Friends, I don’t exactly live a life of suspense and international intrigue; I don’t think that shocks anyone. A little writing, some booze, some ambitious guitar playin’ – this is what passes for excitement around here. A fine example was this weekend: A nice dinner, renting Marley and Me with the wife (a movie which made me suicidal; I spent Saturday night alone in the dark in the bathroom with a bottle of rye) and a great deal of puttering. This is a good thing, because I’ve reached the Age of Honesty with Yourself, and I know I am no John McClane in secret. If I were to stumble into Die Hard, I’d be one of the extras who gets machine-gunned for no reason, probably standing by the buffet with a cheese puff halfway to my mouth.
Anyway, one of the other exciting things I did this weekend was try to watch the first episode of Syfy‘s* new show, Warehouse 13. I figure it’s a SF show, so I might as well take a gander, as you get few decent SF shows to watch. Also, Syfy’s offering it as a free on-demand show in my cable neighborhood, so why not? So one night while stalking cats through the house I put it on. For five minutes.
I can’t really say this show is bad, or good, or anything. All I can tell you is the first five minutes were so leaden and cliched I couldn’t go on. You know the old chestnut teachers pass on to writers in workshops and classes, “Grab the reader with the first line”? Well, it’s a good piece of advice (though, as with all advice, your mileage may vary and you should never hesitate to ignore it if you’re sure of yourself) and it applies to TV shows too. The first five minutes of Warehouse 13 were plain old boring.
Let’s see: Beautiful but cold and businesslike female agent? Check. Handsome and rakish male agent who breaks the rules but is a genius, and also too sleeps with more women than Hugh Hefner? Check. An adversarial relationship between them that includes sexual tension and grudging respect? Check. And you know immediately that they’ll be forced to work together despite their sincere pleas against it? Oh, I’m sure: Check.
I don’t know if the story itself was interesting, because I almost passed out at that point, contemplating the well-run rut of these character types. Sweet lord, I can even pinpoint season three, episode seven when they’re forced to share a hotel room on a rainy night and he sees her stripping out of her wet clothes and their eyes meet. I mean, really, is this the best they can do? If this were a book this is the equivalent of making the first line an instruction to go read other, more interesting books first.
Maybe the story was fascinating. Maybe it was the best SF concept in years, well-written and well-filmed. Who knows? I may never. Every time I even relive that opening scene in my head I start to feel sleepy.
There would have been six million better ways to open the show or draw the characters. Almost any other concept would have been better. Even simply switching the sex roles and making her the sexually irresistible playgirl and him the uptight perfectionist would have, if nothing else, made me give the show ten more minutes to at least find out what the premise of the episode was going to be. As it is this might as well have been sketched out by one of those script-writing programs, which it may well have been. And it reinforces my suspicion that the folks who run Syfy think that SF fans will watch anything as long as it a) has monsters, b) has aliens or ghosts, or c) has a passing resemblance to The X Files.
The lesson here is that you’ve got to put some effort into the opening of any story. You can’t expect folks to wade through a large amount of boring rubbish to discover a bit of genius on page 35, or after the first commercial break. Like I said: I don’t know if W13 is a good show or not. I may yet give it another chance, but right now I’m not inclined to do so, because why? I feel like I know exactly how the characters will behave, I feel like I could write the first twenty minutes of this show without a single note from the producers. Maybe there’s a shocking twist, maybe if I’d given it five more minutes I would have been rewarded with an interesting inversion or a great play on my cynical expectations. Maybe. And maybe I’m a boor for not having the intellectual fortitude to hang in there a few more minutes and see. Anything’s possible.
On the other hand, they could have simply made the beginning more interesting, and I wouldn’t have to wonder.