See you in Hell, Scofield

If history repeats itself first as tragedy, then as farce, what follows?  In high school — high school, Scheuring — I got acquainted enough with Tom Stoppard’s 15-minute Hamlet to be thoroughly underwhelmed by last Friday night’s coda to the Prison break series finale.  The 84-minute special felt a little something like Stoppard’s revision of Shakespeare, only, y’know, completely idiotic and entirely bereft of literary import: a full, season-worthy story arc of classic Prison break, replete with prisons, betrayals, thwarted moves, strange bedfellows and an anti-climactic escape.  (That penultimate flashforward didn’t help your narrative cause, guys.)

There’s really not much to be said about the post-finale finale; it served principally (and gratuitously) to remind us of Scofield’s unqualified heroism.  America loves few things more than a handsome, wrongly-persecuted, self-sacrificing genius.

"The final break."
"The final break."

— J.C. Freñán

Battle of the finales

Summer is nigh, and with it new seasons of Weeds (June 8), True blood (June 14), and Mad men (August).  TubaTV can’t wait, because all these season finales are leaving some serious holes in our week nights.

TV pet peeve #3: Overthickening the plot

One could be pardoned for forgetting that once upon a time, Prison break was actually pretty entertaining.  The original premise — loosing the bonds of incarceration via the bonds of fraternal love — strikes a weird chord with me, and if we can forgive the predictable Fox-isms, that first season did fulfill its narrative promise rather satisfactorily.  Insofar as the first part of the second season attempted to deal with the consequences of the first, it wasn’t too far off the mark, either (although the Theodore “T-Bag” Bagwell character did wear out his welcome well before that).

I think everyone can agree that the unapologetically racist third season — Prison break: Pandemonium in Panamá! — was an unmitigated failure.  (Not even the finale’s ill-advised inclusion of Rebekah del Rio’s Vini Reilly-less version of “Crying” could do much to redeem it.)  It’s been downhill for the brothers Scofield and their merry band of felons ever since, and there’s a very simple reason why: the conspiracy’s just too goddamn thick.  I’m not complaining about the show’s lack of verisimilitude so much as its writers’ total disregard for compulsively recurring to the same improbable emplotments: living relatives keep finding themselves held as collateral, while estranged and/or presumed dead relatives keep coming back to life; enemies keep becoming grudging allies, and steadfast allies either defect from the cause or become embittered enemies.  Whenever the flip-flopping gets too confusing to follow, the writers just add a greater, previously unimagined threat to the mix.  After season one, the antagonist function is tossed lazily around like a lukewarm, unappetizing potato: Brad Bellick, Alex Mahone, Paul Kellerman, Gretchen Morgan, General Krantz, Donald Self… Who cares, really?  By now we know to expect each villain’s badassery to be trumped as we move up (or laterally across) the conspiratorial ladder of The Company.

Things didn’t have to turn out this way — narratively, I mean.  Granted, the fugitive angle was inevitably going to get tedious, but there are always going to be metaphorical prisons these characters would have had to confront, right?  But because Prison break is on Fox, such musings are pretty worthless.  (Wentworth-less, even!)  Instead we’re left with a sticky mess of half-baked characters and their competing interests.  Not even the tepid Scofield-Tancredi romance manages to sweeten the pot (impassioned fan art notwithstanding).

Not exactly llorando, is he?
I preferred his ink sleeves.

And because we’re talking about Obama-era Fox here, we’ve also got to contend with the suddenly formidable figure of Michael and Lincoln’s mother, of all people.  Not unlike Renee Walker on 24, I’ll venture that her being a very well-produced Woman With Boobs is meant to defer criticism of the show’s politics.  Not that I can make out a coherent political message from Prison break, other than maybe a vague, delusional libertarian anti-government posture.

Since I’m growing increasingly skeptical of Miami-based series, I’ll go ahead and point out that we can now add Prison break to the tally.  Maybe Dexter can help Michael and Linc get Scylla?

– J.C. Freñán

TV pet peeve #1: “6 months earlier…”

I can’t figure out if I should direct my ire at scriptwriters or editors for a pox that is infecting contemporary television narrative: the Totally Gratuitous Flash-Forward.  (I do think we can safely blame J.J. Abrams for popularizing chronological monkey business like this.)  An episode begins with a visually or narratively provocative scene, the viewer is presumably overwhelmed by the totally banal question “How did we get here?” and suddenly we cut to a title screen that re-directs us some hours/days/weeks earlier in the story.  The following is a running list of programs that have resorted to this lamest of storytelling devices.

Battlestar Galactica: season 1, episode 4 (no time elapse specified); season 2, episode 12 (“48 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 14 (“48 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 15 (“94 hours ago”); season 3, episode 3 (“1 hour earlier”).  BSG is the worst offender, by far.

Breaking bad: pilot (“2 weeks earlier”); season 1, episode 2 (“12 hours earlier”). I’m otherwise enamored of this show, so it was disappointing to get two consecutive flash-forwards like this.  Season 2 plays with this device a little in the pre-credits sequences, but for the most part it’s not over the top or obnoxious.

Capadocia: pilot (“16 horas antes”).  (Was I really all that surprised?  No.  Not really.)

Damages: pilot (“Six months earlier”).  They built the whole goddamn show on this device.  WEAK.

Dollhouse: season 1, episode 9 (“12 hours earlier”).

Hustle: season 1, episode 3 (“1 week earlier”); season 3, episode 3 (“2 months earlier”); season 3, episode 4 (“a week earlier”).

Prison break: season 2, episode 3 (“12 hours earlier”); season 2, episode 15 (“six hours earlier”).  (Must be Michael Scofield’s brain tumor keeping him from telling time properly.)

Shame should also be directed at the directors of Michael Clayton (“4 days earlier”) and The illusionist for resorting to the flash-forward.  What is this, your seventh-grade Creative Writing class?

*ANY* fucking story becomes provocative when you cut a slice out the middle and show it first. Writers, editors: if you can’t figure out how to make a story compelling without dangling a little taste of what’s to come at the beginning, you’re in the wrong line of work.  The flash-forward is NEVER A GOOD IDEA.

– J.C. Freñán