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Noah Forrest

By Noah Forrest Forrest@moviecitynews.com

Television Goldmine

I’ve written about this subject several times over the past few years, but now it seems like it’s gaining steam more and more: television is a much more interesting landscape than film these days. That is not to say that I think all TV shows are better than all movies, but that I think television is an inherently more fascinating medium for character-based narratives. In a film, we get maybe three hours to see a character develop and grow and change; in television, we could have upwards of a hundred hours. Great film actors like Daniel Day-Lewis are able craft a persona and give us an idea of the depth of a character in something like There Will Be Blood, but how do I compare that greatness to, say, Jon Hamm’s creation of Don Draper on Mad Men.  It’s almost impossible to compare the two, but when all is said and done, I will probably feel like I know Don Draper and his motivations better than Daniel Plainview.

I was realizing just that point when I was watching Mad Men this past Sunday.  I’ve gotten to know Don Draper so well at this point that I feel like I can guess what he may or may not to do in any given situation.  That might make it sound really boring, like it would take the fun and excitement out of it, but instead it made me feel comfortable with the fact that I’ve spent almost four seasons getting to know this person (upwards of 40 hours) and now I know his tics.  And that’s a testament to the acting of Jon Hamm, that he’s able to convey the feelings that I know Don is having, but without having to state it as such.  Every furrow of the brow, every hesitation of an inhalation of cigarette, every faux-tender kiss on a woman’s mouth…we know what Don is feeling as he lies to the world.

It’s not just on Mad Men either.  All across the television landscape, there are shows and characters that are just starting to scratch the surface of what can be done with the medium.  No longer do we have stand-alone episodes of every show where we follow one character as they solve a mystery.  No, now we have mysteries and narratives that last for the entire length of a show’s run and characters that fall believably in and out of love.

Look, I will always love movies with all my heart – it’s my primary passion.  But even I can’t deny that television is kicking some serious ass right now.  It’s starting to feel more and more like film is the equivalent of a short story while TV shows are novels.  That’s not a knock on films at all, as some of the best stories are short ones.  But, I’ve got it on pretty good authority that Boardwalk Empire is going to kick all of our asses when it debuts on HBO in a couple weeks.  And, you know, it’s gotta say something when even Scorsese is noticing what television can offer these days.

4 Responses to “Television Goldmine”

  1. Amazing mob at Lovato’s Hotel in Toronto today! I was right behind 2 idiots who were much taller than me!

  2. We tried their restaurant and had the exact same experience.

  3. christian says:

    So tired of this meme. TV is for people who want a continuing serial. Do not confuse it with the theatrical experience. I find the overreaching suspect — I think people want to justify how many hours a week they spend watching these shows and then demanding that “you don’t get it unless you get to episode 25 of the sixth season.”

    And why are all TV characters scumbags these days?

  4. hcat says:

    I am quite a snob about television having spent most of the last two decades with Rabbit Ears and missing the “Golden Age of Cable”. And while I always thought the intention of a television program was simply to keep you interested through the commercial break, I have to say this season of Mad Men is absolutly incredible and keeps suprising me with little moments of brilliance.

    One person’s scumbag is another person’s complex character.

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“The core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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