Friday, November 27, 2009

Nifty Stories about Television

Have you ever felt the extreme disappointment of discovering your favorite tv show has been cancelled? Maybe the ratings weren't high enough, the show never found its audience, or it didn't appeal to the mainstream. The reasons why the show wasn't a success means little to you because you loved it. You thought it was brilliant and funny - the best hour of entertainment on television. And now it's gone.

So who's to blame? The network, of course. The "evil" network that sees art and boils it down to the numbers, to how much money can be made by entertaining the masses. And in this game of profit, the stories that never make the cut are the cult hits. Did you know that the X-Files would have been cancelled for low ratings in its first season if it were televised today? Shows with a deep mythology, excellent characterization and quality storytelling cost money to make and bring in lower ratings than fluff entertainment reality tv shows (American Idol, Survivor, Big Brother) the networks can produce for a fraction of the price.

If you're looking for quality drama and science fiction, stop looking at the main networks and turn towards cable television. The main network stations have become killing grounds for stories that dare to put writing and acting that work towards presenting the highest quality entertainment ahead of cheap tricks and flash. One of the most critically acclaimed comedies in the past few years, Arrested Development, barely limped on to air for three seasons even with several Emmy wins and one Golden Globe.

In a world where award-winning entertainment gets axed, the question you have to ask yourself is 'what show is the next to die on the network killing fields'?

Hollywood's Joss Whedon (creator of the cultural phenomenon, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) is no stranger to being on the end of FOX's chopping block. His cult-hit series, Firefly, was introduced to the viewers with out-of-order airings of episodes and poor marketing. Despite Fox's best efforts to mispromote, Firefly went on to gain such great success in DVD sales that the feature length film, Serenity, was born. Six years after the death of Firefly, Joss Whedon returned to television and (unfortunately) FOX with Dollhouse, a show that explores the concepts of identity and justice in a world of compromised morality and technological innovation. After a second season that debuted to luke-warm ratings despite FOX's determination to advertise sparingly at best and at worst, promoting incorrect air dates, Dollhouse has reached the end of the road for a future pick-up of its back nine episodes. The finale of Season 2 and the series will air January 22, 2010 and that sound you're hearing is the resounding slam of the network's door on opportunities for groundbreaking television.

Feeling bitter about the bleak outlook of televised entertainment? Read some irreverent satire about the situation in the story below where Joss Whedon seeks revenge against FOX for cancelling Dollhouse by calling forth a powerful (and fictional) ally.

Curse You, FOX, For Tricking Me Thrice!

Joss dropped the phone onto his desk and hung his head in despair. Despair at this loss that he’d hoped beyond hope to avoid. The burning pit of neverending shame and disappointment circled his gut until it drove over the pothole of rage he kept locked away in cases of character-death-scene emergencies. The despair curdled the rage, frothing it like a milkshake gone rancid.

“Cancel me?” he muttered. “You think you can cancel me? Oh, ho, well I guess you can since you’ve done it two times before now. Curse you, FOX, for tricking me thrice!” He banged the desk with his fist. “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal, oh evil smiter of the smited.” He ground his teeth. “Powerful you may be in certain reality-based circles, but here in the Whedonverse I reign supreme!” He rubbed his hands together, eyebrow raised diabolically. “Yes, I will have my sweet and slightly chilled revenge and it will be delicious for I shall unleash my most powerful weapon upon thee.”

He strode over to his bookshelf lined with DVDs and pulled out his complete collection of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Laying the DVDs on the carpet in the center of his office, he held his pen aloft and waved it, chanting, “Come forth, tiny blonde one! Come forth and slay like the wind!”

A bright flash and in SFX fashion, a stylish blonde woman materialized like a vampire dusting only in reverse.

“Welcome, my first and most iconic child. I have called you because the world needs your help. There is evil to be slayed.”

“Another apocalypse?” she groaned. “So what’s the sitch? Vampires? Evil hellgods? Smarmy preachers?”

“No, something worse. Something I’ve worked tirelessly to protect you from, but the time has come for you to face the evil that has slain your brethren. The evil you narrowly escaped yourself only because we decided to end the show in its seventh season.”

“My what? I have a sister. Dawn. Cute, blue eyes, kinda whiny,” she reminded him. “No brethren. Well, unless my dad’s gotten his secretary-wife knocked up. Oh, god, is this about Dad? ‘Cause I’m so over the neglecty father issues. He’s gone and I’m okay with that. I pretty much got over it when I had to die to save the world. It’s hard to top that in terms of emotional baggage.”

