 am (UTC)
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*nods* I know what you mean. It's been interesting to see Amberverse Astrid and how much more active she is, and I loved seeing her meet Redverse Astrid in "Making Angels", but I miss Blueverse Walter - this Walter is so much more damaged that it's sometimes hard to watch.

I've been pleased, intrigued and surprised to see Blueverse Olvia back again, I'm also definitely assuming that we'll be seeing Blueverse again soon (presumably at the end of this season, but they could surprise me by doing this earlier). My guess is that they'll parallel the end of Season 3 (since this season seems to be all about parallels) and have Olivia get killed like September told her she would, and then Peter jumps to (or reverts the universe to Blueverse, where she is still alive.

As for White Collar, I never expected much of the plots, but the character stuff in Seasons 1 & 2 was spot on, and the character stuff in Season 3 was often really annoying. I'll likely try the first episode of Season 4, and if they actually make a significant point of Peter now being willing to bend the rules for Neal, I might get into it again, but at this point, I expect they'll just try another character reset, with untrustworthy Neal and law-abiding Peter, which was so clearly not true in the finale.
[User Picture]
From:china_shop
Date:March 12th, 2012 10:05 pm (UTC)
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"Making Angels" has definitely been the highlight of this season for me. So much love for all the Astrids!

but at this point, I expect they'll just try another character reset, with untrustworthy Neal and law-abiding Peter, which was so clearly not true in the finale.

I'm more hopeful, but it's White Collar, so I'm not going to stake my reputation on it or anything. ;-)

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