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TV: Why I Don't Like Gilligan's Island Syndrome - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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November 22nd, 2006


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02:20 am - TV: Why I Don't Like Gilligan's Island Syndrome
A bit less than a decade ago, when discussing both Star Trek: Voyager and The X-Files, a friend described them both as ultimately being like Gilligan's Island in that the protagonists could not "get off the island" w/o ending the show (in the case of Voyager, this would mean returning to Federation Space, while in the case of The X-Files, this would mean either finding out about "The Conspiracy" or successfully making it's plans and existence public.

Having physical limits, like in Gilligan's Island or Voyager has been common in TV shows for decades and it can be handled well if "getting off the island" is not too much of a focus for the show. Having characters repeatedly attempt tasks that you know they must fail at for the show to continue soon becomes pointless and annoying, but for all it's faults Voyager only did this sort of thing occasionally and in at least one episode actually managed to make it interesting.

Recently, TV has been imitating the model of The X-Files, with shows ranging from Millennium, Nowhere Man, Lost, and most recently Daybreak. In these shows, instead of a physical limit, the "island" in the show is defined as some unanswerable mystery or secret. While I loved The X-Files when it first came out, I lost interest by the middle third season, in large part because the "big secret" became increasingly important and we soon got to the point where Mulder and Scully learning small useful hints about "The Conspiracy" was replaced by them being tricked, fooled, or learning only trivial details. Lost seems to be the stereotypical show of this (to me at least) exceptionally frustrating genre. I only watched part of one episode in the first season, but from both watching it and from discussion of the show I encountered on-line, it was exceedingly clear that this would be a show where "getting off the island" in both a physical and in informational sense would be impossible until the end of the show and that teasing viewers with tantalizing hints of the various mysteries was being used as a way to increase audience interest. Oddly, in my own case, such tactics have become a method guaranteed to cause me to lose all interest in a show.

I vastly prefer shows like Buffy or Angel, where the immediate problems or mysteries are solved at the end of a season or like Babylon 5, which was not afraid to resolve on major tension and replace it with another. I vividly remember the point where B5 went from a show that I enjoyed to one that deeply impressed me – in the third season, the growing tensions with Earth were resolved by the station declaring independence from Earth. I did not see that coming and instead expected a more frustrating show about continued and increasing covert resistance. I like shows that are not afraid to change and shows built along a Gilligan's Island model are inherently static. In addition to the somewhat lower quality of the writing, one of the reasons I lost interest in The Dead Zone series is that by the middle of the third season it was been transformed from a show that was willing to change to another victim of Gilligan's Island syndrome, with the unresolveable Greg Stillson plotlines.

I do know that several people reading this are or at least were big fans of shows like Lost, I'm curious as to what the appeal of such shows is, since more me they inevitably result in increasing frustration. Why do you like them?
Current Mood: annoyedannoyed

(11 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:mesila
Date:November 22nd, 2006 10:49 am (UTC)

Whatdya expect, it's TV!

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Why do you even bother with TV?

TV is made for the lowest common denominator. Which, in turn, causes the tilt of the mind towards its own lowest common denominators. At least you can see the inanity of it, but why complain?

I come at this issue from an admittedly strong anti-TV bias having been raised by parents who were otherwise perfect but hideously addicted to television, so much so that we lived in a one-storey suburban house and owned FIVE TELEVISION SETS...so much so that Mom and Dad fell asleep and left their set on, and their bedroom was adjacent to mine, so I got to fall asleep to TV from the time I was three til the day I left for University.

I don't like what this has done to me. I meet people who grew up in non-television-saturated surroundings and they invariably have a richer variety of knowledge in their heads filling up their brain's hard-drives, while I have "Plop Plop Fizz Fizz Oh What A Relief it Is" and "Please Don't Squeeze The Charmin" and "Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale..." swimming around up there.

I know, at least they weren't drunkards or molestors, but it does kind of suck.

Defenestrate the thing and read. You'll find much better plots accrue in environments that don't have "solution to the problem in 20-45 minutes" as a necessary condition.
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From:heron61
Date:November 22nd, 2006 11:01 am (UTC)

Re: Whatdya expect, it's TV!

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I would have agreed with you until the mid 90s, but with the presence of some well done geek action shows like Buffy, combined with my obtaining a Tivo (watch whatever you want, whenever you want) it's become quite worthwhile. I watch on average 5-7 hours of TV/week and in addition to some excellent and informative cooking shows and one or two science or history documentaries, there are also a very few fun action shows. Watching 30+ hours of TV/week baffles me, but for me it's much like watching movies (I often see between 1 and 3 films a week, preferably in theaters), there is much crap, but good stuff can be found in almost any medium. Then again, I also read between 1 and 5 comic books/week (as well as between 1 and 3 novels or non-fiction books a week).
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From:mesila
Date:November 23rd, 2006 06:29 am (UTC)

Re: Whatdya expect, it's TV!

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I watch on average 5-7 hours of TV/week and in addition to some excellent and informative cooking shows and one or two science or history documentaries, there are also a very few fun action shows.

I don't want to come off like people do when they're lecturing me about my drug habits or anything...we all have the Bad Things that for whatever reason are Good Things to us sometimes. But TV is really insidious. One of my dealers leaves his set on constantly watching the sort of content you describe here, except for cooking shows. (I never understood the draw there. If I want to cook something give me a recipe card or a book and some simple instructions I can follow while in the kitchen. I hate the deeply-accentuated prate that those cooking and painting and other "let me show you how it is done" shows...it's just a peeve.)I don't think he has Tivo but he has 86000 cable channels and the guy is turning into mush. (He doesn't use his products, so it's not that.)

