High-Stakes Hippie Love-Fests

Note: This post does not include anything about medicine. Is that okay?

For whatever reason, I am completely caught up with all the shows I have chosen to follow. Which tells me I haven’t been writing enough recently.

(You know, I was completely TV-show-less for about five years. What happened? I blame med school; sometimes you just can’t write when you come home from the hospital. And you just can’t sleep either. I also blame the internet, for making TV shows accessible to me even though I don’t own a set. I also blame the fact that there’s some really neat writing going on in TV-land recently. Sometimes it’s hard to turn away.)

Anyway, I don’t like being caught up. When I come home, I want to turn my brain off and be told a story that re-energizes me in the way that the best stories can. But I have to wait until people start putting out new episodes again.

But this spate of TV-show famine got me thinking about what it is about a TV show that sucks me in. Because I’ve become hooked on a number of shows practically against my will, and I’ve also bounced off a number of shows that other people seem to really like.

Here are some shows that I’ve deeply enjoyed. (In no particular order.)

The West Wing
Pushing Daisies
Warehouse 13
Doctor Who
Stargate SG-1
Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip
The Big Bang Theory

Here are a few shows that I’ve recently tried, but have been unable to get enthusiastic about.

Battlestar Galactica
Stargate Universe

I realized that the first group of shows have something in common: They’re centered around a small group of people who genuinely like and respect each other (with some petty-but-affectionate sniping allowed, to flavor the interactions.)

The second group of shows have groups of characters who seem to be in constant, negative-vibes, uncomfortable conflict.

Now, conflict definitely drives a storyline. It’s important. But you’d be hard-pressed to deny that there’s a good amount of conflict in any of the shows in the first group. So what’s the difference?

I’m not much of a sports fan, and I certainly don’t have any loyalty to any sports team (much to the chagrin of my friends who want to bait me across state lines when there’s a classic rivalry). But I do enjoy the occasional game between evenly-matched teams. And I am always secretly rooting for the basketball teams that have the most complex passing patterns; the teams that look like they’re moving as a single organism.

It looks like I have a preference for conflict external to the central group rather than internal. I love watching people play as a team. And that seems to bleed over into my story preferences.

I’m definitely not saying that there can’t be any internal conflict; I was blown away by the genuine-ness of the fights that the crew of Serenity had with each other. But their fights were always driven by a deep streak of “I’m fighting because I give a damn about what happens to all of us.”

Contrast this with the shows in the second group, which also had a group of characters with problems to solve. . . but they work against each other as much as or more than they work against their various antagonizing forces. With very sparse exception, there’s no mutual affection anywhere to latch onto. I just don’t LIKE anyone enough to root for them.

I guess there’s only so much angst I can take. Give me a show with a bunch of people who have each other’s back. Give me a group to root for as they take on the world. Not because it’s their job. I mean, it can start there. But it really has to develop into true I-give-a-damn-itude in order to hold my fascination.

My favorite shows, therefore, seem to be the high-stakes hippie love-fests.

Note: Oh, man. It looks like I was talking about medicine after all. I’ll tell you why later on.

But how about you? What do your favorite shows/stories seem to have in common? And how does your work use (or fail to use) that commonality?

Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 12:48 pm  Comments (19)  
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