“No, you see, the truth is...” He cupped her shoulder. “I am your father.”

“Get out,” she breathed.

“It’s true.”

“No way!”



“I know.”

“So you and my mom..?”

“Well, not exactly. Technically I’m her father, too.”

“Ewww gross.”

“No, no, not gross! See, I’m like your existential father. Your creator. I’m like, uh, the god of your world.”

“You think you’re a god?”

“Well, people keep calling me one and with all the praising of me, it started to become this whole thing.” He waved his hand. “Not important. What’s important is the evil you are destined to slay.”

“So it is vampires then. Nifty. I’ve been dying for a little vamp slayage.”

“I guess technically they are bloodsuckers,” he mused. “They’re not undead, but they are evil and they murdered your brethren – Angel, Firefly and Dollhouse. Oh, well technically it was the WB who killed Angel but since they're gone...”

“Angel’s dead?” she gasped. “Oh, god… I didn’t… I never told him… cookie dough…”

“Oh, Angel’s fine. He’s off living it up in a million different comics going in aimless directions over at IDW. He’s just been banished to another universe, but trust me, he’s spiffy. But still, the evil overlords of the FOX network must pay for axing the Serenity crew and Eliza. Poor, poor Eliza. You are their only hope.”

“But you just said Angel was okay…”

“I don’t have time to explain the alternate canons that exist in the comics universe. Just trust me when I tell you he's been banished to a place of not goodness, but there’s nothing we can do to save him. Now, here’s the address. Go kill all the people working there and text me when it’s finished. Cool?”

“But I don’t kill humans,” she protested, adding in a serious after-school special tone, “Because it’s wrong.”

He shook his fist in the air. “Curse your inconvenient morality that I worked so tirelessly to develop for over seven years.” Rushing over to his desk, he quickly wrote notes on a blank sheet of paper. Finished, he pointed at her and said, “There. You kill humans now, rob banks and also have exponentially prefixey super powers that include flying. Go forth and massacre, my child!”

“But I don’t thi-”

“I said go!” He pointed towards the door. “Go or I’ll kill you. Again.”

“Whatever,” she said, rolling her eyes. She cocked her head to the side. “So how does this flying thing work anyways?”

He walked over and stood beside her. “Oh, well you click your heels like this and say ‘Up, up and away!’” He demonstrated for her, shaking his hips, hair flopping across his forehead.

“Like this? Up, up and away,” she said glibly, clicking her heels.

“No, you’ve gotta do it with more panache. And you’ve gotta mean it. The emotional resonance of the moment must be true. That’s the heart of your power. Your, uh, heart. Now close your eyes and find your center, find it and hold onto it. Feel it with all of your being. Got it? Okay, good. Aaaaaaaaaand action!”

“Up, up and away!” she called, clicking her heels. Eyes still closed, she muttered, “Please take me away.” Opening her eyes, she gasped to find herself floating in the air. “Whoa!”

“Pretty cool, huh?”

“Way cool,” she breathed. “I’m like a superhero.”

“Technically you were already a superhero. Now you’re like a super awesome superhero.”

“Super awesome, huh? So awesome that I would never hurt innocent human beings?”

“Oh, they’re not innocent! And I’m pretty sure they sold their souls years ago, so bonus – they’re soulless. And you know how you feel about evil beings without souls,” he said, raising both eyebrows.

“Can’t they just go get souls, then? You could have that Africa demon guy ensoul them.”

“No, never,” he denied. “You can’t just go handing out souls all willy nilly. It diminishes the effect. Everyone can’t be on a path to redemption. Some people just need to die. Violently. Possibly from their innards being liquefied by lasers. Oh, wait.” He jotted down another line on the page of notes. “Now you have lasers beams that shoot out of your eyes.”

“Are you kidding?”

He nodded. “Try it out. Remember, feel the emotion.”

“Yeah, yeah.” She closed her eyes, concentrating. Giving up with a sigh, she said, “I don’t think it’s working.”

Opening her eyes to look at him, she gasped as lasers shot from her eyes into his body.

“Nooooooooooooo!" he howled, his body catching fire and disintegrating in SFX fashion the way vampires dusted, only not in reverse this time. "I haven’t written an emotionally wrenching soliloquy for this moment yet!”

She floated down to the floor and landed next to his pile of ashes. “Ooops. I guess I still had some father issues I needed to work out.”