I'll come over, wanting to do my thing and get out and he'll be sitting there falling into the set while I am talking to him, making grunting noises. It makes me want to put a brick into it.

The worst part is that these days you get the propaganda thrown at you in such high doses. I've seen people end up questioning their own values after a year of having the unluck to end up with a TV watching roommate.

It's not that I have not had a few scattered enjoyments there. Mostly things like Dr. Who and Sid and Marty Krofft which just scream "early 1970s". But one can get that stuff on video or DVD.
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From:alephnul
Date:November 22nd, 2006 11:42 am (UTC)
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Lost/X Files style shows only really develop the Gilligan's Island problem after a while, since the characters are allowed to progressively learn new information about their situation for multiple episodes. The situation doesn't reset to zero after each episode, and they don't always fail. The problem with the early part of Lost/X Files style shows could be called the Twin Peaks problem (Twin Peaks seems like a progenitor of this style of show on tv). It is much easier to add new weird and enigmatic details than it is to tell a complex story that makes sense, but after a while of adding new weird and enigmatic details you reach the point where there is no possible explanation that matches everything that has been revealed. At that point, or shortly before that point, you reach something like the Gilligan's Island problem, since what the audience now wants is the explanation of the morass of unexplainable enigma, something that the writers can't provide, both because the show no makes no sense, and because providing the explanation would likely be the end of the show.

Lost had a pretty good run in the first season of piling on weird and enigmatic details, it even joked around with the Gilligan's Island problem (in one series of episodes, some of the characters build a raft to try to get off the island, when it gets burned down, they start over again and build another raft, which they then attempt to escape on. Of course, they do fail to escape in the end, although they do learn big new enigmatic details in the process, but just the act of trying something, failing, and then trying the same thing again is a violation of the Gilligan's Island formula). It wasn't a good shows, but it was amusing. The second season, the writers realized that they didn't have a big payoff, and they started stalling. Most of the second season is a complete waste of time, and the end of season reveal (which did end up changing things hugely) still didn't feel like enough, given how much stalling we had endured. Beginning of third season did radically change things, but not enough to make us actually interested in continuing to watch.

At the beginning of Lost, it seemed possible that it would do something other than stall out (not likely, but possible). That is mostly what made it interesting.
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From:teaotter
Date:November 22nd, 2006 07:23 pm (UTC)
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Off topic - the best part of your icon is knowing that it's a real wall in your house, not some Photoshopped oddness of diagonal purple stripes. Just saying. *g*
[User Picture]
From:alephnul
Date:November 23rd, 2006 10:05 am (UTC)
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There's another Radcliffe photo I've been thinking about making into an Icon that has her against my bright pink sheets, purple comforter and teal wall, with a bit of coral pink trim in it. Still not as impressive as Barry's wall, I'll admit.
From:jdettman
Date:November 22nd, 2006 01:59 pm (UTC)
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"I do know that several people reading this are or at least were big fans of shows like Lost, I'm curious as to what the appeal of such shows is, since more me they inevitably result in increasing frustration. Why do you like them?"

Well, speaking for myself, and possibly my wife, the main appeal of Lost is the characters. At least, it is now.

When the show began, the main focus was the mystery because that was what was going to draw you in because you didn't know anything about the characters. As the show progresses, though, the mystery becomes less interesting but the characters have had time to develop.

So, now we want to see more of their stories, more of the flashbacks that tell us who they were, and we want to see how they react to what is happening to them and how they change in response to their situation.

Sure, everybody knows that they aren't going to be rescued next week but that is just part of suspending disbelief for any fantasy. Without the island they wouldn't be Lost, would they?
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From:jholloway
Date:November 22nd, 2006 02:39 pm (UTC)
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There also appears to be a bit of anti-Lost backlash these days, as it becomes increasingly clear that they're just making shit up as they go along (not that I've watched it since Season 1).

On the other hand, maybe it's a sort of Huis Clos thing, where the island and the mystery are just a sort of device to keep the characters together where they can interact and their flashback-stories can be told.

But again, there's only so much of that you can do.
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From:jiawen
Date:November 22nd, 2006 07:54 pm (UTC)
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I've kind of had this problem with Battlestar Galactica. They keep trying for bigger, badder cliffhangers, and it does feel at times like they're pulling them out of thin air. Do the Cylons have a plan? They make that promise to us at the beginning of every episode. But it increasingly feels like you can't even find two of the same model who agree, much less the entire race.

They're painting themselves into a corner, it seems. I'd like to see a few episodes where there's no attempt to make big cliffhangers, and where they just try to resolve previously-extant things instead. But I don't know if that's even possible anymore.
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From:heron61
Date:November 22nd, 2006 08:26 pm (UTC)
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I'm still watching because at the moment they seem willing to allow change. My interest was drastically waning until near the end of last season, when Caprica Six and the Boomer killed on Galactica convinced the Cylons to change their plans (my impression is that the Cylons now have a different plan than they previously did) and between that and the willingness to shake things up with the settlement and occupation of New Caprica, it's looking like the show is willing to do new things, which will keep me watching it. Once they stop doing this on a regular basis, I'll stop watching.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:November 22nd, 2006 08:26 pm (UTC)
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Heron61, a question for you:

What was it about the 1960s that inspired all this brain-dead television (Gilligan's Island, Green Acres, et. al.)? Of course, that was the decade that produced the Addams Family, which is my all-time facotire.

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